Mr. Lincoln: The Life of Abraham Lincoln

Course No. 8561
Professor Allen C. Guelzo, Ph.D.
Gettysburg College
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Course No. 8561
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  • You should buy audio if you would enjoy the convenience of experiencing this course while driving, exercising, etc. While the video does contain visual elements, the professor presents the material in an engaging and clear manner, so the visuals are not necessary to understand the concepts. Additionally, the audio audience may refer to the accompanying course guidebook for names, works, and examples that are cited throughout the course.
  • You should buy video if you prefer learning visually and wish to take advantage of the visual elements featured in this course. The video version is well illustrated with more than 200 visual elements, including maps and images of the locations and battles discussed. Portraits of Lincoln and key figures in his remarkable life and career, such as his family, Senator Stephen Douglas, and General George McClellan, are also featured.
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Course Overview

John Locke Scripps, who had convinced Lincoln to write his first campaign autobiography, asserted that the 16th president had become "the Great American Man—the grand central figure in American (perhaps the World's) History." Historians still find it hard to quibble with this opinion of Lincoln's place in the story of America. Lincoln was the central figure in the nation's greatest crisis, the Civil War. His achievements in office make as good a case as any that he was the greatest president in U.S. history.

What made Lincoln great? What was it about him that struck those who knew him? This course explores those questions with the help of an authority who, in his own words, has "spent many years trying to get to know this man from afar," and in doing so has become one of the country's most distinguished Lincoln scholars and an award-winning author for his books about Lincoln.

Professor Allen C. Guelzo will lead you on "a great adventure," a tour of Lincoln's life, from his forebears' arrival in America through an evaluation of how his legacy lives on for us today. You will come to know Lincoln through the eyes of those who knew, lived with, and worked with him.

For Lincoln buffs and those simply wishing to know him much better, this course opens a compelling view into his thinking and career.

In addition to asking what it was like to know Lincoln, Professor Guelzo explores three themes:

  • What ideas were at the core of his understanding of American politics?
  • Why did he oppose slavery, and what propelled him, in the 1850s, into the open opposition to slavery that led to his election to the presidency in 1860?
  • What particular gifts equipped Lincoln to lead the nation through the "fiery trial" of the Civil War?

Lincoln as Man and President

"Just think of such a sucker as me as President."

—Abraham Lincoln, commenting to a newspaper editor on his presidential chances

With Professor Guelzo, you will explore Lincoln's pre-presidential life for clues to his most significant personality traits. You will find a man who possessed perhaps the most complex inner life of any American public figure. You will meet a Lincoln who:

  • Was an unusual combination of both introvert and extrovert.
  • Never joined a church, professed no formal religion, and was even known to have been critical of Christianity before he entered politics. Yet he may have been more moral, ethical, and "Christian" than any other U.S. president.
  • Held a profoundly fatalistic view of life, rooted in the Calvinist teaching of his youth, that human will was essentially nothing, and everything was predestined by an immensely powerful God.

However, Lincoln was anything but passive in life. Largely self-taught, he was a quietly confident man who, regardless of the task—learning to be a surveyor, a lawyer, or President of the United States—"went at it with good earnest."

This aspect of the course will enable you to connect Lincoln the man with Lincoln the president. How was it that someone with limited prior political experience and no administrative background, who was considered homely, unsophisticated, and self-deprecating, could have achieved such monumental success as the nation's chief executive?

In fact, as you will see, "folksy" Abraham Lincoln was about nothing if not ambition: his own personal burning ambition ("a little engine that knew no rest," his law partner described it) and his firm conviction that the unfettered opportunity to fulfill one's ambitions—"that every man can make himself"—was what made America great.

A House Divided

"A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free... It will become all one thing, or all the other."

—acceptance speech as 1858 Republican nominee for U.S. Senate from Illinois

Professor Guelzo does a remarkable job of shedding light on Lincoln's relationship to the issue that defined his presidency and place in history: slavery.

You will trace the circumstances that spurred Lincoln, in the 1850s, to join the Republican Party and take the stand on slavery that won him prominence as a national politician. These events include the repeal of the Missouri Compromise and the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, the Supreme Court's Dred Scott decision, and Lincoln's famous debates with Illinois Senator Stephen A. Douglas.

As part of this discussion, Professor Guelzo covers an aspect of Lincoln's opposition to slavery that is not always emphasized: his pro-business, free-market philosophy. As a Whig Party member of the Illinois legislature, Lincoln had favored projects—the creation of a state bank, sale of public lands, transportation improvements—that promoted business and economic development.

In the 1850s, political and economic trends made it clear that slavery, far from slowly dying out as the Founding Fathers had anticipated, was poised to expand to new U.S. states and territories. This alarmed Lincoln, who viewed an expanding supply of inexpensive slave labor as a dire threat to the survival of the free market.

"The Work We Are In"

"With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan."

—Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address

Lincoln transformed himself from an insecure manager into a confident and competent chief executive. "The old man sits here and wields like a backwoods Jupiter the bolts of war and the machinery of government with a hand equally steady and firm," marveled Lincoln's young secretary, John Hay.

You will consider Lincoln's skill in directing not only the war against the Confederacy, but in dealing with difficult members of his own federal government, including General George McClellan, Secretary of State William Seward, and Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase—each of whom thought he could run the government better than Lincoln—and Supreme Court Justice Roger B. Taney, who tried to issue legal decisions to cripple Lincoln's war effort.

Among the most memorable parts of this course are those in which Professor Guelzo examines Lincoln's nearly unrivaled powers as a writer and communicator. Only Thomas Jefferson spoke and wrote as eloquently and persuasively about American democracy as Lincoln.

The "Great American Man"

"We here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."

—Conclusion to the Gettysburg Address

This course is an absorbing opportunity to increase your knowledge of a man whose words and life embodied the nature of democracy.

Abraham Lincoln understood and envisioned the U.S. as a nation of self-governing equals who were wise enough to be guided not just by self-interest or popular enthusiasm, but by an abiding sense of right and wrong. Ultimately, he gave that nation, in his words, "a new birth of freedom."

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12 lectures
 |  30 minutes each
  • 1
    Young Man Lincoln
    Abraham Lincoln was born with little more than his own natural talents. His father, Thomas, was more than contented with the life of a classic Jeffersonian farmer in Kentucky. When the Lincolns moved from Indiana to Illinois in 1830, Abraham struck out on his own and never looked back. x
  • 2
    Whig Meteor
    Lincoln's entry into politics coincided with the emergence of a new national political party, the Whigs, founded by Henry Clay. Lincoln moved into the forefront of Whig agitation in Illinois to improve business and finance. His own business ventures, however, flopped, and in 1837 he took up the practice of law in Springfield, Illinois. x
  • 3
    Lincoln, Law, and Politics
    Through his law partner, John Todd Stuart, Lincoln met and married Mary Todd in 1842 and attached himself to the Whig elite of Springfield. He won election to Congress in 1846, but his term was undistinguished. Lincoln returned to Illinois to a life of domestic unhappiness, but substantial success as an attorney, especially in civil litigation. x
  • 4
    The Mind of Abraham Lincoln
    Lincoln's folksiness was a shield he rarely let down. Many saw him as an introverted, slightly aloof lawyer. He disliked wanna-be aristocrats and was a tremendous reader. He believed in God, but not the God of any formal religion. x
  • 5
    Lincoln and Slavery
    Lincoln expected that slavery would die out. Instead it experienced a tremendous revolution in profitability. In 1854, Illinois Senator Stephen A. Douglas opened the western territories to slave expansion through the Kansas-Nebraska Act, and Lincoln reentered politics in opposition. x
  • 6
    The Great Debates
    Lincoln joined the Republican Party and challenged Stephen A. Douglas for the Illinois senate seat in 1858. In seven open-air debates across Illinois, Douglas portrayed Lincoln as an abolitionist fanatic, and Lincoln condemned Douglas's indifference to the moral wrong of slavery. Lincoln narrowly lost the election but gained national attention. x
  • 7
    Lincoln and Liberty, Too
    After Lincoln impressed East Coast Republicans with a major address at New York's Cooper Institute, his backers stage-managed his nomination at the Republican convention in May 1860. He won the presidency by garnering almost all of the North's electoral votes. x
  • 8
    The Uncertain President
    When South Carolina led the Southern states in seceding from the Union, it was unclear whether Lincoln had the experience or skill to manage the situation. He responded to the South's attack on Ft. Sumter by calling out the militia, but the first battle of the Civil War, Bull Run, was a defeat for the Union army. Lincoln then turned to George McClellan as his chief strategist. x
  • 9
    The Emancipation Moment
    General McClellan was a great organizer but strategically lethargic. Lincoln concluded that he had no choice but to connect the war with the ending of slavery, over McClellan's opposition. Lincoln's original plan for emancipation had been to offer gradual buy-outs—monetary compensation to slave owners—but when these were refused by the Border States, he turned to the Emancipation Proclamation. x
  • 10
    Lincoln’s Triumph
    The Emancipation Proclamation cost Lincoln and his party dearly in the 1862 elections. He also sustained deep personal wounds in the death of his son and political tribulations from a divided cabinet, radical members of his own party, and the Democratic Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Lincoln drew on his confidence in the will of God and his shrewd powers of analyzing people and situations. x
  • 11
    The President’s Sword
    Lincoln used speeches and letters to defend his ideas, and his success was extraordinary. His gift as a communicator was matched by the gift for battlefield victory offered by Ulysses S. Grant. Lincoln feared he would be defeated for reelection, but a string of Union military victories rejuvenated his fortunes. x
  • 12
    The Dream of Lincoln
    Lincoln's Second Inaugural offered a quasi theology of the war, rebuking radicals of his own party who wanted a vengeful reconstruction of the South. But Lincoln was already beginning to attach conditions to reconstruction himself, beginning with recognition of slave emancipation and voting rights for freed slaves. These plans were tragically cut short by his murder on the night of April 14, 1865. x

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  • 12 lectures on 6 CDs
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Course Guidebook Details:
  • 72-page printed course guidebook
  • Suggested readings
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Your professor

Allen C. Guelzo

About Your Professor

Allen C. Guelzo, Ph.D.
Gettysburg College
Dr. Allen C. Guelzo is the Henry R. Luce Professor of the Civil War Era and Director of Civil War Era Studies at Gettysburg College in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. He holds an M.A. and a Ph.D. in History from the University of Pennsylvania. Among garnering other honors, he has received the Medal of Honor from the Daughters of the American Revolution. He is a member of the National Council on the Humanities. Professor Guelzo is...
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Reviews

Mr. Lincoln: The Life of Abraham Lincoln is rated 4.8 out of 5 by 110.
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Entertaining and worthwhile Prof. Guelzo is a knowledgeable writer and scholar in this field. Entertaining speaking voice, uses inflection and emotion to emphasize key points. Good information, solid conclusions, minor historical quibbles, but that is true for much of our Civil War history!
Date published: 2018-04-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A wonderful personal look at Lincoln A charming, fact filled look at Lincoln. Dr. Guelzo is an amazing lecturer. Never boring he has a great sense of humor and dramatic flair. He could easily do theatre. The student gets a unique perspective on the titanic tides of events that swirled around Lincoln. Dr. Guelzo seems to see from inside Lincoln's head and lets the student see with Lincoln's own eyes. Not only what Lincoln did but why. I am somewhat thunderstruck at how the lecturer can pick the essential events as Lincoln would have seen them and used them to give the student an overview of history. Very impressive.
Date published: 2018-03-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful treatment of the material! Professor Allen C. Guelzo is fantastic. I have bought a lot of Great Courses over the years, but by far this was one of the best. His passion and knowledge of Lincoln's subtleties was amazing. He transmitted emotions as well as knowledge. Well done! However, I am soooo disappointed in the way Great Courses is now delivering MP3s I must make a statement. Each and every track must be downloaded individually and most browsers only allow you to download 5 at a time. Meaning a 40 or 50 track course requires a huge block of time to get a course downloaded to my phone. Downloading a 130 track course takes days of efforts. I am done with that and started buying biographies on Amazon. It is also why I can't recommend Great Courses to friends anymore. I love your courses, but I love my time even more. PLEASE offer a zip file option for those of us who can handle it.
Date published: 2017-10-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Course Very informative about Lincoln and the Civil War. I especially enjoyed the lecturer's personal style.
Date published: 2017-09-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Marvelous! Microscopically detailed and hosted by one America's most renowned Lincoln scholars. Dr. Guelzo's erudition is simply unsurpassed as he delivers lectures in a wonderfully warm and winsome manner. His reverence for our greatest leader is obvious as Lincoln's formative years and remarkable achievements roar to life in this impeccably rendered series. Hilarity, heartbreak and humanity from the 16th president depicted in 12 compelling lessons -- highest recommendation!
Date published: 2017-07-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding Presenter You get drawn into the lectures by Professor Guelzo's presentation. Working without notes, his material just flows so smoothly. You don't realize that the time has passed when you come to an end of a session.
Date published: 2017-06-17
Rated 4 out of 5 by from An excellent introduction This is an excellent introduction to the life and thinking of our sixteenth president. Professor Guelzo is always clear, well organized, and entertaining. The most interesting part to me was the discussion of Lincoln’s early life before he went into national politics, simply because this aspect of his life tends to get less attention in other courses and books on the Civil War and Lincoln’s role in it. Having said that, I do not mean to imply that Professor Guelzo’s treatment of that period is disproportionate. The course is clearly a brief introduction to a very complex life that has been the subject of vast libraries of books. In my view Dr. Guelzo apportions his time appropriately. If one wishes to learn more about the Civil War or the speeches and writings of Lincoln, the courses by Gary Gallagher and David Zarefsky cover these very well.
Date published: 2017-02-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful survey of Mr. Lincoln A great survey of Mr. Lincoln and a terrific presenter
Date published: 2017-02-05
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