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The Eloquent President: A Portrait of Lincoln Through His Words

Recorded on February 10, 2005

Location: The Heritage Foundation's Van Andel Center

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."

As a speaker who appealed not to intellect alone, but also to the hearts and souls of citizens, Lincoln persuaded the nation to follow him during the darkest years of the Civil War. Through the speeches and what surrounded them - the great battles and political crises, the president's private anguish and despair, the impact of his words on the public, the press, and the nation at war - we see the full sweep and meaning of the Lincoln presidency. It is White's contention that as president Lincoln not only grew into an inspiring leader and determined commander in chief, but also embarked on a spiritual odyssey that led to a profound understanding of the relationship between human action and divine will.

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.

RONALD C. WHITE, JR., author and editor of seven books, earned his Ph.D. at Princeton and has taught at UCLA, Princeton Theological Seminary, Whitworth College, and Colorado College. He is currently Professor of American Intellectual and Religious History at San Francisco Theological Seminary and a Reader at the Huntington Library in San Marino, California.