F.G. has the first complete biography of Abraham Lincoln, with copper plate engravings and a frontispiece of a bearded Lincoln, by Joseph H. Barrett, a close personal friend of Lincoln.
Barrett was a newspaper editor and lawyer, and he wrote “Life of Abraham Lincoln.”
What makes this publication of 1865 so interesting is that it was being written, in part, at the time that Lincoln was pursuing his second presidential term. Such a book, widely read, was influential.
Lincoln won his second term and was inaugurated March 4, 1865, and he was assassinated April 14, 1865. Therefore, the author included the demise of Lincoln in this 1865 publication, which was fast writing and publishing for those days. The book is not short; it is 842 pages!
The author had written an earlier book on Lincoln published in 1860, which was a double header: Lincoln’s life and his important speeches, including the life of Hannibal Hamilton of Maine. So Barrett had a head start on “Life of Abraham Lincoln.” After 1860, he wrote two more books on Lincoln: the one in 1865 and one more in 1904.
When I say that the 1865 book was widely read, in those days, books were often printed in serialized form, so that the cost to the reader was lower. So the author says in his preface: “the work … is trustworthy, complete, and as accessible to all classes of loyal readers.”
This 1865 publication is a hefty thick octavo, which means that the paper sheets upon which the type was set was a sheet large enough to contain eight pages at 9 by 5.5 inches. Often they were uncut, and the buyer/reader cut them.
When you see end papers and the inside covers that look like feathers in multi-colored ink, waved upon the page, the paper — and often the sides, bottom, and top of the book — was marbled. This book has copper engravings such as Lincoln’s childhood home in Illinois and the Baptist Church where he worshipped.
Firm mention is made of this church, and that is because the author knew of Americans of the time who believed Lincoln was a closet Catholic or worse a Deist (someone who was not necessarily a Christian, but who worshipped the idea of a Deity). Thus, an article in the Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society in 1999 by Nightingale states that “Joseph Barrett and John Locke Scripps shaped Lincoln’s religious image” as a Christian, a “requirement” for a politician in those days.
Joseph Barrett was beloved by Lincoln, which says much, as a career newspaperman and politician. Barrett was the political editor of the Cincinnati Gazette from 1857-1861, the Ohio representative to the Republican Convention, secretary to the Vermont Senate and editor of the Cincinnati Times and Chronicle 1868-1892.
Under Lincoln’s and Andrew Johnson’s presidencies, Barrett functioned as the commissioner of pensions for the U.S. government. You may say, “How hard was that position?” Due to the Civil War, the work was impossible, because of the flood of requests for pensions for disabled soldiers and widows and children of deceased soldiers. Some historians believe the casualties were as high as 850,000.
So Barrett had work ahead of him as the commissioner of pensions: He devised a preprinted form to speed aid to the needly.
In the biography, Barrett quotes a letter from Lincoln to a grieving mother:
“I have been shown in the files of the War Department a statement of the Adjutant-General of Massachusetts that you are the mother of five sons who have died gloriously on the field of battle. I feel how weak and fruitless must be any words of mine which should attempt to beguile you from the grief of a loss so overwhelming.”
The chapters in this book show how fast the country was changing during Lincoln’s lifetime.
The first chapter speaks of Lincoln’s ancestors in Pennsylvania and Virginia, then the book moves to the Blackhawk War of 1831. The end chapters regard the bloody battles of the Civil War: “Withdrawal of the army of the Potomac,” and “Lincoln’s Orders to General Grant in Regard to Peace.”
Famous quotes are moving today: “We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”
The book’s value is $300.
Dr. Elizabeth Stewart’s “Ask the Gold Digger” column appears Mondays in the News-Press.
Written after her father’s COVID-19 diagnosis, Dr. Stewart’s book “My Darlin’ Quarantine: Intimate Connections Created in Chaos” is a humorous collection of five “what-if” short stories that end in personal triumphs over present-day constrictions. It’s available at Chaucer’s in Santa Barbara.