Maine Antique Digest

Book Review by M.A.D. Staff


January 2023

A book is a gift you can open again and again,” said Garrison Keillor. This month’s selection of books includes titles you might want to give as gifts or buy for yourself. We have included contact information for books that you can order directly from the publisher. We also encourage you to consider supporting your local independent bookstore.

 by Abraham Lincoln: His 1858 Time Capsule edited by Ross E. Heller (Custom NEWS, Seaside Books, 2022, 166 pages, softbound, $24.95 from Custom NEWS, Seaside Books. deluxe hardbound and signed copies and an e-book version are also available at varying prices).

This small book bills itself as a time capsule left by Abraham Lincoln, and it is nearer to that than anything else. Historians have long lamented that no manuscripts of Lincoln’s pre-presidential speeches survive. Not until 1860 was an effort made to create any kind of filing system for the future president’s orations. This book is a true facsimile of a small notebook Lincoln made for himself in 1858, containing newspaper clippings and accompanied by notes on previous speeches in his own handwriting. He used it as a reference tool for his debates in the Illinois senatorial campaign with Democratic incumbent Stephen A. Douglas. This was a bitter campaign, with the issue of the expansion of slavery at its heart. Increasingly accused of promoting egalitarianism for blacks, Lincoln decided to clarify his middle-of-the road record by sending the little notebook to his friend James N. Brown, who was running for the Illinois state assembly. In doing so he demonstrated beyond doubt that although he believed slavery violated the principle that all men are created equal under God, he did not believe blacks were entitled to equal status in society or under the law, and he was reluctant to free the slaves. These may be disappointing words from the man called “the great emancipator,” but it reflects the political reality of the time. Obviously Lincoln’s viewpoint would change considerably in the next seven years.

In 1901 a somewhat redacted version of the notebook was issued, but this version is complete, with all the pages in Lincoln’s handwriting reproduced with transcripts, and with newspaper accounts of his campaign speeches included, as well as Lincoln’s eight-page cover letter to Brown. It is in every sense a scrapbook from the campaign trail and an engaging and fascinating look into Lincoln’s early thinking on a subject that would be his and the nation’s destiny.

The book includes an introduction, foreword, essays, afterword, appendices, and an account of the 164-year journey of the notebook to its present published state. Lincoln’s original notebook had several blank pages at its end, and so does this facsimile. The author of the first essay, Harold Holzer, invites us to “use these blank pages to record your own thoughts on the divisive issues we confront more than a century-and-a-half after Lincoln engaged Douglas on the subject of race in America.”