Fans and students of the sixteenth president of the United States can doubly rejoice over this work. "We Are Lincoln Men" demonstrates that despite thousands of books about the Great Emancipator already being in print, there are still new approaches to be mined; and it also represents another contribution by the most accomplished Lincoln scholar of this era, Professor David Herbert Donald.
Professor Donald has spent more than half a century studying Lincoln's life and times and is author of many books, including "Lincoln" (1995), widely regarded as the best one-volume life of the subject in decades. He's brought that lifetime of experience to this project, along with study and contemplation of the nature of friendship. Perhaps part of the reason Lincoln remains an enigma and a subject of endless fascination and study is that he never fully revealed himself to any other human being. However, Donald has identified relationships which were pivotal at various points in Lincoln's life, and if not representing a marriage of equals, did at least offer this solitary man some of the benefits of close comradeship. Yet time, physical distance and political differences eventually eroded these relationships.
The author examines his interactions with his one-time roommate, Joshua Speed; his long-time law partner, William Herndon; Illinois Senator Orville Browning; Secretary of State William Seward; and his personal secretaries, John Nicolay and John Hay. Each met differing needs for Lincoln at various times in his life. They served as sounding boards for Lincoln's ideas, provided him with comfort in times of grief, laughter in times of stress, and support in times of crisis. Yet even these men couldn't claim to fully know the great man. Herndon once claimed to have been able to "read his secrets and ambitions" but also described him as a "profound mystery."
In his conclusion, Donald briefly considers the possibility of whether having a close, intimate confidant in the early, difficult days of his presidency might have saved Lincoln some of his hesitancy and missteps. He suggests this might have been the case, but is no means certain; for while Lincoln took some time to find the means to his ultimate goals, he always held firm to his guiding principles--containing, and if possible, abolishing slavery, and preserving the union.
A work of first-rate scholarship that's also a pleasure to read.--William C. Hall