More stories may have been told about Abraham Lincoln than any other U.S. president; here’s a representative, somewhat haphazardly chosen batch, showing the popular image of Lincoln as it developed over the years.
Wheeler (Christmas In My Heart series) brings together a variety of pieces, mostly from largely forgotten magazines of the late-19th and early-20th centuries. The implicit goal of those stories was to present Lincoln as a model for young people, much as the George Washington “cherry tree” story did. Typical are several stories of the president learning of a farm boy in the Union Army sentenced to death for sleeping on duty, often substituting for a wounded comrade. Lincoln, full of compassion for the common people, pardoned the offender, who went on to perform heroically later in the war. It’s a touching tale, undoubtedly a true reflection of Lincoln’s character, and odds are it actually happened a few times. The story also tells us something of how the generations immediately after the war thought of Lincoln—as a wise father figure who never lost the common touch or the ability to laugh at himself. But one good tale of a sleeping sentinel should have sufficed. Other stories make similar points—e.g., Lincoln giving a girl a gold piece for her church’s missionary fund, a young Lincoln driving a coach across rough country while rich lawyers rode in comfort. A few, such as William Agnew Paton’s story of himself as a schoolboy interviewing the president, appear to be factual. Others focus on Lincoln’s family, especially his young son. But Wheeler doesn’t appear to have tried to separate true accounts from fiction, and the stories aren’t, on the whole, particularly well-written. The best entries here are probably the ones written closest to Lincoln’s own time, such as Whitman’s “O Captain! My Captain!”
Lincoln completists will want it, but the content and concepts are covered better elsewhere.