Lincoln Discussion Symposium

Full Version: Life On The Circuit With Lincoln
You're currently viewing a stripped down version of our content. View the full version with proper formatting.
Life On The Circuit With Lincoln by Henry Clay Whitney
Copyright 1892 with about 600 pages of text

I was looking foreword to reading this, and I was very disappointed.
My copy was a reprint, and The quality of the print, slightly blurry, made my eyes tire after reading only a few pages. The author's writing style left much to be desired. Run on sentences, the frequent use of uncommon words made this book tiresome to read.

For example, the first sentence of this book,
"Among the vicissitudes incident to the progress of a government, based upon general suffrage, and composed of a general heterogeneous people, exponents of the extremes of social life will be found, installed in its curule chair"

There is so much unnecessary supplemental information and unnecessary verbiage, the interesting details of Lincoln's life easily get overwhelmed. There are about 600 pages to this book, which is about 400 to many.

The title of the book is misleading. Only one chapter had much to do with Life on the Circuit. A 30 page chapter, and only half of that was about life on the circuit.
Whitney seems to depend heavily upon Herndon's books and lectures for his information, although he is much kinder to Mrs. Lincoln than Herndon was by pointing out many of her good qualities.

Two well known Lincoln scholars have reviewed this book.
Paul Angle, in a letter to Ida Tarbell in 1936, sent her a copy of his review of Whitney's book.

Paul angle writes, "In these pages, to be sure, he will find much about Lincoln, but he will also find much that has hardly the remotest connection with the book's theme, and no connection with it's title."
Paul Angle also questions Whiney's recollections of a speech Lincoln gave at Urbana
on October 24, 1854 and Lincoln's "Lost Speech" made in Bloomington at the Republican State Convention on May 29, 1856. Only the Urbana speech is mentioned in Whitney's book

Angle writes, "One departure from the cannon of historical writing might be accidental, two slips argue intent. Apparently our biographer was determined to add to the world's knowledge of his hero's life, even if invention had to be brought to the aid of recollection."
In addition, "Much more serious, from the standpoint of it's permanent value are certain indications of deliberate misrepresentation on Whitney's part."

Angle goes further by examining some aspects of Whitey's character by looking at a court case Whitney was heavily involved with, the Rawson Divorce case of 1886. Angle shares some the details of this very public and scandalous trial on pages 11 - 14. More on this later, I'm running out of space here,

Benjamin Thomas in Portrait For Posterity - Lincoln and His Biographers has
13 pages in discussion of Whitney's book. Chapter 6 entitled An Epoch Ends, covers some of the same material as Angle. In regards to Lincoln's speech in Urbana and Bloomington, Thomas informs us that Tarbell was more impressed with Whitney's recollection of the two speeches than Angle was. And, more on Whitney's involvement in the Rawson divorce case.
Thomas book is available on Internet Archives (Books To Borrow) and it's free to sign up.
I'll go over some of Thomas's comments in a follow up post soon.
According to Thomas, Whitney's book had it's good points, however "Never a man to underestimate his own powers, Whitney was held at a somewhat lower valuation by his colleagues."
Both Angle and Thomas question Whitney's remarkable recollection of the content of some of Lincoln's speeches given 40 years earlier that no one else ever made notes on. Whitney lost much of his credibility when "in 1930 there came to light a contemporary report of the speech printed in the Alton Courier of June 5, 1856, (Lincoln's lost Bloomington speech) which was so different from Whitney's version as to utterly discredit it."

Thomas writes, "But for the period of 1854 to 1861 the book was valuable. Rich in anecdote and vivid in description...Whitney's admiration of Lincoln was unbounded; but he could see him as no more than a first rate lawyer who was ordinary successful - surely not as the knight-errant of the courtroom that some biographers depicted"

"Whitney thought to make a good income from his book."
"In the first five months after publication only 428 copies were sold..".
....his characterizations of rival authors were uncommonly crusty and tart. ... Miss Tarbell was an 'obscure Bohemian,' whose series in McClure's was a 'weary and oft told plagiarized narrative,' "sponged and cribbed' from others and written in the style of a kindergarten teacher"

If this wasn't enough, both Angle and Thomas point out some of Whitney's character faults, evidenced by his involvement in the Rawsons' divorce case.
This was an event worthy of the supermarket weekly tabloids. For our purposes, it seems that Whitney, the attorney for Mr Rawson, who was a high society banker in Chicago, Knowingly presented some outrageously scandalous and perjured testimony against the former Mrs. Rawson.

"On March 1st, 1886, Stephen W Rawson, president of the Union Trust Company of Chicago and Mrs. America Lucretia Lee were married, each for the second time. Three months later they separated and Mrs. Rawson filed a bill for separate maintenance. Rawson, employing Whitney as counsel, countered with a charge of infidelity. Charges were met with counter charges, and public interest, already aroused by the social eminence of the contestants, was intensified when Mrs. Rawson's son by her first marriage tried to kill his stepfather. And worse was yet to come.

On June 1, 1888, Mrs. Rawson walked into the courtroom, advanced to where Whitney sat, whipped out a pistol, and fired five shots at him point blank. Two bullets took effect and for weeks Whitney was in serious condition. Mrs. Rawson's lawyers--one of whom was John Barton Payne, a man whose word and character were irreproachable--justified her action by publicly accusing Whitney of driving her to desperation by manufacturing the most salacious kind of evidence against her character and hiring witnesses to swear to it.

Finding the courtroom atmosphere a bit torrid, Whitney retired temporarily to the sanctuary of his closet."

Both Angle and Thomas felt that these events ( as well as other events) had some relevance in considering Whitney's reliability and accuracy to the events he wrote about.
This book is available on the Internet Archive

It's also available on Amazon and ABE Books

I didn't care for this book, and can not recommend it
Thank you very much for this review, Gene!
(The book took hours of your life away, but your review perhaps saved some of us several hours.)
Reference URL's