Book Review–Lincoln in Indiana

Dirck, Brian R. Lincoln in Indiana. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press. 2017. 132 pages, notes, bibliography, index, b/w photos. ISBN 9780809335657, $24.95.

The newest title in the Concise Lincoln Library series is Lincoln in Indiana written by Anderson University history professor Brian R. Dirck. Dr. Dirck has written several other books on Lincoln and received the Barondess Award from the Civil War Roundtable of New York for his book Lincoln the Lawyer. Here in a few short pages, Dirck confirms his spot as a strong Lincoln scholar.

Slim in pages this book packs a pop when it comes to the understudied period of 1816-1830 when Lincoln was molded by his years in Indiana. As Dr. Dirck points out there is little material to work with on these years. Lincoln himself left a sparse 800 written words about this time. For other sources questions have to be asked. Are these memories correct, what biases and agendas might the person have had, and finally does martyrdom play a role in the views people put forth.

It is in the seeming wilds of Indiana that the anti-slavery Thomas Lincoln took his family in order to escape the peculiar institution, which he felt he could not compete against. Free whites could not compete with farmers who owned African slaves. It was here that Lincoln learned about hard physical labor; grubbing and   log-rolling were not what the young Lincoln ultimately wanted out of life however. He also learned of loss with the death of his mother, Nancy, due to milk sickness.

While Thomas did not fail as a farmer it can not be said that he was successful either. The farm teetered and Thomas used his marginal skills as a carpenter to bring in extra for the family.

As young Abraham grew up the bonds between father and son grew strained despite a good relationship with his stepmother Sarah. Thomas needed the young, strong Abraham to help provide labor. While education was important it was not a priority for the elder Lincoln. Abraham had an overriding interest in accomplishing more than his father. His lack of a formal education haunted Abraham in many ways as an adult.

By 1829 Abraham wanted out of Indiana. He was  tired of his labors supporting his father. Intellectually he was moving on as well. He became interested in politics and was often found at the local courthouse when court was in session. Despite his yearnings Abraham followed his family to Illinois where Thomas failed miserably. Within a year Thomas has returned in Indiana.

By this time Abraham was gone. The gulf between father and son had developed such that the younger Lincoln did not visit his dying father nor did he attend Thomas’s funeral in 1851.

Dr. Dirck has written a book that is easily readable and digestible. The length of books in this series make it easy to consume them in a couple of brief sittings. The research looks to be of high quality and the notes and bibliography are extensive for those looking to follow-up on source material.

Highly recommended for not just an introductory level work but even for those with a deeper knowledge of Lincoln. This developmental period in Lincoln’s life is important and this volume helps explain why.

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