Book Review: Looking for Lincoln

Note: This article is reprinted with permission from As I See It, a monthly electronic magazine compiled and edited by Doug Kutilek. AISI is sent free to all who request it by writing to the editor at dkutilek@juno.com.

Philip B. Kunhardt III, Peter W. Kunhardt, & Peter W. Kunhardt Jr., Looking for Lincoln: The Making of an American Icon (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2008), 494 pages, hardback, $50.00
Looking for LincolnThe Meserve-Kunhardt family is made up of five generations of Lincoln enthusiasts, beginning with Frederick Hill Meserve (1865-1963), who in 1897 at age thirty-one began collecting vintage Civil War photographs and photographic plates to illustrate a hoped-for published edition of his own father’s Civil War memoirs. From this beginning, Mr. Meserve became almost obsessed with rescuing from destruction and oblivion a small mountain of no-longer-valued Civil War photographic plates, among which he discovered seven of President Lincoln. This began a lifelong search for and compilation of an exhaustive collection of Lincoln photographic images and anything related to Lincoln. The Meserve photographic archive of Civil War and Lincoln photos was recognized as the greatest in the world.

Mr. Meserve “infected” his daughter, Dorothy Meserve Kunhardt (d. 1979), with the “Lincoln bug,”  and she passed this family legacy on to her son Philip B. Kunhardt Jr., who in turn did the same for his sons, Philip B. Kunhardt III and Peter W. Kunhardt, and Peter’s son, Peter W. Kunhardt Jr.

From this line of Lincoln scholars have come at least three major works on Lincoln in the past forty-plus years: Twenty Days by Dorothy Meserve Kunhardt and Philip B. Kunhardt Jr., which chronicles the events of the twenty-day period from Lincoln’s assassination until his interment in Springfield, Illinois (see our review in As I See It, 10:1). Originally published in 1965 to correspond with the one hundredth anniversary of Lincoln’s assassination, it was reprinted in 1993. Then came Lincoln by Philip B. Kunhardt Jr., Philip B. Kunhardt III, and Peter W. Kunhardt (1992), an account focusing on Lincoln’s fifty months as president. The latest is Looking for Lincoln: The Making of an American Icon by Philip B. Kunhardt III, Peter W. Kunhardt, and Peter W. Kunhardt Jr. It was naturally designed to coincide with (and slightly precede) the two hundredth anniversary of Lincoln’s birth. All are oversized books—approximately 8.5” x 11”—and profusely illustrated with period photographs, engravings, and such. Naturally, there is considerable duplication in the photos and illustrations found in these three volumes.

Looking for Lincoln traces the development of the Lincoln legacy from his death in April 1865 to the death of his oldest son, Robert Todd Lincoln in 1926. In brief, usually single-page entries, we are presented in chronological order the writing and publishing of Lincoln biographies and reminiscences, disputes among authors, the events and destiny of dozens of people associated in life with Lincoln—family, friends, neighbors, acquaintances, biographers, political colleagues and adversaries, military personnel, and more—plus sculptors, artists, memorials, monuments, celebrations and everything else in the growing Lincoln legacy in the collective memory of the nation and the world. Items and memorabilia associated with Lincoln were sought for, collected, displayed, bought and sold. Events and developments surrounding places significant in Lincoln’s life—homes, offices, battlefields, places he visited, lived—and died—are traced in a most informative manner. Even the multiple relocations of his body (and an attempted theft) as his burial monument was built, repaired and replaced are noted. In spite of my reading many books about Lincoln and his times, I learned numerous facts and details which I don’t recall ever having come across before. Perhaps one of the more disconcerting of these was reading some remarks by Frederick Douglass in which he expressed opinions as bitter, angry and radical as those that typify the views of Mr. Obama’s long-time Chicago pastor, Reverend Wright, at his most extreme worst.

Of course, the chronicle of the developing Lincoln legacy is not “complete,” stopping as it does in 1926. The publication of The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln in 8 volumes plus index in 1953 was a major milestone, to note but one development among many (there are numerous excellent biographies and topical studies that have been and are being published even now, adding to the mass of Lincolnia. Two works that trace such beyond 1926 are Benjamin Thomas’ Portrait for Posterity (1947) on notable Lincoln biographers and Lincoln in American Memory by Merrill Peterson (1994).

As an appendix, the book reproduces in miniature every known photo of Lincoln, 114 in all, in chronological order, with the place and name of the photographer (as far as known) given.

One criticism I do have of the book is its (only) occasional tendency to wander into modern “political correctness,” reading back into the period under consideration by way of statement or emphasis contemporary leftist political views. The book also repeats the discredited claim that Confederate General N. B. Forrest was responsible for the murder of black Union soldiers at Fort Pillow (p. 108).

All in all, a worthwhile volume. Let us resolve to inform ourselves and well regarding our own history, as is befitting people with such a legacy as we are blessed to have.

kutilek.jpgDoug Kutilek is editor of www.kjvonly.org, a website dedicated to exposing and refuting the many errors of KJVOism, and has been researching and writing about Bible texts and versions for more than 35 years. He has a B.A. in Bible from Baptist Bible College (Springfield, MO), an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Hebrew Union College (Cincinnati), and a Th.M. in Bible exposition from Central Baptist Theological Seminary (Plymouth, MN). A professor in several Bible institutes, college, graduate schools, and seminaries, he edits a monthly cyber-journal, As I See It. The father of four grown children and four granddaughters, he and his wife, Naomi, live near Wichita, Kansas.
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