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Jason Emerson’s new biography of Robert Todd Lincoln captures a man of impressive achievement in his own right.
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In 1881, he was with President James A. Garfield, whom he served as Secretary of War, when Garfield was shot by Charles J. Guiteau; and in 1901, he was at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York, when Leon F. Czolgosz shot President William McKinley. Apparently this led Lincoln to a number of refusals to attend events where a sitting president might be present.
At times Mr. Emerson, who shows that in later life Robert Lincoln adhered to “a Victorian values system,” assumes a distinctly Victorian style himself. As a young man, he tells us, Robert Lincoln wasn’t above a certain amount of hell-raising: “As dutiful and affectionate [a son] as Robert was, it is not incorrect to reveal his great desire and ability for smoking cigars, drinking, and carousing, which only increased during his college years.”
During those years at Harvard, he was also eager to enlist, like so many of his fellow students, but was prevented from doing so by his mother, who was growing increasingly unstable. Finally, with the help of his father, he was able to join the personal staff of General Grant as a captain in time for the last few battles of the war, and was at Appomattox to witness General Lee’s surrender.
With the end of the war and the assassination, Lincoln brought his mother and younger brother to live in Chicago, where he finished his law degree and eventually helped to establish the prestigious firm where Andrew Ferguson’s father went to work a half-century later. It was in Chicago where he made his mark as a man of accomplishment in his own right, and where he became president of the Pullman Palace Car Company in 1897.
During those years he also served in prestigious posts in Republican administrations, among them Secretary of War under Presidents Garfield and Chester A. Arthur. As his reputation grew—and of course because of the family name—Lincoln became increasingly talked of as a presidential or vice presidential possibility. But he’d have none of it. In 1884, he explicitly forbade his name to be placed in nomination as vice president at the Republican convention.
Four years later, he again had strong support at the Republican convention and, despite not attending, took a significant number of votes for the top job. “It seemed as certain then as it does now,” writes Emerson, “that had Robert Lincoln actively sought the Republican presidential nomination in 1888, he would have won it.” In the end, the nomination went to former Senator Benjamin Harrison, who, upon defeating Grover Cleveland and taking office, nominated Lincoln as America’s Minister to Great Britain.
In all, a distinguished career. As Emerson, very much his subject’s champion, puts it: “Robert T. Lincoln was an accomplished man, one of the exemplars of his generation, who, beyond being the son of Abraham Lincoln, should and must be recognized for his independent achievement. On top of all that, Robert’s life, from 1843 to 1926, spanned the most innovative, impressive, and dynamic era in American history.” With much of it, one might add, played out in Chicago, the most dynamic city of the era.
“Robert’s life is a fantastic journey through a rich period of American history,” writes Justin Emerson. And it is to his great credit as a biographer and historian that he so successfully brings Robert T. Lincoln out of history’s shadows and the times in which he lived back to vivid life.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?
H/T to National Review Online