An old Lincoln hand, a historian by trade and a cynic by inclination, once told me how it's done.Ferguson is shown top right.
"The best way to move up in the Lincoln world is to give a lot of speeches," he said. "It can be the same speech over and over again if you want - you just have to give it to a lot of different groups. And you're in luck, because there are so many places where people are willing to sit still for a talk about Lincoln. Expectations are low. The field is wide open. You can always find somebody to talk to, and they'll always be appreciative."
"So you start by offering yourself as a luncheon speaker at some Lincoln roundtable. Then you move on to the next group, and you offer yourself as a dinner speaker - after all, you're already a veteran luncheon speaker. And now that you've spoken to their dinner, you might offer to serve on their board. They'll say yes. Trust me, they'll say yes. And after you're on their board for awhile, you might want to run for president. Chances are you'll run unopposed. Pretty soon, you're a figure in the Lincoln community - you're a veteran speaker and you've served on the board and you're president of the Lincoln Roundtable of Somewhere or Other. You write an op-ed for the local paper when Lincoln's birthday comes around. You prepare quotes for the next time the paper does a Lincoln story an a reporter calls you for an interview. People defer to you. They defer to you because you're president of the roundtable and you've given speeches, both luncheon and dinner, and you're quoted in the newspaper, and you've published an op-ed."
"There. Mission accomplished. You're officially a Lincoln expert."
"Please understand me," the old hand said. "This makes no sense. You cannot become recognized as a Washington expert this way, or a Jefferson expert. There is no other field in American history where this could take place. But in the Lincoln world it's been happening from the beginning."
The cruellest thing ever said about Lincoln experts
A fun passage from Andrew Ferguson's Land of Lincoln: