Herndon's Lincoln

Author: William H. Herndon and Jesse W. Weik
Edited by Douglas L. Wilson and Rodney O. Davis
The foundational Lincoln biography, with essential updates and a wealth of added material
Paper – $24.95
Publication Date
Paperback: 08/01/2016
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About the Book

William H. Herndon aspired to write a faithful portrait of his friend and law partner, Abraham Lincoln, based on his own observations and on hundreds of letters and interviews he had compiled for the purpose. Even more important, he was determined to present Lincoln as a man, rather than a saint, and to reveal things that the prevailing Victorian conventions said should be left out of the biography of a great national hero.

A variety of obstacles kept Herndon from writing his book, however, and not until he found a collaborator in Jesse W. Weik did the biography begin to take shape. It finally appeared in 1889, to decidedly mixed reviews. Though controversial from the outset, Herndon's Lincoln nonetheless established itself as a classic, and remains, as Don E. Fehrenbacher declared, "the most influential biography of Lincoln ever published." This new edition restores the original text, includes two chapters added in the revised (1892) edition, and traces the history of how Herndon and his collaborator, after many delays, produced one of the landmark biographies in American letters. Extensive annotation affords the reader a detailed look at the biography's sources.

About the Author

William H. Herndon (1818-1891) was Abraham Lincoln's law partner from 1844 until Lincoln became president in 1861. Jesse W. Weik (1857-1930) was an agent with the U.S. Pension Bureau and the primary writer of Herndon's Lincoln. Douglas L. Wilson>/b> is the director of the Lincoln Studies Center at Knox College, in Galesburg, Illinois. Rodney O. Davis (d. 2019) was co-director of the Lincoln Studies Center at Knox College. They are coeditors of Lincoln's Confidant: The Life of Noah Brooks; Herndon on Lincoln: Letters; Herndon's Informants: Letters, Interviews, and Statements about Abraham Lincoln; and The Lincoln-Douglas Debates.

Also by this author

Herndon's Informants coverLincoln before Washington coverThe Civil War Diary of Gideon Welles, Lincoln's Secretary of the Navy cover


"The attraction of the book remains the very human and three-dimensional picture it provides of Lincoln coming of age. . . . Wilson and Davis can only be praised for their copious notes that dissect the text with surgical skill."--Journal of Illinois History

"Their work is an exemplary and enduring contribution to Lincoln scholarship."--Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association

"A new, critical edition of this classic presidential biography."--Journal Star

"In this new volume, coeditors Douglas Wilson and Rodney Davis have brought the landmark biography up to date with more than seventy years of Lincoln scholarship, thereby giving us the definitive modern edition of the work. . . . Wilson and Davis's new edition of Herndon's Lincoln will not only help scholars scrutinize the biography itself, but will also afford them the remarkable opportunity to see how the memory of one of America's greatest presidents was constructed."--Journal of the Early Republic


"Without any doubt, no single presidential biography--perhaps no American biography, period--has had as much influence in shaping both popular and scholarly conceptions of its subject and maintained such a durable hold on the public imagination. Wilson and Davis's edition is particularly crucial for anyone who wants not only to read the biography but also truly understand it. This definitive edition of Herndon's Lincoln is essentially timeless, simply because it will never need to be redone."--Kenneth J. Winkle, Sorensen Professor of American History, University of Nebraska, Lincoln

"Nothing has given more energy to studies of Abraham Lincoln since 1996 than the new, superbly edited documentary editions of the writings of Lincoln and those who knew him closely. Rodney Davis and Douglas Wilson have been major players in producing these new editions, and their newest contribution will be a jewel in that crown. Given the way Herndon's Lincoln influenced every major Lincoln biographer, and the intimate point from which Herndon was witness to Lincoln's life, there is no clear way to understand how the Lincoln legend has grown up over the past century and a half without easy access to Herndon's book--and without Wilson's and Davis's wonderful notes and sources."--Allen C. Guelzo, Henry R. Luce Professor of the Civil War Era and Director of Civil War Era Studies, Gettysburg College