Description

The Eloquent President was written by Ronald C. “Ron” White (born May 22, 1939) an American historian, author, and lecturer. He has written bestselling and award-winning biographies and books on Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant.

The fact that Abraham Lincoln is now universally recognized as America’s greatest political orator would have surprised many of the citizens who voted him into office. Ungainly in stature and awkward in manner, the newly elected Lincoln was considered a Western stump speaker and debater devoid of rhetorical polish. Then, after the outbreak of the Civil War, he stood before the nation to deliver his Message to Congress in Special Session on July 4, 1861, and, as a contemporary editor put it, “some of us who doubted were wrong.”

In The Eloquent President, historian Ronald White examines Lincoln’s astonishing oratory and explores his growth as a leader, a communicator, and a man of deepening spiritual conviction. Examining a different speech, address, or public letter in each chapter, White tracks the evolution of Lincoln’s rhetoric from the measured, lawyerly tones of the First Inaugural, to the imaginative daring of the 1862 Annual Message to Congress, to the haunting, immortal poetry of the Gettysburg Address.

[From Amazon books]

 


Review

The Eloquent President by Ronald C. White, Jr. is new approach to analyzing the personality of President Abraham Lincoln through a detailed review of his writings and speeches during the period 1861 through 1865. By understanding his approach to writing, we as readers can better understand how he was able to draw his audience into understanding his position and accepting his logic. By gaining this acceptance, he was able to win the hearts of America to his policies and goals.

Lincoln wrote by speaking the text of his writing out loud. In fact, the author recommends that his reader begin each chapter by reading aloud the words of Lincoln to feel the meaning. Lincoln intended for all his writings to be heard not read. The sound of the words was as important to conveying his message as the words themselves. Lincoln spoke in order to be understood by the common American, and with this simple and direct approach to the people, he develop a true eloquence.

Ronald White analyzes the following speeches and writings: Lincoln’s Farewell Address at Springfield; Speeches and Remarks from the train trip from Springfield to Washington; the First Inaugural Address; the Message to Congress in Special Session July 4, 1861; Reply to Horace Greeley; Meditation on the Divine Will; Annual Message to Congress December 1, 1862; the Letter to the Rally at Springfield; the Gettysburg Address; the “Little Speech” to Albert G. Hodges; and finally, the Second Inaugural Address. The author goes into great detail on each speech or writing to develop how Lincoln was using his tools of rhetoric to further his policies.

We begin to better understand how Lincoln gradually turned the common American from understanding the need to protect and defend the Constitution to understanding that eventually the issue of slavery had to be addressed. Lincoln firmly believed that slavery was the central cause of the conflict and that true unity could never be achieved without the demise of slavery. The book is a well thought out and written analysis of Lincoln. The author’s research and presentation are excellent. While this work may not appeal to all those with an interest in the Civil War, it is a recommended read for those who wish to understand the Lincoln that Americans of the mid nineteenth century knew.

[by Thomas L. Breiner]

 


Study Questions

(If you want to make a comment about this book, please scroll down to the box at the bottom of the page.)

1. “There is no such thing as good writing—there is only good rewriting.” In Lincoln’s Inaugural Address of March 4, 1861, discuss several examples where Lincoln took Seward’s ideas and rewrote them into his own prose poetry.

2. In Lincoln’s Second Annual Message to Congress (December 1862) what do you think he meant when he said, “As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew?”

3. When and why do you think Lincoln decided to issue the Emancipation Proclamation?

4. Lincoln taught himself to be Commander-in-Chief. What principles came to undergird his understanding of his role?

5. The author suggests that one of Lincoln’s finest attributes of leadership was his ability to put himself in the shoes of others. Please discuss some examples during his presidency.

6. One of the windows on Lincoln that needs more light is the story of his faith journey. What surprised you about his faith? In his Second Inaugural Address how did Lincoln come to understand the role of God in the Civil War?

7. Many Americans would rank at Lincoln at the top of near the top of American presidents. From your reading of A. Lincoln what qualities impressed you most about Lincoln?

Ronald C. White

 


Discussion

This was our first month to miss a meeting and it was because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The following are random thoughts that were contributed.

 


“There is no such thing as good writing—there is only good rewriting.” In Lincoln’s Inaugural Address of March 4, 1861, the author gives several examples where Lincoln took Seward’s ideas and rewrote them into his own prose poetry.

On page 96 four segments of the longer version of the conclusion of Lincoln’s first inaugural address suggested by Seward (the one Lincoln chose) were heeded but modified by Lincoln who employed his unique style. Lincoln used more words in segment 1, less words in segment 2 and 3 and the same number in segment 4.

Alliteration, and assonance were tools used frequently and effectively by Lincoln and were pointed out.

Not mentioned by the author, I suspect parallel structure was also used by Lincoln:

Not enemies, but friends
Have strained, …not break
from every Battlefield…. And patriot grave
living heart and hearthstone


Some think Lincoln’s thoughts on slavery evolved. I think not. He was always against slavery, but he also believed that slavery would only be done away with in an America that continued to abide by the constitution. Lincoln played the “long game” by holding the union together until it was strong enough to accept the emancipation proclamation. Had he done this before he could count on continuity of the constitution and country there would have been two countries, one committed to slavery and undoubtedly facing the emancipation issue again and another war in the future.


Lincoln’s belief in and dependence on the will of God are evident in this private journal written in 1862 and not discovered for a decade. This tells as much about the man as anything I have ever read.

“The will of God prevails. In great contests each party claims to act in accordance with the will of God. Both may be, and one must be, wrong. God cannot be for and against the same thing at the same time. In the present civil war, it is quite possible that God’s purpose is something different from the purpose of either party — and yet the human instrumentalities, working just as they do, are of the best adaptation to affect His purpose. I am almost ready to say that this is probably true — that God wills this contest, and wills that it shall not end yet. By His mere great power, on the minds of the now contestants, He could have either saved or destroyed the Union without a human contest. Yet the contest began. And, having begun He could give the final victory to either side any day. Yet the contest proceeds.”
A. Lincoln 1862


“The eloquent president” which focuses on Abraham Lincoln speeches beautifully reveals as much of the honorable man himself .

Lincoln loved, and seemingly read voraciously of the founding of our country its constitution at its people. In his speeches, I find much with which he disagrees with the rebellious South, but nothing in which he lessens the value of its citizens.

Lincoln speaks so eloquently, his intention is always the preservation of our union, its constitution, and its people, even as the continuing, horrendous conflict is necessary.


I really liked this book. I lived in Louisville and also was raised in St Louis. I had no idea Lincoln was so eloquent! Why did Kentucky not claim him; he lived there for a long time before moving to Indiana and later to Illinois. You have to read the very long appendix to appreciate the book. His extemporaneous speeches given along the way as he was making the trip from Springfield to Washington are an example of how hard Lincoln must have worked on his written speeches. These extemporaneous speeches are informal and much longer then some of his brilliant written speeches. One exception is the farewell speech he delivered in Springfield which was short and brilliant.

I’m glad I read the book. I learned a lot about the civil war.


3 thoughts on “The Eloquent President

  1. Study question for The Eloquent President

    Some thoughts

    1. “There is no such thing as good writing—there is only good rewriting.” In Lincoln’s Inaugural Address of March 4, 1861, discuss several examples where Lincoln took Seward’s ideas and rewrote them into his own prose poetry.
    On page 96 four segments of the longer version of the conclusion of Lincoln’s first inaugural address suggested by Seward (the one Lincoln chose) were heeded but modified by Lincoln. Employing his unique style. Lincoln used more words in segment 1, less words in segment 2 and 3 and the same number in segment 4.
    Alliteration, and assonance were tools used frequently and effectively by Lincoln and were pointed out
    Not mentioned by the author, I suspect parallel structure was also used by Lincoln:
    Not enemies, but friends
    Have strained, …not break
    from every Battlefield…. And patriot grave
    living heart and hearthstone

  2. Some think Lincoln’s thoughts on slavery evolved. I think not. He was always against slavery but he also believed, and rightfully so in my opinion, that slavery would only be done away with in an America that continued to abide by the constitution. Lincoln played the “long game” by holding the union together until it was strong enough to accept the emancipation proclamation. Had he done this before he could count on continuity of the constitution and country there would have been two countries, one committed to slavery and undoubtedly facing the emancipation issue again and another war in the future.

  3. Lincoln’s belief in and dependance on the will of God are evident in this private journal written in 1862 and not discovered for a decade. This tells as much about the man as anything I have ever read.

    The will of God prevails. In great contests each party claims to act in accordance with the will of God. Both may be, and one must be, wrong. God cannot be for and against the same thing at the same time. In the present civil war, it is quite possible that God’s purpose is something different from the purpose of either party — and yet the human instrumentalities, working just as they do, are of the best adaptation to effect His purpose. I am almost ready to say that this is probably true — that God wills this contest, and wills that it shall not end yet. By His mere great power, on the minds of the now contestants, He could have either saved or destroyed the Union without a human contest. Yet the contest began. And, having begun He could give the final victory to either side any day. Yet the contest proceeds.

    A. Lincoln 1862

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