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"We are Lincoln Men": Abraham Lincoln and His Friends

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We Are Lincoln Men" examines the significance of friendship in Abraham Lincoln's life and the role it played in his presidency. Though Lincoln had hundreds of acquaintances and dozens of admirers, he had almost no intimate friends. Behind his mask of affability and endless stream of humorous anecdotes, he maintained an inviolate reserve that only a few were ever able to pe We Are Lincoln Men" examines the significance of friendship in Abraham Lincoln's life and the role it played in his presidency. Though Lincoln had hundreds of acquaintances and dozens of admirers, he had almost no intimate friends. Behind his mask of affability and endless stream of humorous anecdotes, he maintained an inviolate reserve that only a few were ever able to penetrate. In this highly original book, two-time Pulitzer Prize-winner David Herbert Donald examines, for the first time, these close friendships and explores their role in shaping Lincoln's career.


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We Are Lincoln Men" examines the significance of friendship in Abraham Lincoln's life and the role it played in his presidency. Though Lincoln had hundreds of acquaintances and dozens of admirers, he had almost no intimate friends. Behind his mask of affability and endless stream of humorous anecdotes, he maintained an inviolate reserve that only a few were ever able to pe We Are Lincoln Men" examines the significance of friendship in Abraham Lincoln's life and the role it played in his presidency. Though Lincoln had hundreds of acquaintances and dozens of admirers, he had almost no intimate friends. Behind his mask of affability and endless stream of humorous anecdotes, he maintained an inviolate reserve that only a few were ever able to penetrate. In this highly original book, two-time Pulitzer Prize-winner David Herbert Donald examines, for the first time, these close friendships and explores their role in shaping Lincoln's career.

30 review for "We are Lincoln Men": Abraham Lincoln and His Friends

  1. 4 out of 5

    Miles

    If we accept as a thesis that the measure of a man is the friends that he keeps, then what better way to know Abraham Lincoln than to review the record of his close personal friendships? Donald reviews the scant evidence of Lincoln's early childhood friendships, his close relationship with Joshua Speed, his relationship with his Springfield law partner William H. Herndon, his two cordial post-1860 Washington relationships with Orville H. Browning and Secretary of State Wiliam H. Seward, and his If we accept as a thesis that the measure of a man is the friends that he keeps, then what better way to know Abraham Lincoln than to review the record of his close personal friendships? Donald reviews the scant evidence of Lincoln's early childhood friendships, his close relationship with Joshua Speed, his relationship with his Springfield law partner William H. Herndon, his two cordial post-1860 Washington relationships with Orville H. Browning and Secretary of State Wiliam H. Seward, and his paternally friendly relationships with his private secretaries John George Nicolay and John Hay, as well as his cordial relationship with the captain of his private guard, David Derickson. Everyone wants to know - was Abraham Lincoln gay? What did his years of bed sharing with Speed, or reports of his sharing a bed with Major Dickerson in Washington mean? In Donald's view such bed sharing was completely unremarkable in its era. It was a matter of public knowledge, and there was no scandal that was imputed from this public knowledge. There is simply nothing there, nothing to be learned from the fact that two men shared a bed, as so many frontier men did. What is clear is that Lincoln and Speed enjoyed a relationship of emotional intimacy and mutual support. Lincoln and Speed encouraged each other in their mutual reticence to take the step of choosing a wife. Their effusive affection was of its time. One is left free to wonder about the sexuality or sexual practices of men who spent their twenties almost exclusively in the company of other men, but ultimately we cannot know. We can only say that Lincoln seemed to have a relationship that was both equal and emotionally intimate with Speed. His later relationships (including with his wife, who is not considered in this book, except as a background figure) were always colored by a certain distance. He did not make friends easily, or perhaps, after his twenties, at all. Nonetheless, he was actively social, throughout his life, a raconteur in groups, always visiting with others and, in Washington, putting his feet up with Browning and Seward, and sharing laughs and political plans with his political staff, his personal secretaries Nicolay and Hay. All valued his friendship, and all sensed its limits, reporting his self-possession and his distance. There are many better books to review the political and military history of Lincoln's life and tenure. This is an excellent review of what can be known of his emotional life, and it assumes the reader's familiarity with Lincoln's political biography and with the Civil War. It is easy to read and quite enjoyable. It was good to spend a few evenings with old Abe.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Art

    I did enjoy this book. I discovered things about Mr. Lincoln that I didn't know. Mr. Donald also talked about some controversial areas in Mr. Lincoln's life and I liked the fact that he directed you to those areas of other scholars of fields of study. Very Oriented on primary sources is another reason why I liked this book.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Trianna/Treereads

    1.5/5 Thank goodness I am finally done with this yikes. Tbh I only cared about Joshua Speed & William Seward. 1.5/5 Thank goodness I am finally done with this yikes. Tbh I only cared about Joshua Speed & William Seward.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Jean

    Donald examines the role of friendship in Lincoln's life by exploring Lincoln's relationships with his six closest friends: Joshua Speed, business partner; William Herndon, law partner, Orville Browning, U.S. Senator; William Seward, Secretary of State; John Hay and John Nicolay, private secretaries. It was quick read having just read Donald’s epic biography of Lincoln and also because the author appears to have borrowed heavily from this earlier work of his in passage after passage. For his ana Donald examines the role of friendship in Lincoln's life by exploring Lincoln's relationships with his six closest friends: Joshua Speed, business partner; William Herndon, law partner, Orville Browning, U.S. Senator; William Seward, Secretary of State; John Hay and John Nicolay, private secretaries. It was quick read having just read Donald’s epic biography of Lincoln and also because the author appears to have borrowed heavily from this earlier work of his in passage after passage. For his analysis, Donald relies on Aristotle's typology of friendship. According to Aristotle there are three kinds of friends: “enjoyable” friends, “useful” friends and “perfect” or “complete” friends. Donald concludes that Lincoln had countless enjoyable friends, many useful friends, but quite possibly no perfect or complete friends. Even people who considered themselves very close to Lincoln acknowledged, even complained, that he was very private and never shared confidences. Donald suggests that Lincoln’s inability to make close friends as an adult stemmed from a childhood during which he never developed a best buddy.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Roger

    The book was kind of simplistic, but it gave an entirely different viewpoint than any other book I'd read about Lincoln. The very few close relationships he had throughout his life were pivotal for him and buoyed his spirit especially during the Presidential years. The book doesn't give much of a view of the Presidency, although his formative years are covered fairly well prior to the Presidency. Mostly you come away with the impression that he was mostly a very lonely, isolated man who largely su The book was kind of simplistic, but it gave an entirely different viewpoint than any other book I'd read about Lincoln. The very few close relationships he had throughout his life were pivotal for him and buoyed his spirit especially during the Presidential years. The book doesn't give much of a view of the Presidency, although his formative years are covered fairly well prior to the Presidency. Mostly you come away with the impression that he was mostly a very lonely, isolated man who largely suffered in silence with his Presidential Civil War challenges, as well as those of his difficult wife and the deaths of some of his children.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Lee

    This is partly a tale of Lincoln’s life and partly a tale of his psyche as the author examines his friendships, of which their were few, throughout his life. I particular enjoyed the section about Joshua Speed, William H. Herndon and Orville H. Browning having already read much about his relationships with William Seward, Nicolay and Hay. It’s not a fabulous book but it isn’t too long and gives some insights into Lincoln’s character.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Jan Lynch

    We Are Lincoln Men is a perfect companion to an in-depth biography of Lincoln. Chapters are arranged chronologically, each examining important friendships at different points in Lincoln's life. For anyone who admires Lincoln and wants to learn more, or who wants an easily accessible introduction to Lincoln, or who enjoys Civil War history, this book offers quick and friendly reading.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Megan

    This book was a bit difficult to get into, but I think reading Donald's full biography of Lincoln first might have provided context. I liked how the author introduced each friend sequentially as the story of Lincoln and his friendships progressed.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Donna Medina

    While this is a scholarly work with many footnotes citing sources going back to some of the participants, I found this an easy read and most interesting.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Ronald Wise

    When it comes to studying the life of Abraham Lincoln, this book provided a nice change of pace. After reading Doris Goodwin's Team of Rivals, I didnt think there was much more to learn about Lincoln, though I still felt uninformed as to what he was like as a person on a one-to-one basis. Author David H. Donald also felt that was an area requiring further research. There were no shocking revelations in this book. Donald's approach was as a serious historian, seeking verification of all details be When it comes to studying the life of Abraham Lincoln, this book provided a nice change of pace. After reading Doris Goodwin's Team of Rivals, I didnt think there was much more to learn about Lincoln, though I still felt uninformed as to what he was like as a person on a one-to-one basis. Author David H. Donald also felt that was an area requiring further research. There were no shocking revelations in this book. Donald's approach was as a serious historian, seeking verification of all details before accepting them as historical fact. For the most part he confirmed Lincoln as an unusually reserved individual who seldom revealed his inner self. Most interesting to me was Lincoln's choice of the people with whom he preferred to spend a great deal of his time during his presidency. Most amusing were the apparently exaggerated tales some of his friends and acquaintances told after his assassination. This book wasn't all that exciting, but played a significant role in expanding my understanding of Abraham Lincoln the person.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Jim

    I learned from this book that Lincoln started his Presidential campaign prep in 1959 with a number of politically knowledgeable and experienced individuals in Illinois who admired him and were willing to work for him. Some of them were rivals with each other on different issues, but saw Lincoln as a person who they could depend upon as being a knowledgeable, competent and reasonable person. I also learned that having the Republican convention in Chicago that year was significant. Lincoln probably I learned from this book that Lincoln started his Presidential campaign prep in 1959 with a number of politically knowledgeable and experienced individuals in Illinois who admired him and were willing to work for him. Some of them were rivals with each other on different issues, but saw Lincoln as a person who they could depend upon as being a knowledgeable, competent and reasonable person. I also learned that having the Republican convention in Chicago that year was significant. Lincoln probably would not have received the Republican nomination had the convention been in any other state. I also learned that Lincoln was the prime organizer and manager of his campaign. He wrote all his speeches and had the benefit of the day of having the speeches printed, as was done with other candidates, in many of the newspapers across the country. People were able to learn about Lincoln from his own words, and Lincoln was a very effective speaker. He stood behind his principles and was able to articulate them in a convincing manner. A good read.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Cami

    The most pleasant thing about this biography is the angle. It shows the life of Abraham Lincoln through his relations with the handful of close friends he had. Seemingly just one or two for different stages of his life. This volume assumes a cursory knowledge of Lincoln's general time line and presents information from letters and diaries from his friends. Reading this was enjoyable and informative. It only got a bit tedious when it spoke of Lincoln's Secretary of State William Henry Seward. Thi The most pleasant thing about this biography is the angle. It shows the life of Abraham Lincoln through his relations with the handful of close friends he had. Seemingly just one or two for different stages of his life. This volume assumes a cursory knowledge of Lincoln's general time line and presents information from letters and diaries from his friends. Reading this was enjoyable and informative. It only got a bit tedious when it spoke of Lincoln's Secretary of State William Henry Seward. This book does make you pity Lincoln. It seems he really never had anyone to which he could completely unburden himself. It was through these few men he could laugh with and discuss some things with that he kept his sanity under the great pressure of being the President of the United States during the greatest internal conflict of this nation.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Marigold

    I learned some interesting things about Lincoln that I didn't know before. This book seems almost like a "companion book" to Donald's larger works on Lincoln, that I haven't read. It's written in chapters devoted to each of Lincoln's friends, & therefore doesn't follow Lincoln's life in chronological order. (Well, it does, but some of the chapters overlap.) I'm pretty linear so I found that a little disconcerting! But overall it was interesting. Maybe I didn't follow it as closely as I could hav I learned some interesting things about Lincoln that I didn't know before. This book seems almost like a "companion book" to Donald's larger works on Lincoln, that I haven't read. It's written in chapters devoted to each of Lincoln's friends, & therefore doesn't follow Lincoln's life in chronological order. (Well, it does, but some of the chapters overlap.) I'm pretty linear so I found that a little disconcerting! But overall it was interesting. Maybe I didn't follow it as closely as I could have because I'm trying to read a book on Buddhism at the same time! (Yes, this linear thinker is trying to read a book on Buddhism! It's going to help me be less linear, right?! But that's another review....)

  14. 4 out of 5

    Peter

    This is a fairly short book (approx. 220 pages), and an easy, fast read. It contained some insights about some of the men who were closest to Lincoln, particularly about Orville Browning, that I had never read before. In addition, the chapter about William Seward's relationship with Lincoln begins by discussing for several pages the relationship between Lincoln and an army captain named David Derickson, who spent at least part of every day with Lincoln as his personal guard for four months in 18 This is a fairly short book (approx. 220 pages), and an easy, fast read. It contained some insights about some of the men who were closest to Lincoln, particularly about Orville Browning, that I had never read before. In addition, the chapter about William Seward's relationship with Lincoln begins by discussing for several pages the relationship between Lincoln and an army captain named David Derickson, who spent at least part of every day with Lincoln as his personal guard for four months in 1862-63. In all the dozens of biographies I have read, I don't ever recall reading about Derickson.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Thomas

    This one isn't for everybody, but if you're a serious history buff or interested in the phenomenon of "lonely at the top," you may enjoy the late David Herbert Donald's portraits of Abraham Lincoln's friendships, both as a small-town lawyer and as the 16th president, in "We Are Lincoln Men." It focuses particularly on Joshua Speed, law partner Billy Herndon, Orville Browning, and the unlikeliest of them all, Secretary of State William Seward, a rival (and the odds-on favorite) for the Republican This one isn't for everybody, but if you're a serious history buff or interested in the phenomenon of "lonely at the top," you may enjoy the late David Herbert Donald's portraits of Abraham Lincoln's friendships, both as a small-town lawyer and as the 16th president, in "We Are Lincoln Men." It focuses particularly on Joshua Speed, law partner Billy Herndon, Orville Browning, and the unlikeliest of them all, Secretary of State William Seward, a rival (and the odds-on favorite) for the Republican Party's presidential nomination in 1860.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Anne

    This is a short, easy-to-read book about the men who were closest to Lincoln (Joshua Speed, William Herndon, Orville Browning, William Henry Seward, John Nicolay, and John Hay), and the relationship between them and the president. Donald, who died in 2009, was probably the leading authority on Lincoln, and his ideas are worth hearing. But nothing in the book will be news to anyone familiar with Lincoln. His relationship with Seward, Nicolay, and Hay, for instance, are well covered in Doris Kearn This is a short, easy-to-read book about the men who were closest to Lincoln (Joshua Speed, William Herndon, Orville Browning, William Henry Seward, John Nicolay, and John Hay), and the relationship between them and the president. Donald, who died in 2009, was probably the leading authority on Lincoln, and his ideas are worth hearing. But nothing in the book will be news to anyone familiar with Lincoln. His relationship with Seward, Nicolay, and Hay, for instance, are well covered in Doris Kearns Goodwin's terrific Team of Rivals.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Dick

    I do not give four stars very often and wish there was a 3.5 stars option to provide. Mr. Donald has written much on Lincoln and is a surperb researcher as well as writer. This book provide a lot of personal insights on Lincoln and the people around him, including his wife Mary. I thorougly enjoyed the book and will try to worlk some of the material into my one act play on Licoln's faith.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Steven

    Fascinating read about the male friendships of Abraham Lincoln from his early years to his assassination. Donald offers very in depth looks int raucous of these men, but his insistence about Lincoln's sexuality proves problematic and the introduction of Derrickson in Seward's section is confusing. Still a good read and informative with Mary still the evil in Lincoln's life.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Diane Heath

    This is not a true biography. It is a summary of the friendships between Lincoln and various associates from his arrival in Springfield until his presidency. They include Joshua Speed, William Herndon, John Hay, William Seward and John Nicolay...

  20. 5 out of 5

    Zackery

    An interesting angle to look at President Lincoln. The author researches the lives of those who became close with Lincoln through professional and family relationships.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Andrew Glasgow

    Interesting melding of history and the psychology of male friedships. Herbert is one of the great Lincoln scholars so his observations and conclusions carry much weight.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Barry

    just fair

  23. 5 out of 5

    Jim

    This book got me thinking about my own friendships.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Morry Beatty

    While Lincoln was very amiable and got along well with many, his close friends were fee and Sid have a big impact on his life. Donald takes a look at these relationships.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Dianna LeFevre

    On the whole, pretty boring.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Remigius

  27. 4 out of 5

    Michael Bell

  28. 4 out of 5

    Lynne Brown-Kendall

  29. 4 out of 5

    petra Marin Payton

  30. 4 out of 5

    Cahaya Dan

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