Brian R. Dirck. Lincoln in Indiana. Carbondale Southern Illinois
University Press, 2017. 152 pp. $24.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-8093-3565-7.
Reviewed by Joshua A. Claybourn (Independent Scholar)
Published on H-FedHist (October, 2018)
Commissioned by Caryn E. Neumann
Claybourn on Dirck, _Lincoln in Indiana_
Books about Abraham Lincoln began springing up immediately after his
death and their proliferation seems to have continued unabated to
this day. About sixteen thousand books cover Mr. Lincoln. Every
aspect of his life and philosophy has been covered in depth at some
point by some writer. Why, then, do we need another one?
Despite the proliferation of Lincoln books, there remains a dearth of
modern material about his youth in Indiana. For generations now
biographers have downplayed the significance of Lincoln's Indiana
years (ages seven to twenty-one), partly because they regarded the
region as backward. Many took cues from William Herndon, Lincoln's
law partner and biographer, who dubbed Lincoln's Indiana neighborhood
"a stagnant, putrid pool," and Lincoln himself, who nurtured a
narrative of his rising from humble obscurity.
Lincoln's youth in Indiana, however, played a critical role in
developing the nineteenth president's character and philosophy. If
any area of Lincoln's life deserves more scholarship, it's his youth.
Into this fertile field jumped historian Brian Dirck, professor of
history at Anderson University, with _Lincoln in Indiana_. The book
is part of Southern Illinois University Press's Concise Lincoln
Library series, a project of about thirty volumes of compact books
intended to offer a quick review of numerous Lincoln topics at a
Dirck suggests that Lincoln's youth in Indiana was critical to
shaping how Lincoln "understood kinship, friendship, work and pay,
religion and education, parenting and childhood" (p. 3). Charting
this period of Lincoln's life chronologically, Dirck begins with
Lincoln's entry into Indiana in 1816 and ends with the family's
departure for Illinois in 1830. Throughout this journey Dirck
provides readers with a good overview of the Indiana frontier and its
early statehood history. He accurately summarizes the Lincoln farm,
its environment, and unforgiving life in Indiana at the time.
Dirck focuses especially on Lincoln's complex relationship with his
family. He explores the hardships faced by Abraham's sister and
mother, who both died in Indiana, and the significant impact they had
on Lincoln's outlook. Dirck excels most in placing Lincoln's youth in
the wider Indiana and American context, giving insightful perspective
on Indiana's unique frontier environment. When Lincoln and his family
eventually set out for Illinois in March 1830, he left Indiana
equipped with experiences that significantly shaped the legal and
political career before him.
Dirck describes an increasingly strained relationship between Abraham
and his father, Thomas. Father and son "shared little in common" and
by the time Abraham was in his early teens, "he exhibited at the very
least a certain coolness toward Thomas" (pp. 66-67). "The
relationship between Thomas and Abraham remained chilly until the
end" (p. 68).
Although this strained relationship between father and son is the
traditional view among Lincoln scholars, it has come under
considerable scrutiny in recent years. In 1942, Louis A. Warren
described what he thought was the unfair demonization of Thomas
Lincoln. More recently, Richard E. Hart, past president and current
board member of the Abraham Lincoln Association, has helped lead the
charge of Thomas Lincoln revisionists who argue that the father and
son duo remained respectful and loving of one another without any
hatred or disgust. Dirck never delves deeply into these competing
views and instead faithfully presents the conventional perspective
among Lincoln historians--a "troubled" relationship between father
Dirck relies on a mixture of primary, secondary, and modern source
material. As with any biography of Lincoln, William Herndon's
research conducted soon after Lincoln's death plays a central role.
Herndon interviewed and corresponded with scores of Abraham Lincoln's
friends and acquaintances in Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, and
Washington. Herndon's collection includes observations and opinions
of more than 250 people who knew Lincoln well before he became
mythologized. It remains one of the best sources for Lincoln's life
in Indiana. Nevertheless, Herndon's informants often relayed
inaccuracies and bias. Dirck maintains a "healthy respect for its
limitations" (p. 3) and appropriately consults other sources when
necessary to arrive at a history grounded on solid scholarship.
Although Dirck's _Lincoln in Indiana_ covers all of the highlights
and most significant aspects of Lincoln's youth, it remains a
relatively brief account. Many of the relatively minor stories never
get addressed. For instance, Dirck gives only a cursory review of
lawyer John Brackenridge's impact and never mentions attorney John
Pitcher. Because of the light treatment of these and other topics,
the book cannot serve as a definitive guide to Lincoln's youth, but
it nonetheless achieves its intended scope--a good, quick primer for
those interested in the subject. Despite the tremendous amount of
Lincoln material, Dirck identified a void in Lincoln material and
offers a much-needed modern, concise history of Lincoln's life in
Citation: Joshua A. Claybourn. Review of Dirck, Brian R., _Lincoln in Indiana_. H-FedHist, H-Net Reviews. October, 2018.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.