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. This new edition restores the original text, includes two chapters added in the revised (1892) edition, and traces the history of how Herndon and Weik, 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.