Friday, May 29, 2020

Booknotes: Abraham Among the Yankees

New Arrival:
Abraham Among the Yankees: Lincoln's 1848 Visit to Massachusetts by William F. Hanna (SIU Press, 2020).

Writing entire books about brief yet significant episodes (lasting anywhere from days to weeks) in Lincoln's life is a popular sub-category of Lincolniana publishing. Recent examples include Noah Andre Trudeau's excellent 2016 book about the president's City Point fortnight of 1865 and Steve Norder's 2020 study (my review of which will appear soon) of Lincoln's week-long Fort Monroe trip in early May 1862. 

A self-described "travelogue," William Hanna's Abraham Among the Yankees: Lincoln's 1848 Visit to Massachusetts "details Lincoln’s twelve-day trip through Massachusetts as a young, aspiring Illinois politician campaigning for Zachary Taylor, a slaveowner and the Whig candidate for president in (September) 1848. Moving swiftly, William F. Hanna follows Lincoln from town to town, explaining why Lincoln supported a slaveholder and describing one of Lincoln’s earliest attempts to appeal to an audience beyond his home territory."

In meticulously recounting Lincoln's 1848 Bay State speech circuit, Hanna "provides excellent context on the politics of the era, particularly the question of slavery, both in Massachusetts and nationwide, and he features the people Lincoln met and the cities or towns in which he spoke. Lincoln stumped for Taylor in Worcester, New Bedford, Boston, Lowell, Dorchester, Chelsea, Dedham, Cambridge, and Taunton." Lincoln's approach to public speaking invoked a great variety of audience reactions. "He gave twelve speeches in eleven days to audiences who responded with everything from catcalls to laughter to applause. Whatever they thought of Lincoln’s arguments, those who saw him were impressed by his unusual western style and remembered his style more than the substance of his talks."

As an added bonus, at only 69 pages of largish-print main narrative (researched using a variety of primary sources and fully documented) with many page-sized illustrations interspersed throughout, the book can easily be read in one sitting.

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