A ‘Littles’ look at Old Abe

Book shares bite-sized pieces Lincoln tips

GREENWICH, Conn. (AP) – Lewis E. Lehrman discovered President Abraham Lincoln’s Peoria speech as an undergraduate at Yale.

Lincoln delivered the 17,000-word anti-slavery sermon outside the courthouse in Peoria, Ill., in 1854. Hundreds of thousands of farmers, artisans and other working class people stood three hours and 10 minutes to hear it.

“I was knocked out,” said the 75-year-old Lehrman, a Greenwich resident who is a conservative activist. “The speech is such a brilliant tour de force. It completely suffused my subconsciousness and preoccupied me for days after reading and I was certain that a book needed to be written about this.”

It would take 50 years, but Lehrman would to do just that. Along the way, the father of five became a managing director of Morgan Stanley & Co., established an investment banking firm and ran for governor of New York.

Throughout these and other pursuits, Lincoln remained a constant.

Lehrman’s “Lincoln At Peoria: The Turning Point,” was published to acclaim in 2008. He said the book focuses on the true start of Lincoln’s career as an anti-slavery politician.

“This is a demanding story,” said Lehrman, co-founder of the Gilder Lehrman Institute, which promotes the study of American history. A major resource for historians and educators, the institute includes an archive of more than 60,000 original historical documents.

In the years since the publication of “Peoria,” Lehrman came to realize not everyone wanted to delve so intensely into Lincoln history. What his friends said they wanted was a book containing the basic, most essential Lincoln stories from his birth until his death – something a little less daunting.

Lehrman took that advice to heart. Earlier this year, he published “Lincoln ‘By Littles,’” a collection of short essays that tell the story of Lincoln’s life.

The title makes use of a Lincolnism. “By littles” was an expression often used by the 16th president to describe things done in increments. The Kentucky native’s formal education, for instance, totaled just 12 months extended over several years, a process he called going to school “by littles.”

“That was a phrase that only Mr. Lincoln has used in all of the American biographies and speeches I have ever read,” Lehrman said.

Each of the essays can be read in 15 to 30 minutes, which Lehrman said makes them ideal for reading before bed.

Lehrman, who lives with his wife, Louise, and three horses in the backcountry, discovered Lincoln as a schoolboy in central Pennsylvania. One of his grade school teachers often took students on excursions to the battlefield at Gettysburg, just a half-hour drive from the school.

It was the late 1940s, and at that time you could still find arrowheads and bullets on the battlefield. Those hands-on lessons at Gettysburg roused in Lehrman a lifelong interest in Lincoln.

“I think Mr. Lincoln is the very best example by which to teach American history,” Lehrman said. “Here is a man born absolutely dirt poor, grew up literally on the frontier with bears and panthers in the deep woods of Spencer County, Ind., and out of nothing in terms of inheritance and education, he taught himself to be a surveyor, he taught himself to be a lawyer.

“He studied the books on his own and then took the test before the Supreme Court of Illinois and was known to be one of the five most successful lawyers of Illinois. And the rest is history, as one says.”

 

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