Tiny Lincoln book contains multiple layers of history

6/22/2022 cbw

Did you know Abraham Lincoln wrote a book? Well, he did – sort of. And now, thanks to a generous donor named Ross Heller, the ALPLM has a copy of the book with multiple layers of history to it.

The story starts in 1858, when Lincoln was running for the U.S. Senate against Stephen A. Douglas. Lincoln hated slavery and opposed its extension into new parts of the country. His opponents distorted his positions and portrayed him as a radical abolitionist, a damaging allegation among many Illinois voters. A friend pressed Lincoln for an unambiguous written statement spelling out exactly where he stood on slavery. Lincoln responded by going over past speeches and pulling out any comments related to “Negro equality.” He pasted them in a small memo book, added notes where he thought explanations were needed, and included a letter to his friend summing up his views.

Lincoln’s hand-made “book” went to his friend, James Brown, who carried it with him and pulled it out whenever he was challenged on exactly where Lincoln stood on slavery. When he died, it went to his sons, who eventually sold it. In 1901 the new owner decided to print a facsimile edition of the book so the general public could see this rarity. It was published as “Abraham Lincoln: His Book” and showed all of Lincoln’s handwriting and news clippings, along with commentary by journalist and historian J. McCan Davis.

Part of the 1901 fascimile of Lincoln's booklet containing his comments on slavery

What the ALPLM has been given is one of those facsimile editions – but a very special one. At some point, the owner of this copy tracked down three people who were involved in its production and got them to add their own notes and comments. The most famous of them was muckraking journalist and Lincoln biographer Ida Tarbell, but William Lambert and George D. Smith, who had each owned Lincoln’s original version, were also included.

Ida Tarbell's signature in a copy of "Abraham Lincoln: His Book"

So the book donated to the ALPLM contains Lincoln’s views and notes, comments from Davis, and handwritten personal recollections from three people, including one of the most famous of Lincoln’s biographers. It’s truly a one-of-a-kind item.

The ALPLM was given the book by Ross Heller, a Maryland resident who intends to publish his own facsimile edition, complete with the handwritten notes from Tarbell and others. He said he donated it to the ALPLM because the book started out in Springfield when Lincoln wrote his original version, so this unique edition should come home to Springfield. “It seems to me this is the right place, this is where the book belongs,” Heller said.

ALPLM Executive Director Christine Shutt accepted the donation and thanked Heller for his generosity. “We’re always honored when people discover a new piece of Lincoln history and decide it belongs at the ALPLM. They know their treasures will be protected here but also shared with scholars and the public. It’s a responsibility we take seriously,” Shutt said.

ALPLM Executive Director Christina Shutt with donor Ross Heller

You can see a digital version of the booklet (not the ALPLM's copy) here.

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