THE PRESIDENCY AND THE POWER OF WORDS
By Mike Hobbs
Lincoln scholar Doris Kearns Goodwin wrote glowingly of Douglas Wilson's new book Lincoln's Sword, The Presidency And The Power Of Words, "So beautifully written that it will be read by the general reader for years to come. Never has the craft of Lincoln's writing been more brilliantly revealed. Never has the mind of Lincoln been more deeply penetrated." Two days after the book's release on November 14 Wilson offered his first public commentary on his book when he addressed the local Civil War Discussion Group.
Dr. Wilson taught English and American Literature at Knox College for thirty-three years. Since 1998 he has been the co-director with Dr. Rodney Davis of the Lincoln Studies Center at Knox. His writings on Lincoln have appeared in magazines and scholarly journals and in five books, two of which were co-edited with Davis, Herndon's Informants: Letters and Interviews about Abraham Lincoln (1998) and Herndon's Lincoln (2006).
In Lincoln's Sword Wilson explores an area that has received little attention in Lincoln scholarship--how the president used his exceptional writing ability as a weapon, a sword, to promote his ideals during the Civil War. At the beginning of his presidency in 1861 the American public, and especially the intelligentsia, did not imagine the depth of this self-educated prairie lawyer's writing ability. The brilliance of his words in The Emancipation Proclamation, The Gettysburg Address and in The Second Inaugural were not widely appreciated when he presented them. "As president, Lincoln was not a national hero.", Wilson writes.
Despite Lincoln's easy-going demeanor, Wilson maintains that "his performance in office was totally engaged. While never well organized or systematic, he was in fact an energetic, hands-on, detail-oriented administrator." Despite the tremendous demands on his time, he made time to write. According to his son Robert, Lincoln was "a very deliberate writer, . . . ." Wilson says that Lincoln "was not in the least put off by what most people consider the onerous labor of writing." In drafting his words, then redrafting them, and redrafting them again, he was able to focus his thinking on how to respond to the difficult questions that he faced as president of a war-torn nation. Wilson concludes that ". . . Lincoln's presidential writing proved to be timely, engaging, consistently lucid, compelling in argument, and most important of all, invested with memorable and even inspiring language."
Lincoln's Sword can be purchased at the Knox Book Store.