Abraham Lincoln’s 1860 Campaign Biographies and the Lincoln Image

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — On November 1, at 5:30pm in the Lownes Room of the John Hay Library, Director of Special Collections and the John Hay Library, Thomas Horrocks, will give a talk on Abraham Lincoln’s 1860 campaign biographies and the role they played in shaping the Lincoln image. Campaign biographies from the Hay’s McLellan-Lincoln Collection will be on view before and after the talk. A reception will follow. This event and reception are free and open to the public.

The genre of campaign biographies emerged during the 1824 presidential campaign between Andrew Jackson and John Quincy Adams. Every presidential campaign since, including those of recent memory in which TV, film, the autobiography, and the Internet and social media have played increasingly influential roles, has had its share of candidate biographies. Promoting presidential candidates through published biographies — as well as through other genres of print, parades, and speeches — was especially important in Lincoln’s time due to the accepted tradition that candidates did not openly seek office.  At that time, promotion of a candidate was left to others, the party, partisan newspapers and their editors, and to commercial firms. In order to make an informed choice, American voters had at their disposal several sources of information, including various genres of print about the candidates.

Nineteenth-century campaign biographies, however, provided in one place the most extensive information on a candidate’s life, character, and qualifications for the presidency.  These biographies, written by experienced journalists, hack writers, and budding literary figures, generally adhered to a formula when presenting candidates’ lives.  They were essentially propaganda pieces intended to present a candidate in the best possible light, and to create a positive image that would resonate with the American people. As such, Lincoln’s campaign biographies reflect what personal qualities nineteenth-century Americans considered essential to successful leadership.

In 1923, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., Class of 1897 purchased the McLellan Lincoln Collection, one of the five most distinguished Lincoln collections in the world, for Brown University.  The McLellan Collection has been supplemented over the years by major gifts, and has increased to more than five times its original size. Most recently, the collection has been the beneficiary of the interest and attention of Douglas W. Squires, Class of 1973. Today the collection comprises 30,000+ items in various media, of materials by and about Abraham Lincoln, and about the historical and political context of his life and career, chiefly the U.S. Civil War and its causes and aftermath.

The Brown University Library is home to more than 6.8 million print items, plus a multitude of electronic resources and expanding digital archives serving the teaching, research, and learning needs of Brown students and faculty, as well as scholars from around the country and the world. http://library.brown.edu/

Contact: Jennifer Braga |  401-863-6913