As this is the federal version of Lincoln's birthday, it's not too late for a few thoughts on good Lincoln books.

Harry Jaffa published Crisis of a House Divided in 1958, and it wa reissued in 1999 in this edition.

Note the comments of Lincoln prizewinner Mark Neely: "Crisis of the House Divided has shaped the thought of a generation of Abraham Lincoln and Civil War scholars." Not that Jaffa might win a prize for such a thing...

In House Divided, Jaffa dignified the thoughts of Stephen Douglas by systematizing them into a representative worldview, and then used the Lincoln-Douglas debates to elaborate Lincoln's principled opposition to this. Jaffa sees Lincoln as a great exponent of what we now call Natural Rights theory.

He developed this theme further in a long-awaited follow to House Divided that appeared a couple of years ago: A New Birth of Freedom: Abraham Lincoln and the Coming of the Civil War. In New Birth, Calhoun (a deeper thinker than Douglas, to be sure) is represented as the paradigm of a Kantian historicism against which Lincoln was struggling intellectually. If this sounds far-fetched, Lincoln's law partner used to read Kant to Lincoln on slow days at the office and Calhoun had digested Hegel before self-consciously identifying with Hegel's "other student" Kant.

When you look at the Jaffa pages on Amazon and read the reader reviews, references to marked up copies, underlined passages, dense chapters followed by brilliant payoffs promise pure joy.

On to Michael Burlingame.

I mentioned that the diaries of John Hay, as previously released, have been poor resources representing minimal efforts. Inside Lincoln's White House: The Complete Civil War Diary of John Hay by Michael Burlingame, John R. Ettlinger (editors) remedy this by restoring Hay's excisions and deeply annotating the diaries themselves. This is actually the diaries edition that needs to be consulted when writing Lincoln books.

By the same token, Burlingame has rescued from total invisibility, the anonymous newspaper writings of Lincoln's secretaries. These represent op-ed pieces and insider tattling that map to White House policies and war developments. Terribly important, they were assembled by detective work (sometimes called "scholarship"). See Dispatches from Lincoln's White House: The Anonymous Civil War Journalism of Presidential Secretary William O. Stoddard and Lincoln's Journalist: John Hay's Anonymous Writings for the Press, 1860-1864.

Burlingame also arranged to publish John Hay's interviews with people who knew Lincoln. Might new observations of Lincoln be useful? Published for the first time? One would thinks so, so consider reading An Oral History of Abraham Lincoln: John G. Nicolay's Interviews and Essays.

In trying to fathom why Burlingame is not honored more or better known, I assume it is because of a book called The Inner World of Abraham Lincoln. As devoted as Burlingame has been to Lincoln studies and to the person of Abraham Lincoln, there are places you are not allowed to go without suffering some sort of sanction.

From the Library Journal:

He traces the origin of Lincoln's furious temper, cruel streak, aversion to women, hatred of slavery, and stormy relationship with his temperamental wife. [...] At the same time, he challenges the work of Lincoln's traditional biographer, James G. Randall. Utilizing the papers of Lincoln's law partner, William H. Herndon, and contemporary newspaper accounts, the author gives us an aggregate picture of a troubled man.

I like Randall and trust him more than i trust Burlingame. But you have to follow the material. And that's one difference between Burlingame and the cuurent generation of prizewinners and prizegivers.