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Wilson, Douglas L., ed.; Davis, Rodney O., ed.; Greene, William G. 'Introduction' in 'Herndon's Informants: Letters, Interviews, and Statements About Abraham Lincoln' . Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1998. [format: book], [genre: letter]. Permission: University of Illinois Press
Persistent link to this document: http://lincoln.lib.niu.edu/file.php?file=herndonr13.html


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tenets of Christianity; he had proposed marriage to several women, and after becoming engaged to his future wife, Mary Todd, had fallen in love with someone else; and after a long period of guilt and indecision, he had finally given himself up to a loveless marriage to satisfy his sense of honor.

Nearly all of this was news to Herndon, who soon realized that the picture he was in the process of putting together was scandalously at odds with what other biographers had presented and with what the worshiping public had come to expect. When he tried out some of his findings on the public in November 1866— in a lecture on Lincolnís tragic courtship of Ann Rutledge—he tactlessly gave offense by urging his own hypothesis that Annís untimely death was a principal source of Lincolnís lifelong melancholy and that Ann herself was the only woman Lincoln had ever loved. [11] When critics and friends alike objected that he was treating subjects that should be left alone, he justified his approach with a doctrine of "necessary truth." It held that private and inappropriate to published biography as certain facts or conditions might ordinarily be considered, they were necessary to the understanding of Lincolnís character, which in turn was the key to what the man had ultimately accomplished. Defending himself to a friend, Herndon wrote: "All truths are necessary that show, explain, or throw light on Mr. Lincolnís mind, nature, quality, characteristics, thoughts, acts and deeds, because he [suppressed] the Rebellion . . . and guided the grandest of Revolutions through its grand con-sumation." [12]

Knowing that he had additional revelations to make, even more unwelcome and potentially disruptive than the Ann Rutledge story, gave Herndon serious pause. Especially the ambiguous and inconsistent nature of the testimony he collected about Lincolnís paternity, from Kentucky informants he did not know and whom he had never questioned face-to-face, seems to have contributed to his inability to complete a draft of his biography. [13] Herndon knew only too well the traditional fate of the messenger bringing unwelcome news. "Would to God the world Knew what I do," he wrote to his young correspondent Charles H. Hart, "and save me the necessity of being the man to open and Explain all." [14] A short time later he complained to Hart: "Mr Lincoln is hard to get at — ie it will take so much talk — Explanation &c to get him properly before the world, that I almost despair." [15]

Herndonís plan was to draft his biography in 1867, but with the death of his father in that year and his subsequent inheritance of a substantial farm, Herndon let his biographical project languish. In 1869, under serious financial pressure, he
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Wilson, Douglas L., ed.; Davis, Rodney O., ed.; Greene, William G. 'Introduction' in 'Herndon's Informants: Letters, Interviews, and Statements About Abraham Lincoln' . Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1998. [format: book], [genre: letter]. Permission: University of Illinois Press
Persistent link to this document: http://lincoln.lib.niu.edu/file.php?file=herndonr13.html
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