A Lion of the Progressives Channels Mr. Lincoln: Albert J. Beveridge


17 February 2016

Albert J. Beveridge deserves a prominent place in the history of early Twentieth Century America for a number of reasons. The Senator from Indiana championed American expansionism, Roosevelt Bull Moose Progressivism, and concentration of federal power – a stance he later repudiated. However, it is the career he turned to after his political fortunes collapsed with the Progressive movement that most fascinates us. After his political career, the disillusioned Republican turned to writing history to make sense of his own tempestuous life in American politics.

Beveridge’s first project was a monumental four-volume biography of Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall. This freshman effort earned the retired politico a Pulitzer Prize. He decided to follow this success with an equally ambitious four-volume biography of Abraham Lincoln.

Beveridge’s Lincoln bio was based on the most thorough primary-source research then possible. Disappointed with the failings of the great men of his own generation, he determined to portray Lincoln as a complex man and imperfect politician (a portrayal that the Great Emancipator may have agreed with had he lived). The massive work was half-finished when the author died in 1927. In 1928, it was published as Abraham Lincoln, 1809-1858, and covers Lincoln’s life through the Lincoln-Douglas Debates.

Due to the author’s political notoriety, Abraham Lincoln 1809-1858, enjoyed wide popularity, especially among book lovers. Two different limited editions were printed, in addition to the regular trade edition. We will discuss the limited editions in another post. Here we feature Beveridge’s biography in the first trade edition, with the charcoal cloth boards. This copy is especially impressive for its association, being inscribed by historian Worthington Chauncey Ford to the great collector of Lincolniana, Oliver R. Barrett.

As a post-script to Albert Beveridge’s life, his wife, Catherine, turned over his notes for the second half of his biography to Carl Sandburg, who had just published his Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years. Sandburg had access to Albert Beveridge’s research when writing his monumental Abraham Lincoln: The War Years. Thus, two of the greatest of Lincoln biographies are closely related.

Check out our first edition copy of Abraham Lincoln, 1809-1858, inscribed to Oliver Barrett by W. C. Ford.