Samiksha Jaiswal (Editor)

The Papers of Abraham Lincoln

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The Papers of Abraham Lincoln is a long-term documentary editing project dedicated to identifying, imaging, and publishing all documents written by or to Abraham Lincoln during his lifetime (1809-1865). The project began as the Lincoln Legal Papers in 1985; in 2001 the project became the Papers of Abraham Lincoln.


Editors and Directors

  • Daniel W. Stowell, 2000–present
  • Cullom Davis, 1988–2000 (Lincoln Legal Papers)
  • Abraham Lincoln's Papers

    Abraham Lincoln is one of America's most famous politicians who is consistently ranked as one of the greatest presidents ever to occupy the White House. Any scholarly study of his life is reliant on his written words to understand his thoughts, motives, and actions, however his assassination prevented Lincoln from organizing his papers himself. After his father's death, Robert Todd Lincoln gathered a large collection of papers and entrusted their organization to David Davis with the assistance of Lincoln's private secretaries John G. Nicolay and John Hay. Nicolay and Hay subsequently drew upon these nearly 20,000 documents to write their ten volume Lincoln biography published in 1890. Robert Lincoln subsequently deposited this collection of papers at the Library of Congress in 1919 and formally deeded them to the library in January 1923 under the stipulation that they remain sealed until twenty-one years after his own death. The records were finally opened to the public in 1947. While the Robert Todd Lincoln Collection of Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress is the largest single repository collection of Lincoln documents, thousands of other items are located in repositories across the country, including the National Archives and in private collections that were either inherited or purchased. Because Lincoln documents are so voluminous and widely scattered, any attempt to identify, gather, and publish them all is a long, tedious, painstaking process.

    Previous attempts to locate and publish Lincoln documents yielded limited results. One of the earliest and purportedly exhaustive attempts was Nicolay and Hay's Complete Works of Abraham Lincoln, consisting of 12 volumes, and published in 1905. Some authors supplemented the work of Lincoln's former secretaries with such volumes as Uncollected Letters of Abraham Lincoln, edited by Gilbert A. Tracy and Francis H. Allen (1917), Uncollected Works of Abraham Lincoln: His Letters, Addresses and Other Papers, edited by Rufus Rockwell Wilson (1947), and Paul Angle's New Letters and Papers of Lincoln (1930), to name a few.

    In the 1930s, the Abraham Lincoln Association began collecting photostats of Lincoln documents and by 1945 began drafting plans that eventually culminated in The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, edited by Roy P. Basler, Marion Dolores Pratt, and Lloyd A. Dunlap, and published in 8 volumes (plus an index) between 1953 and 1955, with two supplemental volumes published in 1974 and 1990. These volumes have become a standard resource for Lincoln and Civil War scholarship, however they suffer from numerous limitations and omissions. First, Collected Works did not include incoming correspondence which denies the reader important contexts for understanding the documents. Second, twenty-first century technology and the maturation of documentary editing as a profession can now allow for more faithful renditions of the texts. Thirdly, in the nearly sixty years since the publication of Collected Works, researchers have discovered many new Lincoln documents, and new historical scholarship can better inform our understandings of the texts. With these reasons likely in mind, Lincoln biographer David Herbert Donald assessed, "Though Roy Basler and his associates did an excellent job of editing Lincoln's writings a generation ago, I believe that it is time for a new, complete, updated edition of his works."

    Project Purpose and History

    The major purpose of the Papers of Abraham Lincoln is "to preserve all of Lincoln's correspondence (both incoming and outgoing) and speeches with digital images, to provide authoritative transcriptions of those documents, to offer historical context for each document through annotation, and to make the images and transcriptions freely available over the Internet." In 2003, Richard Norton Smith, presidential historian and founding director of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, identified the Papers of Abraham Lincoln as "one of our highest institutional priorities." He said, "It is hard to imagine a more valuable or enduring contribution to Lincoln studies than a new, comprehensive, scholarly and widely accessible edition of his papers."

    The end goal is to produce three collections of Lincoln documents: Series I: Lincoln Legal Papers; Series II: Illinois Papers, which will include non-legal, pre-presidential Lincoln documents up to his presidential inauguration on March 4, 1861; and Series III: Presidential Papers.

    Series I: Lincoln Legal Papers

    The Abraham Lincoln Association began the project in 1985 as the Lincoln Legal Papers. Lincoln spent most of his life from 1836 to 1861 practicing law. With the exception of a few monographs on his legal career, Lincoln as a lawyer had remained a largely unexplored topic. Project staff searched 88 of Illinois's 102 county courthouses and over 60 archives to locate and photocopy Lincoln legal documents. The search yielded over 97,000 documents, which were published on 3 DVD-ROMs as The Law Practice of Abraham Lincoln: Complete Documentary Edition (University of Illinois, 2000), subsequently expanded in a free online edition as The Law Practice of Abraham Lincoln, Second Edition (Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, 2009). The project also published a selective print edition of the Lincoln legal papers entitled The Papers of Abraham Lincoln: Legal Documents and Cases (University of Virginia, 2008).

    Series II: Illinois Papers and Series III: Presidential Papers

    In 2001, the project became the Papers of Abraham Lincoln with the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency and the University of Illinois at Springfield as its sponsors. That year, the project staff began transcribing, editing, and annotating documents from Series II. In January 2001, The Lincoln Legal Papers research project distributed copies of the $2,000-each complete legal papers of Abraham Lincoln to every accredited law school in every state except Alaska, which lacked an accredited law school.

    In 2003, the project conducted an extensive mail survey to thousands of libraries and historical sites to identify the whereabouts of any Lincoln documents. As of 2009, staff had visited 330 repositories in 45 states to scan Lincoln documents. Staff subsequently surveyed manuscript dealers and collectors. Project staff continue to regularly visit repositories, collectors, and dealers to acquire full color digital scans of Lincoln documents.

    In 2003, the Papers of Abraham Lincoln launched The Lincoln Log: A Daily Chronology of the Life of Abraham Lincoln. The website is based upon the Lincoln Sesquicentennial Commission's volumes Lincoln Day by Day: A Chronology, but incorporates new discoveries and contains links to Collected Works.

    In 2005, the project acquired the use of a document management and transcription system to catalog and transcribe the thousands of documents located. This database is the same system used by many other documentary editing projects including the Papers of Thomas Jefferson: Retirement Series and the Joseph Smith Papers. By 2009, the Papers of Abraham Lincoln had amassed about 39,000 digital images of Lincoln documents equaling 5.9 TB of data. As of September 2011, the project had 20 TBs of data. When the project is completed, director Stowell anticipates finding over 200,000 documents totalling over 45 TBs of data. Currently, the project's data is stored at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications.

    In 2006, the Papers began a comprehensive search of records at the National Archives and Records Administration building in College Park, MD (Archives II). In 2011, project staff completed searching the records at Archives II. They located and scanned 29,217 documents written from and to Lincoln. By comparison, the editors of The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln identified 455 documents among the records currently housed at Archives II. In 2008, project director, Daniel Stowell, reached an agreement with the National Archives to digitize Lincoln documents from the Archives' vault. Also in 2008, staff began searching the records at the National Archives Building in Washington, DC (Archives I). As of 2011, the project has four full-time assistant editors identifying and digitizing records at Archives I.

    The Papers of Abraham Lincoln began a cooperative effort with the Library of Congress Manuscript Division in 2007 to capture high-resolution, color scans of documents from the Robert Todd Lincoln collection.

    On Television

    In 2007, Associate Director John A. Lupton authenticated a Lincoln document on an episode of PBS's History Detectives.

    Several project staff, including Daniel Stowell, Stacy Pratt McDermott, and John Lupton, and Lincoln Legal Papers director Cullom Davis, appeared in the 2009 documentary Lincoln: Prelude to the Presidency, which aired on many PBS stations.

    Funding Agencies and Endorsements

    The Papers of Abraham Lincoln is a project of the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency and the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. The Center for State Policy and Leadership at the University of Illinois-Springfield and the Abraham Lincoln Association are co-sponsors of the project. Additional funding comes from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Historical Publications and Records Commission, the Shelby Cullom Davis Charitable Fund, the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library Foundation. A number of private contributors also support the project.

    The National Endowment for the Humanities designated the Papers of Abraham Lincoln as a We the People project in 2004. This designation recognizes projects that enhance the study and understanding of American history. The National Historical Publications and Records Commission, the granting agency of the National Archives, endorsed the Papers of Abraham Lincoln in May 2008. The project also received an endorsement from the Illinois Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission.


  • Book of the Year, Illinois State Historical Society, April 2009 for Abraham Lincoln: Legal Documents and Cases
  • Winner, Abraham Lincoln Institute of the Mid-Atlantic Book Award, in recognition of this "monumental contribution to scholarship," March 2001 for The Law Practice of Abraham Lincoln: Complete Documentary Edition
  • Finalist, The eLincoln Prize at Gettysburg College, February 2001 for The Law Practice of Abraham Lincoln: Complete Documentary Edition
  • Reviews

  • Daniel W. Hamilton, Review of the Papers of Abraham Lincoln: Legal Documents and Cases, in Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association, Summer 2011
  • Lewie Reece. Review of Stowell, Daniel W., ed., The Papers of Abraham Lincoln: Legal Documents and Cases. H-Law, H-Net Reviews. July, 2009
  • Douglas L. Wilson's review of The Papers of Abraham Lincoln: Legal Documents and Cases in Humanities, January/February 2008
  • Allen C. Guelzo's review of The Papers of Abraham Lincoln: Legal Documents and Cases in Lincoln Herald (Summer 2008)
  • References

    The Papers of Abraham Lincoln Wikipedia

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