This work makes available for the first time all the known letters, interviews, and statements about Abraham Lincoln collected by his law partner, William H. Herndon. It includes those items collected by Jesse W. Weik while working as Herndon’s collaborator, but it does not include the very extensive array of documents that contain Herndon’s own personal recollections of Lincoln, a body of material that would probably be at least as large as the present one.
Herndon’s purpose in making this collection was to gather material for a biography of Lincoln, but a very substantial portion thereof could not be accommodated in the book that was finally published in 1889. Some of the material was thought to be inappropriate for a Victorian biography; some of it was deemed to be in error or doubtful or otherwise at odds with the portrait presented; and some was doubtless considered redundant, superfluous, or of little importance. But the passage of time inevitably alters the basis of such judgments, so that questions of what is appropriate, doubtful, or unimportant must always recur. Weik drew heavily on the unused material in his own book The Real Lincoln (1922), and Albert J. Beveridge made massive use of Herndon’s informant material, before it became available to scholars in general, in his authoritative biography Abraham Lincoln, 1809 — 1858 (1928). Yet in spite of its recognized standing as "the basic source for Abraham Lincoln’s early years,"
The nature and extent of Herndon’s project and the character of the testimony contained in the documents he collected have been the subject of considerable discussion and controversy. While the editors have their own views on these disputed issues, some of which are touched on in the introduction, the present work is not offered as a brief for a particular assessment of Herndon and his informants but rather is concerned with solving the problem of access. Full access to the documents in Herndon’s archive has proved so problematic as to preclude wide exposure to the documents and a thorough exploitation of their contents. Not only are the collections difficult to navigate and the documents hard to read, but the original collection has been scattered and part of it lost. To maximize access and to enhance the reader’s ability to understand and evaluate the testimony are therefore the major aims of this edition. Accordingly, this work includes, in addition to all the known texts, editorial annotation of certain matters that may cause readers
viiidifficulty. It includes a register of informants, consisting of brief biographical sketches of the people whose testimony about Lincoln came into Herndon’s hands. The work also contains an appendix by Paul H. Verduin that presents, in outline form, a brief genealogy of the Hanks family.
The editors have enjoyed very extensive assistance over the course of this project, much of which is detailed in the acknowledgments, but some debts are in a special category, and we wish to acknowledge those here. It has been our good fortune to be fellow members of the faculty at Knox College when this project was conceived and carried out. A firm commitment to faculty research and a willingness to support it have been the rule at Knox during our long tenure, and we remain grateful to the institution and to the deans who faithfully supported us, John Strassburger and Stephen Bailey. Timely and generous support also came from the fund provided by John E. and Elaine Fellowes to sustain the professional activities of the Knox College English department. We have also had the benefit of outstanding work from committed student research assistants: Matt Norman, Dawn Campbell, Frank Doane, Chris Stratton, and Susan Han. Finally, we have attempted, by listing his name on the title page, to indicate the very extensive support and collaboration in research that we have received from our colleague in the Knox College Library, Terry Wilson.
It remains only to acknowledge the indispensable contribution of our wives, Sharon E. Wilson and Norma G. Davis, who shared the burdens and kept the faith.