Lincoln at Peoria
The Turning Point
Getting Right with the
Declaration of Independence
by Lewis E. Lehrman
Lincoln at Peoria Lewis E. Lehrman Lincoln Institute
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Lincoln At Peoria › Reviews

Harry Jaffa
Claremont Review of Books, Fall 2009

“[W]e are indebted to Lewis Lehrman for focusing our attention on what the angels have always known...Now, Lehrman has given us in Lincoln at Peoria a full-length treatment of the 1854 speech that marked Lincoln's initial confrontation with the fateful question of slavery expansion...The subtitle of Lew Lehrman's book is The Turning Point. The Peoria speech was a turning point in Lincoln's life and career because it represented a turning point in the life of the nation...Lincoln at Peoria is a salutary, forceful reminder of the future president's powerful entry into the political struggle that led into the Civil War. The importance Lehrman finds in the Peoria speech cannot be exaggerated.... Lehrman not only elaborates, carefully and precisely, its political and philosophical doctrines, but he traces their presence through the other speeches, as well as into the presidency. It is a book on the whole of Lincoln... As Lew Lehrman so convincingly shows, there is nothing virtually present at Gettysburg that is not actually present at Peoria... It is part of Lehrman's achievement to make us aware of the extent of what Lincoln accomplished at Peoria...We are greatly indebted to Lewis Lehrman's superb book for helping us to understand why no list, however short, of the greatest speeches of all time could omit Lincoln at Peoria.”


James R. Carroll
Louisville Courier-Journal, December 12, 2009

In Lincoln at Peoria: The Turning Point, Lewis E. Lehrman skillfully and convincingly makes the case that the speech that marked the Kentucky-born Lincoln's re-entry into politics in 1854 after a five-year hiatus also established him as one of slavery's most important opponents.

Lehrman argues that Lincoln's Peoria, Ill., speech on Oct. 16, 1854, forms the foundation of his politics and principles, in the 1850s and in his presidency.

The address is the dividing line between the early Lincoln and the mature Lincoln, Lehrman contends. And it was the start of Lincoln's intense focus on the slavery issue.

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Chandra Manning
H-Net, July 2009

“Part exhaustive survey of Abraham Lincoln scholarship, part close reading of an underappreciated Lincoln speech, part lively recreation of Illinois's antebellum political climate, and part brief for reinstating Lincoln as Great Emancipator, Lincoln at Peoria argues that the principles and skills that would equip Lincoln to end slavery in the United States came together in the fall of 1854, when he delivered a speech so powerful that it set the country on the road to emancipation and unification. In clear, businesslike prose, Lehrman persuasively establishes that the main ideas that would animate Lincoln from 1854 to his inauguration as president were in place by the time he delivered a three-hour speech against the Kansas-Nebraska Act at Peoria, Illinois, on October 16, 1854.”


Daniel W. Stowell
Journal of American History, June 2009

“Lewis E. Lehrman, a cofounder of the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, has long had a passion for American history and particularly for Lincoln. In this volume, he draws renewed attention to the earliest of Lincoln's mature antislavery speeches.”


Editorial
Peoria Journal-Star, February 12, 2009

“In his 2008 book, “Lincoln at Peoria: The Turning Point,” Lewis Lehrman - a scholar of some note - writes that Lincoln's Peoria speech ranks with his best. 'To understand President Abraham Lincoln, one must understand the Peoria speech ... It forms the foundation of his politics and principles ... It is a rhetorical and literary masterpiece” that “ dramatically altered the political career of the speaker and, as a result, the history of America.'”


George W. Gowen
The Federal Lawyer, January 2009

“Lewis Lehrman's masterly study of Abraham Lincoln's 1854 speech in Peoria provides a revealing look at Lincoln's evolution from small-town lawyer to a stirring speaker, an adept politician, and, finally, an extraordinary statesman. Implicitly, Lehrman's book is about the moral and spiritual underpinnings of the United States.”


Wayne Temple
writer for Lincoln Herald, upcoming

"For twenty years, Mr. Lehrman studied the 1854 crisis in American politics. He prodigiously searched both primary and secondary sources whenever he was not engaged in his business enterprises. The result is a masterpiece in both literary and historical accomplishments. His interpretations fill a noticeable void in Abraham Lincolnís life which hitherto has not been explored in such minute detail...."


William Voegeli
The New Criterion , June 2009

“Lewis's Lehrman's benefactions to several educational and reserch institutions have deepened his countrymen's understanding of their history. Lincoln at Peoria is a different but equally valuable contribution to that cause.”

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Paul Ashdown
Civil War Book Review, Spring 2009

Lehrman is judicious in his judgments about the meaning of the speech for the 21st century, and makes some wise and unexpected observations. ''The conventional wisdom of American politics suggests that elections should not turn on moral issues and that single-issue candidates cannot prevail in presidential contests, '' he writes. ''Lincoln thought otherwise''.

Lehrman, a much respected public intellectual and advocate for the teaching of history, is co-chairman of the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History in New York. Deep immersion in Lincoln studies has done his own pen no harm, and his final sentence is as deft a tribute to the inscrutable 16th president as has been written: ''Like a luminous comet, he had for a twinkling thrust himself before our eyes, the eyes of the world, there to vanish into the deep whence he came.''

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Gordon Berg
Washington Times, April 2, 2009

"Mr. Lehrman wisely lets Lincoln's own words carry the story. The man we encounter is not the abolitionist he would become, although there are clear indications that this likely would be the course he would follow. Rather, we find a conservative, strict constructionist lawyer who used facts and precedents from the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution to demolish the arguments Douglas made for the law he so desperately hoped would settle the question of slavery forever."

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Jason Emerson
The American Spectator, April 2009

"Lehrman's examination of Lincoln's Peoria speech and the events surrounding it is a missing piece in the vast puzzle of Lincoln scholarship....Lincoln at Peoria is an indispensable study on Lincoln's rise to greatness. It is fascinating and revelatory, and imbued with the care of a historian with a deep respect and reverence for Ė and adherence to Ė the historical record. One cannot imagine this book being improved upon."

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E. Marvin Thomas
Choice, March 2009

"The Peoria speech heralded Lincoln's reentry into politics and catapulted him into the national debate over slavery. Yet, until now, there has been no detailed study of this speech. Lehrman has undertaken a thorough analysis of the content, rhetoric, and consequences of the address. Of somewhat narrow scope in the vast world of Lincoln scholarship, this is still a valuable book for anyone seeking to understand the future Great Emancipator and his turbulent times."


Jason Emerson
American Heritage, Spring 2009

"As Lehrman deftly explains, the Peoria speech was the foundation of Lincolnís political ideology and rhetoric for the rest of his life: its influence is palpable in his debates with Douglas in 1858, his Cooper Union Speech in 1860, and many of his ideas and policies as president toward slavery. Lincoln in Peoria traces the context, rhetoric, and consequences of that utterance and its place in Lincolnís rise to greatness. Lehrman spent 20 years researching and writing this book, and it shows. Lincoln at Peoria will not easily be surpassed as the best account of this speech."


James Swanson
Washington Times, February 15, 2009

"Lewis E. Lehrman's Lincoln at Peoria: The Turning Point fleshes out the most important turning point of Lincoln's political life - his October 1854 speech in which he opposed the Kansas-Nebraska Act and the extension of slavery into the territories. Lincoln had given up politics and returned to private life. Aroused, he emerged as a leader of the anti-slavery cause and in this speech set forth the principles that took him to the White House."


Lucas Morel
First Principles, February 11, 2009

“Lincoln once wrote that in politics, every policy has a “central idea” from which all the others derive. Lehrman makes a convincing case that the salient ideas of Lincoln's political career emanate from his address delivered at Peoria, Illinois, on October 16, 1854-ideas that we Americans still struggle to put into political practice. Lincoln's efforts at Peoria helped turn this country back to what he called “our ancient faith,” and his rejection of political indifference towards the rights of man still remains the standard for political leadership the world over.”

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Christopher Waldrep
Journal of Illinois History, January 2009

“any reader will come away impressed by this author's absolute mastery of the historiography. Few pages lack a quote from some well-known historian, and most pages feature references and quotes from more than one. This book is studded with the author's extensive knowledge of the historical literature on Lincoln.”


Publisher's Weekly
October 2008

"In this careful, balanced look at Abraham Lincoln's stirring 1854 Peoria, Ill., speech, writer and historian Lehrman finds a "prelude to greatness" that put the little-known lawyer and politician on the path to national prominence while laying the intellectual groundwork for his presidency... Ably building on the drama of Lincoln's anti-slavery efforts through subsequent years, culminating in his ascent to the presidency, Lehrman's detailed chronicle, rich in first-person accounts, lays out the case that from his earliest public forays, Lincoln was no ordinary leader."


Joseph R. Fornieri
Intercollegiate Review, Spring 2009

"Lehrman's outstanding study integrates and builds upon insights from the fields of history, political science, and political philosophy....Lehrman deftly shows that what Lincoln and the opponents of slavery confronted in the mid-nineteenth century was not an innocent victim of "the war of northern aggression," but an aggressive and militant slave power bent upon the extension of its peculiar institution, the nationalization of slavery, and a Caribbean slave empire. Throughout the book, he never lets the reader forget that at stake was the momentous question of whether or not the United States would become a slave or a free republic. The resolution of this issue in favor of freedom was by no means inevitable. It took determined moral leadership, beginning at Peoria, and, ultimately, the Civil War to resolve it."

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James A. Percoco
Civil War News, January 2009

"Cleverly organized, Lehrman traces a variety of themes tied to Lincoln and the speech. His presentation is not so much a chronological examination of cause and effect as it is a reflection of the speech within a larger context of the times and the issues of the day."


Christopher Levenick
Wall Street Journal, July 26, 2008

“Lincoln's return to politics, and the speeches it occasioned, is the subject of Lewis E. Lehrman's "Lincoln at Peoria." Intimately familiar with the primary sources and armed with a sweeping command of the historiography, Mr. Lehrman convincingly argues that Peoria marks the inflection-point in Lincoln's political development, when he discovered both the essence of the cause he embraced and the most persuasive way to convey it. At Peoria, Lincoln ceased to be an unremarkable Whig politician, concerned with the usual party platforms on internal improvements and protective tariffs. He gave evidence for the first time of his scrupulous study of the American founding. That fall day was, Mr. Lehrman suggests, the moment when Lincoln became Lincoln.”

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Yuval Levin
The Weekly Standard, October 27, 2008

“In fact, this exceptional book is about much more than Lincoln at Peoria. It stands out for the way it combines the study of Lincoln's arguments with the study of Lincoln's character, and so not only avoids the cynicism of historians who seek to ignore the substance of Lincoln's profound and powerful rhetoric but also offers a compelling corrective to the opposite inclination (all too common among some conservative fans of Lincoln) to note only his arguments, and not his subtle, prudent politics.”

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Harold Holzer
New York Sun, August 20, 2008

“Lewis E. Lehrman's innovative new book "Lincoln at Peoria" (Stackpole Books, 412 pages, $29.95) stands apart. It is the first to parse a speech from the 1850s, and in that regard alone it is an audacious undertaking. It challenges readers to explore an oration that antedates Lincoln's sacred (and more familiar) efforts; that he delivered at the beginning, not the apex, of his national fame; that contains few golden sound bites that now live in Bartlett's; that is numbingly long (over 12,000 words, requiring more than three hours of endurance from both orator and audience ó Lincoln was a famously slow speaker); that contains sections that seem uncomfortably racist ó certainly by modern standards; and, finally, that took place not in the media centers of Washington or New York (or the hallowed soil of Gettysburg, press corps in tow), but literally played in Peoria.”

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Jay Winik
National Review, November 17, 2008

“Throughout Lincoln at Peoria, Lehrman shows a journalist’s eye for the telling detail. [Stephen A] Douglas spoke with ‘polished elegance’ while Lincoln spoke with a ‘thin, high-pitched’ voice. Lehrman also demonstrates a scholar’s appreciation for the ambiguities surrounding Lincoln. He quotes one womam’s asking upon Lincoln’s election, ‘Is it certain Mr. Lincoln is an uncompromising anti-slavery man?’ And finally, Lehrman keenly appreciates the poignancy of his story: We see Lincoln strolling in Springfield with a colleague in 1849, when the friend ruefully observes, ‘Lincoln the time is coming when You & I would have to be Democrats or Abolitionists’.

Lincoln at Peoria is a marvelous hybrid of a book. Beyond the narrative and an extensive analysis of the speech itself, Lehrman draws out the rest of Lincoln’s career, his political resurrection and America’s political realignment, the coming of the war and Lincoln’s surprise election as president, and his presidency itself, never losing sight of that magical moment at Peoria when Lincoln became Lincoln. Lehrman’s editorial hand is light, and he is careful to judge Lincoln by the standards of his own day, rather than of ours. He also goes to great lengths to quote succeeding generations of distinguished Lincoln scholars. In this sense, more than simply a fascinating exegesis, Lincoln at Peoria stands as a rich resource for scholars.”

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Samuel G. Freedman
Pulitzer Prize finalist, award-winning author, national columnist, and professor at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.

“Lewis E. Lehrman has brought his gifts as a scholar and a narrative writer into full view. His book, Lincoln At Peoria, is a remarkable and eloquent treatment of Lincoln, the private citizen, during the 1850s. He gives us our greatest president at the very moment that greatness first emerged, not in the White House or at Gettysburg but in the Illinois town where, as an idealistic lawyer, he mounted his moral campaign against slavery.”


James Oliver Horton
George Washington University, award-winning historian and co-author of Slavery and the Making of America

“This is a fascinating study of Abraham Lincoln as revealed through his words, ideas and evolving philosophy. With impressive research and writing that grips the reader, Lewis Lehrman’s meticulous analysis of one of Lincoln’s little known speeches in the turbulent decade of the 1850s contributes to our understanding of one of America’s greatest leaders during the most critical period in the nation’s history. This is a must read for anyone seeking to understand Lincoln and his time, a pivotal time that laid the foundation for our own.”


David Brion Davis
Winner, Pulitzer Prize, National Book Award and Bancroft Prize. Sterling Professor of History Emeritus, Yale University.

“Lewis E. Lehrman's new book provides an indispensable analysis of Abraham Lincoln's approach to the central issue of slavery. Fully attuned to the vast historiography on the subject, Lehrman focuses on Lincoln's magnificent speech in Peoria in October 1854 to demonstrate how Lincoln's fusion of firm moral principle with a comprehensive grasp of history and the pragmatics of American politics created a road to the future.”


R. Emmett Tyrrell
Editor in Chief for American Spectator

“For a timely book that demonstrates how a great political figure, Abraham Lincoln, developed ideas for his time that spread the American promise of freedom, I recommend Lincoln at Peoria, by a Lincoln scholar who has also been a successful businessman and movement conservative, Lewis Lehrman. Lincoln's ideas revolved around personal liberty and the institution of slavery in the 1850s. Lehrman's elucidation of Lincoln's intellectual tussle with the bad ideas of his era and the challenge of freeing the slaves and saving the Union is at once dramatic and informative about politics and America itself. The book is also well timed, as 2009 is the 200th anniversary of the Great Emancipator's birth.”


Michael Burlingame
Award-winning author of An Oral History of Abraham Lincoln, The Inner World of Abraham Lincoln and a forthcoming multi-volume biography of Lincoln, and other books on Abraham Lincoln.

“Lewis E. Lehrman’s eloquent, thorough study of Lincoln’s first oratorical masterpiece makes a major new contribution to Lincoln studies. We have had studies of the Gettysburg Address, the Second Inaugural, and the Cooper Union Speech, but until now no study of the magnificent 1854 Peoria Speech, in which Lincoln made his debut as a spokesman for the antislavery cause. The speech deserves to be far better known than it is. Lehrmanís book, Lincoln At Peoria will achieve this purpose. As an early biographer of the sixteenth president put it, the speech was “really a great one” which ought to be carefully read by every one who desires to know Mr. Lincoln's power as a debater, after his intellect was matured and ripened by years of hard experience. Those who do know the Peoria speech will gain a fuller appreciation of its context and significance from this beautifully written, well-documented study.”


James M. McPherson
Pulitzer Prize winning author of Battle Cry of Freedom, Professor Emeritus of United States History at Princeton University.

“Abraham Lincoln’s speech at Peoria, Illinois in October 1854 climaxed his return to the political stage, in response to Stephen A. Douglas's Kansas-Nebraska Act passed that year. This famous speech outlined Lincoln's political faith and marked the first of several titanic contests with Douglas that carried through the founding of the Republican party, the debates in 1858, and the presidential election of 1860. Lewis Lehrman's detailed study of the context, rhetoric, and consequences of this speech offers new insights on Lincoln's rise to greatness. Lincoln at Peoria takes its place among the important Lincoln books in this bicentennial season.”


Doris Kearns Goodwin
Pulitzer Prize winning author and Presidential historian; Author of Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln.

“Lewis E. Lehrman does a brilliant job of dramatizing a critical moment in Lincoln's life that has never before been given the careful attention it deserves. In his book, Lincoln at Peoria, he has forever given the Peoria speech of 1854 its rightful place in Lincoln's story. As a result this elegant study provides fresh insight into both the growth of Abraham Lincoln as a masterful leader and the tumultuous decade of the 1850s. It is a book that deserves an honored place in the literature of our 16th President.”


George Gilder
Amazon, December 2008

“The eminent polymath Lewis Lehrman here has made the splendid strategic decision to stand back and let the man himself speak, while providing a rich and illuminating, wise and comprehensive study of the historic context. As a result the reader not only senses, and almost directly experiences, the greatness of Lincoln but also can grasp how a speech and a historic moment converged to propel this unlikely man to the center of our nation's supreme crisis and then to the pantheon of our greatest men.”