Lincoln on Jefferson

HerndonF15Presidents have the unique perspective on other presidents. After all, a president—living or dead, current or former—belongs to a club that remains very small, and intimately knows a job that’s unlike any other.

William Henry Herndon, author of the new UIP release Herndon on Lincoln: Letters, had a closer view of Abraham Lincoln than most. The two were law partners and friends for over twenty-five years. According to Herndon, it appears Abe did not think much of a certain Virginia predecessor:

Condemnation & censure made by others seemed to be sweet to [Lincoln]. Eulogies of the living seemed to burn him, but it was a passive sweetness and a passive fire. The feeling showed itself in his eye & features—which I have watched a thousand times & tried to analyze. Mr Lincoln hated Thomas Jefferson as a man—rather as a politician, and yet the highest compliment I ever heard or read of his was paid to the memory of Jefferson.

A recent New York Times op-ed explored the sources of Lincoln’s feelings and came to the conclusion: “Lincoln was Jefferson’s nightmare.”

More of the horse’s mouth wisdom comes out this week when Herndon on Lincoln: Letters, edited by Douglas L. Wilson and Rodney O. Davis, hits the stores. Because of Herndon’s close association with Lincoln, his intimate acquaintance with his partner’s legal and political careers, and because he sought out informants who knew Lincoln and preserved information that might otherwise have been lost, his letters have become an indispensable resource for Lincoln biography. Unfiltered by a collaborator and rendered in Herndon’s own distinctive voice, these letters constitute a matchless trove of primary source material. Herndon on Lincoln: Letters is, in short, a must for libraries, research institutions, and students of a towering American figure and his times.