Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Booknotes: Sixteenth President-in-Waiting

New Arrival:
Sixteenth President-in-Waiting: Abraham Lincoln and the Springfield Dispatches of Henry Villard, 1860–1861 edited by Michael Burlingame (SIU Press, 2018).

From the description: "Between Abraham Lincoln’s election in November 1860 and his departure for Washington three months later, journalist Henry Villard sent scores of dispatches from Springfield, Illinois, to various newspapers describing the president-elect’s doings, quoting or paraphrasing his statements, chronicling events in the Illinois capital, and analyzing the city’s mood. With Sixteenth President-in-Waiting Michael Burlingame has collected all of these dispatches in one insightful and informative volume.

Best known as a successful nineteenth-century railroad promoter and financier, German-born Henry Villard (1835–1900) was also among the most conscientious and able journalists of the 1860s. The dispatches gathered in this volume constitute the most intensive journalistic coverage that Lincoln ever received, for Villard filed stories from the Illinois capital almost daily to the New York Herald, slightly less often to the
Cincinnati Commercial, and occasionally to the San Francisco Bulletin."

For a deeper perspective, Villard interviewed Lincoln's friends and associates, as well. According to Burlingame, Villard performed a signal service to the country by "publicizing Lincoln’s views on the secession crisis."

Villard was an amazingly prolific correspondent, his 'dispatches' from November 1860 through February 1861 filling 300 pages of text in the book. Well-known Lincoln biographer and expert Burlingame contributes a general introduction to the volume and annotates the material. A good multi-level index (i.e. lots of subheadings) always enhances the research and reference value of books like this one, and what you get here appears to be of this type. As an appendix, Burlingame also includes Villard's report of the famous 1858 Lincoln-Douglas debates.

More: "Not only informative but also highly readable, Villard’s vivid descriptions of Lincoln’s appearance, daily routine, and visitors, combined with fresh information about Springfielders, state political leaders, and the capital, constitute an invaluable resource."

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