Book Chat
Honor's Voice
The Transformation of Abraham Lincoln
Douglas L. Wilson

This chat took place in the Civil War Home Chatroom on 11/05/06 and covered Chapters 8, 9, & 10.

11/5/2006 9:15 pm (et) ks: So where we begin tonight is...
CHAPTER 8 - The Mary Todd "Embrigglement"
11/5/2006 9:16 pm (et) Widow: I don't know who coined that wonderfully descriptive word. I think it's perfect.

11/5/2006 9:16 pm (et) mobile_96: For Mary Todd, or the contents of the chapter?

11/5/2006 9:17 pm (et) Widow: Embroil, engagement, predicament, it catches all those nuances.

11/5/2006 9:17 pm (et) ks: I found it confusing. Kept trying to look it up and it wasn't in my dictionary. ;)

11/5/2006 9:18 pm (et) Widow: Mobile, I had the impression that's how Abe would have discussed it with his pal Joshua.

11/5/2006 9:18 pm (et) Widow: But the word isn't as interesting as his feelings about Mary, and marriage.

11/5/2006 9:18 pm (et) ks: You think so? The thought of his honor and how he was bound to Mary seemed to pain him. I don't recall him joking about it.

11/5/2006 9:19 pm (et) mobile_96: I thought the entire chapter confusing, took me longer to read this chapter than any other

11/5/2006 9:20 pm (et) Widow: KS, no, not joking. Maybe Abe coined the word, maybe it was a local expression to mean predicament, not necessarily humorous.

11/5/2006 9:20 pm (et) ks: And were those topics covered in chapter 8, Widow? I really have a tough time recalling. I know we were introduced to the romantic notions both Abe and Speed had towards Matilda Edwards.

11/5/2006 9:20 pm (et) Widow: Mobile, I agree with you about the confusing structure of chap. 8.

11/5/2006 9:21 pm (et) Widow: I never completely understood why Abe felt guilty about his "obligation" to Mary. Heck, she let him off the hook. So what was he thinking?

11/5/2006 9:22 pm (et) ks: That she was pained over the situation and that he couldn't stand to see a creature in pain...or so Wilson would have us believe. But that's a different chapter and the conclusion he drew there.

11/5/2006 9:22 pm (et) mobile_96: Too much 'highly speculative', "seems to come from", 'could represent', the entire chapter appears to be very highly speculative

11/5/2006 9:22 pm (et) Widow: I can think of one unmentionable reason he may have felt guilty about breaking off.

11/5/2006 9:23 pm (et) ks: mobile, I was very confused with the reading. And I know I've grown so tired of the conflicting evidence and the "this could mean this but the evidence might suggest such...".

11/5/2006 9:25 pm (et) Widow: KS, Wilson made Mary's "pain" a big deal. She didn't seem to suffer very much, belle of the ball, etc.

11/5/2006 9:25 pm (et) amhistoryguy: Wilson's continued speculations and "Maybe this but maybe that " lend nothing, IMO, to an examination of the "Transformation" of Abraham Lincoln.

11/5/2006 9:25 pm (et) mobile_96: I realize that much writing on history can be speculative in nature, but not like in this book

11/5/2006 9:26 pm (et) ks: It was Herndon word. I googled it and came up with an article by David Herbert Donald on Writers in America. He says this: "I also take delight in some American neologisms. When Herndon wrote of Lincoln's complicated courtship of Mary Todd and of their off-and-on-again plans for a wedding, he headed his chapter "The Marriage Embrigglement." I have always thought that a better, and more distinctively American, word than "imbroglio," and I used it repeatedly. " BTW the second hit on embrigglement was OUR CHAT. :)

11/5/2006 9:28 pm (et) Widow: Not a common word, then. OK, Herndon knew the word too. That makes Abe, Billy, and us.

11/5/2006 9:28 pm (et) mobile_96: amhg, I agree with your comment

11/5/2006 9:28 pm (et) ks: There have been pieces of information that I could take from the book and experience satisfaction and interest in knowing. Overall though...the style has grown tiresome and I am delighted to be DONE.

11/5/2006 9:29 pm (et) Widow: That long discussion about Lincoln's fatalism left me lost. I've never talked to any fatalists and I can't imagine what it would be like to feel that you have no control over your life.

11/5/2006 9:30 pm (et) amhistoryguy: Why has Wilson neglected to mention Lincoln's first murder trial, in 1838. Wasn't that a part of Lincoln's transformation. I guess not, since Herndon didn't write about it.

11/5/2006 9:30 pm (et) ks: Basecat sent comments, but I'm not certain in which chapter the comments would fit...and I can't put on my glasses to check. That said, I'll post away. Folks, I am abandoning the chapters. With apologies to shotgun and the good organization of the book chats by chapters. This has been a tough read to finish and I sense we'd all just like to TALK about the final chapters rather than painstakingly try to stick to the chapters. Okay??

11/5/2006 9:30 pm (et) Widow: Tee hee, AHG, that was good!

11/5/2006 9:31 pm (et) mobile_96: KS, agree, I was going to say, that Lincoln's transformation may be sitting inside the pages of this book but trying to slog thru the maybe, coulda, and mights is a bit much

11/5/2006 9:31 pm (et) Widow: KS, EXCELLENT.

11/5/2006 9:32 pm (et) mobile_96: Sounds good to me KS

11/5/2006 9:32 pm (et) amhistoryguy: I think this book may be best finished with general comments about the final chapters. Very confusing.

11/5/2006 9:32 pm (et) Widow: I've already forgotten the date of their sudden wedding. AHG, when was Eddie born?

11/5/2006 9:33 pm (et) ks: Widow!! It was November 4th. :) I know because Basecat posted anniversary greetings.

11/5/2006 9:33 pm (et) amhistoryguy: I can understand why Neeley was critical of this book. He is a Lincoln scholar.

11/5/2006 9:33 pm (et) ks: from the Garden State...
1. Abe's Malaise, and the fatal first of 1841. In a way I find this part very interesting as it goes into detail, that Wilson shows from his research, that nothing abnormal was going on that day in Abe's life, and yet through the years of Lincoln reading here, that date continually shows up as being an important day in the history of his life. I don't think it just had to do with his relationship with Mary, but that was a part of it. To me, he bit off more than he could chew in terms of his involvement in the Presidential election of 1840: the constant travel he was doing in terms of that campaign, and his duties as a lawyer riding the circuit. Add to that, he seems to have found himself in like with one woman (Mary), and supposedly in love with another (Matilda Edwards). What adds to the strain is that in terms of Matilda, his rival for her affection is none other than his best friend Joshua Speed. To make matters worse, am sure he realized at this time that Speed was moving away and headed back to Kentucky. Am no Psychiatrist, and I don't play one on TV, but to me it sounds like he was burned out emotionally and physically. How he handled that we only know from the writings of others, and who is to say if their descriptions of his suicidal tendencies are very apt descriptions.

11/5/2006 9:35 pm (et) ks: This also from Base..."BTW...This was written on November 4th, the 164th anniversary of the wedding of Abe and Mary Todd Lincoln. :) Noticed the date this afternoon when I was reading. :)"

11/5/2006 9:35 pm (et) Widow: Good point. Wilson finally mentioned that maybe the fatal Jany. 1 was in Joshua's life, not Abe's.

11/5/2006 9:36 pm (et) mobile_96: I speculate that you might, be right Widow, but.....on the other hand......!

11/5/2006 9:37 pm (et) Widow: About Abe's fatalism, that he felt impelled to help the helpless. I see that characteristic as lving the Golden Rule. If it's deeply engrained in your earliest childhood, it will guide you without your conscious awareness.

11/5/2006 9:37 pm (et) ks: mo-beel... ;) Now twist that around, present contrary evidence and say it again and again and again... ;)

11/5/2006 9:38 pm (et) Widow: Thus you might attribute your actions to something you have no control over.

11/5/2006 9:38 pm (et) mobile_96: You have a good point there Widow

11/5/2006 9:39 pm (et) Widow: Abe's flatboat trips to New Orleans gave him a quick look at slavery, and he could do nothing to help the helpless. I sense that sank deep in, and eventually came out in 1862.

11/5/2006 9:40 pm (et) ks: Basecat had thoughts on Abe's fatalism...
Wilson makes a good point about Abe's fatalistic view of his world at that time in his life. What happens in one's life is preordained etc. Yet after the episode of late described above...the malaise, one can see how that feeling in him changed. You rarely get a hint of him being a fatalist during the White House years, in terms of his prosecuting the war with the South. To me, he most definitely was following the plans he made, and for the most part was always optimistic in terms of the Union winning the war. Yes he faced many disappointments along the way, in terms of the battles lost, and the cost of human lives in those losses, but he did not give up. A fatalistic temperament during the war years would have doomed this country, and again, just my opinion, somewhere along the way he figured out that not everything in life was preordained by God above, and that he could do his best to ensure the outcome could be changed by using his mind and taking advantage of his position as President of the US to see that his policies were followed, and that his thoughts were conveyed to the people of both sides during the conflict. Know that jumps ahead to his life in DC, and not really in the book, but I do think it is an important thing, and should be included.

11/5/2006 9:40 pm (et) Widow: But I digress.

11/5/2006 9:42 pm (et) Widow: If I understand fatalism, it isn't limited to just gloom, doom, defeat. If Fate controls your life, you can be happy, just unable to change the course of your life.

11/5/2006 9:42 pm (et) Widow: Abe said I don't run this war, it runs me. You don't have to be a fatalist to see the truth in that.

11/5/2006 9:44 pm (et) mobile_96: Wonder if his marriage finally pushed him away from Fatalism

11/5/2006 9:44 pm (et) Widow: Wilson had a long discussion of Abe's sense of honor. Abe played some dirty tricks during the Whig campaign in 1840. Some worked, some didn't.

11/5/2006 9:45 pm (et) Widow: Seems to me, mobile, that his marriage was a confirmation of everything he ever knew about fatalism.

11/5/2006 9:46 pm (et) Widow: Wilson went on to Abe's learning that he had the power to hurt as well as to help others. Some of us never learn that lesson.

11/5/2006 9:46 pm (et) ks: Wilson made points about Lincoln's views on predestination. I recall him quoting Herndon saying Lincoln had told him that he couldn't avoid believing in predestination although he considered it an "unprofitable field of speculation" because it was hard to reconcile it with taking responsibility for ones actions.

11/5/2006 9:46 pm (et) amhistoryguy: Even then, sometimes "dirty tricks" is just the way the game of politics was played.

11/5/2006 9:46 pm (et) amhistoryguy: Lincoln was learning the game of politics.

11/5/2006 9:47 pm (et) mobile_96: wonder if that Whig was the last time he tried using the dirty tricks

11/5/2006 9:47 pm (et) Widow: And still is, AHG. As Redskins coach Vince Lombardi said, "Winning isn't everything. It's the ONLY thing." When the end justifies the means, you find any means.....

11/5/2006 9:50 pm (et) Widow: I never did understand that part about the "Lost Township" letters. Written by Mary and her friend, or by Abe, or none, or all, and ???

11/5/2006 9:50 pm (et) ks: Any thoughts on the relationship between Lincoln and Speed? We all know some more recent book/author has tried to make a big deal out of it. You own impressions?

11/5/2006 9:51 pm (et) amhistoryguy: In debating a bill to resolve a debt within the Illinois treasury, I don't recall the details, Lincoln admited that while the bill was not perfect, he "believed in the general correctness of it."

11/5/2006 9:51 pm (et) Widow: Two young men going through the same tough times emotionally. They lived together, talked a lot. Learned they shared a great deal.

11/5/2006 9:51 pm (et) ks: I can't say Wilson helped us any there, Widow. ;) I thought I understood about those letters, probably because in reading previously, the author took a stand and presented with a particular slant. After reading Wilson, I certainly don't know how it took place of who wrote what and when.

11/5/2006 9:52 pm (et) amhistoryguy: Lincoln seems to have been willing to trade off for general correctness on other occasions as well.

11/5/2006 9:52 pm (et) Widow: Well, KS, you had the advantage of knowing something. I'd never heard of them, and wish now I never did.

11/5/2006 9:53 pm (et) ks: LOL. Sorry. ;) I read the chat tonight and am reminded of a comment shotgun made about trying to moderate and guide a discussion is a lot like herding cats. ;) And the person who is supposed to be attempting to herd has this massive sinus headache tonight and isn't worth beans in the efforts! LOL

11/5/2006 9:53 pm (et) Widow: I think Joshua and Abe were just good friends, buddies, pals. They can talk to each other without using words.

11/5/2006 9:54 pm (et) Widow: I think both would have been astonished at the suggestion of anything else in their friendship. They had enough problems dealing with girls, let alone guys.

11/5/2006 9:54 pm (et) ks: Basecat had thoughts on Abe and Joshua and labeled them the "Odd Couple". :) Myself...just thought they were both highly emotional, sensitive and close friends. Base's thoughts..."As mentioned during our discussion on the phone last night, I found it very odd that Abe did not attend the wedding of Fanny and Joshua. For all the stuff I have read about them being the best of friends over the years, it sounds an alarm here that while they continued to write letters back and forth "counseling" each other, something must have happened that put some kind of strain on the friendship. Not sure whether it was the rivalry for the charms of Matilda, or that Abe was upset that he was moving away. Am sure by the last of my statement, those who follow the Tripp camp sounds like I am endorsing the findings Tripp made to come to the conclusion that Abe was gay, and there was more to the friendship with Joshua Speed etc. Quite the contrary, and just my opinion, he was more saddened that his friend was moving away. The book makes a good point about Abe's visit to the Speed manor down in Kentucky prior to the marriage of Joshua, and shows how much he enjoyed the visit. That's what makes it so hard for me to understand why he was not at his friend's wedding. Does not add up. As mentioned last night as well, and IIRC, Speed came to visit Abe in the White House when he was President one time. Am sure amhg would know more about that, and would probably add more detail to that meeting if asked. IIRC, Abe offered Speed a job in his administration, but was turned down by Speed."

11/5/2006 9:55 pm (et) ks: Wilson didn't mention why Lincoln wasn't at the wedding. Do any of you have a clue about that from other reading you've done on Lincoln? I can't say that I do.

11/5/2006 9:56 pm (et) Widow: Wilson didn't mention a lot of things. Abe was pretty busy in his politics and law practice. Not much money for another trip to KY. Just a guess here.

11/5/2006 9:57 pm (et) ks: Notice that Basecat was expecting commentary from you, AHG. :)

11/5/2006 9:57 pm (et) mobile_96: Don't remember is Goodwin said anything

11/5/2006 9:58 pm (et) Widow: I don't think she did, mobile. It would have stuck in my memory if Abe had gone to Joshua's wedding.

11/5/2006 9:58 pm (et) amhistoryguy: Seven letters that Lincoln sent to Speed were signed "Lincoln" instead of his usual "A. Lincoln" Some scholars point to this as a sign of their close friendship.

11/5/2006 9:59 pm (et) ks: Wow. And did we read that in Wilson, AHG? Surely you've pulled that factoid from other Lincoln reading, right?

11/5/2006 10:00 pm (et) Widow: Well, of course they were close friends! Lee signed letters to his wife and kids as R.E. Lee. What does that signify in measuring affections?

11/5/2006 10:00 pm (et) amhistoryguy: I have to admit to being increasingly turned off by Wilson's book, and I'm kind of tired of slamming the book and author.

11/5/2006 10:00 pm (et) ks: That he was a cold, heartless, marble man. :-D Okay, maybe not.

11/5/2006 10:01 pm (et) Widow: It was common to sign with initials or full name. The absence of a first initial meant: you know who I am, Speed.

11/5/2006 10:01 pm (et) amhistoryguy: The note on letters to Speed is in Neeley Jr's "Encyclopedia of Abraham Lincoln.

11/5/2006 10:02 pm (et) ks: Understood, AHG. It's one I just want to be finished with. As stated earlier, I can appreciate some bits of information that were new to me, especially given the timing right before our trip to the LoL. But beyond that, I've read better books on Abe.

11/5/2006 10:02 pm (et) mobile_96: Donald doesn't say anything either, But Lincoln had just gone into partnership with Logan, so maybe he had cases and couldn't go

11/5/2006 10:02 pm (et) Widow: I'm with you, AHG. For a biography of Lincoln's early years, I consider this unsatisfying. And I'll never read anything else by this Wilson guy.

11/5/2006 10:03 pm (et) amhistoryguy: I would have expected mention of Lincoln's participation in the legislature, he wrote bills for other legislatures for example, to have been included in a work claiming to examine Lincoln's "Transformation."

11/5/2006 10:04 pm (et) Widow: Wilson also left out the part about chopping down the cherry tree.

11/5/2006 10:04 pm (et) ks: But he DID state that the "honest" part had to do with his judging of races??

11/5/2006 10:05 pm (et) Widow: Looks to me like Wilson came to the brilliant conclusion that, hey, Abe grew up in New Salem and Springfield. Now here's what happened, and Wilson picks and chooses a few to prove the obvious.

11/5/2006 10:06 pm (et) ks: I put question marks because I'm not recalling clearly. I read while holding my glasses in front of my face because I couldn't stand the pressure of wearing them. I tend to believe it's possible I missed a thing of two. ;)

11/5/2006 10:06 pm (et) Widow: I can't say any more, KS, without getting obnoxious and repetitive.

11/5/2006 10:06 pm (et) Widow: No, KS, you haven't missed anything.

11/5/2006 10:07 pm (et) ks: Funny you say that, Widow. Recall feeling that way about Herndon's psychoanalyzing Lincoln (Abe and Mary Todd) and picking and choosing what he included in order to try to make his points.

11/5/2006 10:07 pm (et) Widow: What else did Basecat have to say?

11/5/2006 10:07 pm (et) ks: Okay, then I'll toss out another Basecat commentary on 19th Century GOSSIP.

11/5/2006 10:08 pm (et) ks: From the Basecat...I found this part of the book fascinating, as those folks sure spent a lot of time writing back and forth in disguised terms to intimate who was in love with who, and how a relationship was going etc. Just from my interpretation of the interviews quoted that Herndon, Hay, et al. did in compiling their histories of Abe's early life, for the most part it was well I heard this, or I was told that, and in very few occasions the interviewee said that he/she knew just exactly what happened. It does not help that Abe, in his own writings, rarely divulged just what he was feeling directly, but just intimated that in certain ways he was not himself. I find it amusing that Abe was always scared that he would not do something to be remembered for his time on Earth. And yet, in those letters and other writings he left behind, he sure made sure to be ambiguous about many details of his early life. As he grew older, and became President, just from reading what he wrote, he did change. But most of that change was his writings on his politics, and very rarely do you see something that shows what he was thinking about events in his private life. I think Professor Gabor Boritt summed it best in a title of a book he edited on Lincoln. The title was "The Lincoln Enigma", and that's why after all these years we are still fascinated by his life, and can see that this fascination will continue.

11/5/2006 10:08 pm (et) amhistoryguy: Lincoln got his nickname of "Honest Abe," when he returned an overcharge of 6 cents to Clarrisa Hornbuckle, walking six miles to do so. The people of New Salem took to calling him, "Honest Abe."

11/5/2006 10:09 pm (et) ks: AHG, again something not read in Wilson's book. He related that bit about races.

11/5/2006 10:10 pm (et) amhistoryguy: The version I mention is presented in "A Visit to Mr. Lincoln's Village," a booklet I picked up at New Salem.

11/5/2006 10:11 pm (et) ks: I see. Not one with which I was familiar. Thanks for including it here.

11/5/2006 10:12 pm (et) amhistoryguy: The story was repeated by Greene, who clerked with Lincoln at Offut's store.

11/5/2006 10:13 pm (et) Widow: "Team of Rivals" is too long for a book chat. But to those of you who haven't read it, I recommend it highly. It's not just Lincoln, but his cabinet. Goodwin got a Pulitzer for it. And it's well worth reading.

11/5/2006 10:13 pm (et) ks: We've put in an hour's worth of effort on this concluding chat. IMO that's enough. I see no reason to drag it out. Any final thoughts on the book? That doesn't mean chat must cease and desist. Just want the final bookchat commentary clearly noted in the log.

11/5/2006 10:13 pm (et) Widow: I'm done with Honor's Voice. Thanks ks.

11/5/2006 10:14 pm (et) mobile_96: It beat me up, sure glad to remove it to the closet for a while

11/5/2006 10:14 pm (et) amhistoryguy: My final comment on the book would be a recommendation to read "Lincoln's Preparation for Greatness," by Paul Simon, for an interesting look at that period of Lincoln's life.

11/5/2006 10:14 pm (et) ks: We're not going to love every book we choose. :) Started this one with high hopes and did learn some things, but Wilson's style was a put off.

11/5/2006 10:15 pm (et) mobile_96: I also recommend Team of Rivals, read it for a now defunct B&N discussion group

11/5/2006 10:15 pm (et) Widow: That's it, KS. Any little scrap or detail about Lincoln is fine with me, Not Wilson's management of them, that's all.