About The Eloquent President

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.”

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.

lincolns-speechExamining 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.

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.

As he weighs the biblical cadences and vigorous parallel structures that make Lincoln’s rhetoric soar, White identifies a passionate religious strain that most historians have overlooked. 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.

Brilliantly written, boldly original in conception, The Eloquent President blends history, biography, and a deep intuitive appreciation for the quality of Lincoln’s extraordinary mind. With grace and insight, White captures the essence of the four most critical years of Lincoln’s life and makes the great words live for our time in all their power and beauty.

Interviews for “The Eloquent President”

The links below include interviews I gave in connection with, The Eloquent President: A Portrait of Lincoln Through His Words.

Abraham Lincoln Online
print interview.

 Review Essays of The Eloquent President

Daniel Sullivan of Stanford University’s Hoover Institution gives a well-thought-of review of “The Eloquent President”.  He writes:

…the Eloquent President argues most forcefully and convincingly the importance of Lincoln’s rhetoric in his politics, and of rhetoric in general to all republican politics. This is the basis of the book. “It cannot be denied,” White admits in his epilogue, “that the modern shibboleth ‘It’s only words’ has sometimes seemed to win the day. This portrait of Lincoln has turned on the axis that words matter. . . . Many today might complete the shibboleth by adding ‘. . . as opposed to actions.’ In this account of Lincoln, words are actions.” Not exclusively a Lincoln scholar, White seems to have been drawn to Lincoln studies largely by the sixteenth president’s speeches and how they all fit together.

Jennifer L. Weber writes a review essay of “The Eloquent President” in the Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association. An excerpt:

“Eloquent President: A Portrait of Lincoln Through His Words begins with the significant reminder that Lincoln’s most memorable words were not crafted for a marble wall in Washington, D.C., or even for the day’s newspapers, but for a living, breathing audience of listeners. Such treasures as the Gettysburg Address and the Second Inaugural were intended for the ear, White says, and one cannot fully appreciate them without reading them aloud or hearing them read. In this well-written book, White also argues that one cannot fully appreciate the import of any of the president’s public comments without understanding Lincoln’s growth as a speaker and a writer.”

 Reviews for The Eloquent President

“Unlike any [book] you’ve ever read on our 16th president. . . White paints an illuminating portrait of Lincoln’s presidency that is multidimensional, intimate, and inspiring, charting his growth as a leader, a communicator, and a man who believed in his destiny–and the destiny of the nation. . . This is a book that will inspire and transfix you on every page.”
Gary Jansen, executive editor, Book-of-the-Month Club

“More than perhaps any other president, Lincoln led and persuaded by the words of his speeches and writings.

“In this important book, Ronald White shows how Lincoln clothed his ideas and proposals in carefully chosen words of surpassing eloquence.

“All those who are interested in American political history as well as the Civil War will find this book indispensable.”
James M. McPherson, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Battle Cry of Freedom

“A sheer pleasure… It’s hard to say what’s more edifying; reading Abraham Lincoln’s words or reading Ronald C. White’s illuminating take on Lincoln’s words.”
The Sunday Oregonian

“Splendid…The Eloquent President is an insightful, highly readable exploration of literary genius.”
The Washington Post

“Lincoln’s eloquence was of . . . a rare kind.  Ronald C. White captures its qualities admirably…in this outstanding book.”
The Wall Street Journal

“[The Eloquent President] shows how each of [Lincoln’s] major speeches developed–from the play of syntax and practical political considerations to the lyrical, otherworldly poetry of America’s 16th president.”
Chicago Tribune (Editor’s Choice)