The Lincoln Legacy built by John Hay and John Nicolay

Old_Glory

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There has been a vibrant discussion about both the North and the South's "lies" that were told to build up each sides reputation after the War. I would like to continue that discussion.

Abraham Lincoln had two assistants that played a crucial role in shaping his legacy after the War. John Hay and John Nicolay heavily pushed the narrative that slavery was the main cause of the War to help bolster Lincoln's legacy.

Here is an interesting book review on two books that discuss Hay and Nicolay. One particularly interesting quote is below

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He (Zeitz) does note, without comment, frequent criticism of the authors’ bias against southerners and Democrats, and he does define Nicolay and Hay’s work as an “unofficial Northern, Republican Party interpretation of the Civil War. On this score Zeitz cannot be challenged, but some parts of his book raise questions about his own bias. ”

Review Essay: Getting Right with Lincoln versus Getting Lincoln Right
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Do people know that Hay and Nicolay's work is simply a Republican Party narrative of the War? Are their works a type of Lost Cause literature from the North to promote "slavery as the cause" to vault the status of Lincoln and the Union North Republican position in the War?
 

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I have read the first six of Hay and Nicolay's 10 volumes and I can say categorically that they do indeed offer the "Northern, Republican Party" view of the war. It would be amazing if they did otherwise. Rebels and Democrats, as far as the two authors are concerned, are the nasty stuff on the bottom of their shoes. Lincoln is obviously the hero of the work. They also are critical of some of the cabinet members and members of Congress and other "big bugs" that they, or their late boss, had had problems with. Even with the aforementioned slant, the books are beautifully written, fully annotated and pretty darn accurate, historically. The mid-19th century language/syntax takes a little getting used to but I managed to catch its rhythm and came to like it very much.
 

jgoodguy

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Do people know that Hay and Nicolay's work is simply a Republican Party narrative of the War? Are their works a type of Lost Cause literature from the North to promote "slavery as the cause" to vault the status of Lincoln and the Union North Republican position in the War?
Please enlighten us with quotes and tangible evidence of inaccuracies.
Thanks
 

jgoodguy

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Do people know that Hay and Nicolay's work is simply a Republican Party narrative of the War? Are their works a type of Lost Cause literature from the North to promote "slavery as the cause" to vault the status of Lincoln and the Union North Republican position in the War?
Are you implying that "Lost Cause literature" is inaccurate?
 

Old_Glory

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I have read the first six of Hay and Nicolay's 10 volumes and I can say categorically that they do indeed offer the "Northern, Republican Party" view of the war. It would be amazing if they did otherwise. Rebels and Democrats, as far as the two authors are concerned, are the nasty stuff on the bottom of their shoes. Lincoln is obviously the hero of the work. They also are critical of some of the cabinet members and members of Congress and other "big bugs" that they, or their late boss, had had problems with. Even with the aforementioned slant, the books are beautifully written, fully annotated and pretty darn accurate, historically. The mid-19th century language/syntax takes a little getting used to but I managed to catch its rhythm and came to like it very much.
Do you feel the major difference between their work and other works that were biased towards the South is simply historical accuracy?

What makes their work ascend beyond simply glorifying their political party in the War?
 
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Do you feel the major difference between their work and other works that were biased towards the South is simply historical accuracy?

What makes their work ascend beyond simply glorifying their political party in the War?
Good question. I'm not familiar with many Lincoln biographies that are biased toward the southern point of view. Biased against Lincoln - yes. My guess is that every biography written about a politician by politicians is going to be political, and, to a certain extent subjective. Historical events-wise, Hay and Nicolay are quite accurate. Politics is not the main focus of the work, but is constantly in the background and comes to the fore when political events are being discussed. I will tell you this, their volumes on the secession crisis are as good or better than just about everything in the historiography that I have read and I've read a lot. You will also be interested to know that they did not always agree with their boss, who they called the Tycoon. By and large, there is a pro-North bias. They were at the epicenter of the northern war effort so that is understandable. But once the reader reconciles himself to the fact that the authors were protégés of Lincoln and worshipped him like a favorite uncle, the authors' slant is less bothersome. As history goes, the work is very good all the way through and the biographical level up to the Civil War is second to none - and after the start of the war, a bit hagiographic but mostly fair and balanced. This makes sense if you think about it. Before the war, they were not Lincoln's surrogate nephews and were able to write on his life from the second hand, more objectively. Whereas their intimate involvement with him during Lincoln's presidency gives them an entirely different perspective - i.e. first-hand and subjective. Long-winded, but I hope I answered your question.
 

Old_Glory

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Whereas their intimate involvement with him during Lincoln's presidency gives them an entirely different perspective - i.e. first-hand and subjective. Long-winded, but I hope I answered your question.
There really wasn't a right answer, I was looking for your perspective. It appears Hay and Nicolay were both highly skilled writers.
 
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There really wasn't a right answer, I was looking for your perspective. It appears Hay and Nicolay were both highly skilled writers.
Good story-tellers for sure. Like I said, I'm only 60% finished with their work and I went into it knowing that the deification of Lincoln was in the cards, but so far I like it a lot. I read Sandburg's six-volumes and no one writes better than him but there was a lot less detail and a lot less political insight than in Hay & Nicolay. Remember, by the time they started writing, the authors were experienced, middle-aged men with a couple decades in government/politics.
 

Pat Young

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I have read the first six of Hay and Nicolay's 10 volumes and I can say categorically that they do indeed offer the "Northern, Republican Party" view of the war. It would be amazing if they did otherwise. Rebels and Democrats, as far as the two authors are concerned, are the nasty stuff on the bottom of their shoes. Lincoln is obviously the hero of the work. They also are critical of some of the cabinet members and members of Congress and other "big bugs" that they, or their late boss, had had problems with. Even with the aforementioned slant, the books are beautifully written, fully annotated and pretty darn accurate, historically. The mid-19th century language/syntax takes a little getting used to but I managed to catch its rhythm and came to like it very much.
Both men had a close professional, political, and personal relationship with Lincoln.

Oh yeah, and Nicolay was a German immigrant.
 

Old_Glory

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Both men had a close professional, political, and personal relationship with Lincoln.

Oh yeah, and Nicolay was a German immigrant.
What do you think their role was in creating the narrative that slavery was the main cause in the War?
 
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Old_Glory

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Hay and Nicolay published in 1890. The role of slavery in the war was pretty well established by then despite the efforts of the Lost Cause contingent.
What makes you feel the slavery narrative was established prior to 1890? The South certainly did not have that view of the War in that time period.
 

JPK Huson 1863

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I'm not sure any narrative was deliberately created. We've had a gazillion threads on the topic of why men fought. " Let us die to make men free " was indeed one of them. It's possible to cherry pick specifics until the trees are bare and comb through tomes like Hay's and Nicolay looking for bias but it sure takes effort. Why? It always comes back to why the need to insist the war wasn't over 4 million people someone thought they owned. Like if nefarious intent could be proven and the war was Lincoln's personal agenda there'd be a do-over.

The thing is, there's this huge danger history will be lost. Slippery slope. Challenging accounts that were left to us by eye witnesses means it's all up for grabs, nothing is ' real '. If we continually chip away at this stuff, all that'll be left is indistinguishable rubble.
 
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What makes you feel the slavery narrative was established prior to 1890? The South certainly did not have that view of the War in that time period.
The beginning of what you call "the slavery narrative" came on January 1, 1863 (The Emancipation Proclamation), was continued on January 31, 1865 by the passage of the 13th Amendment, was furthered shortly after April 15, 1865 when newspapers started calling Lincoln "The Great Emancipator", and yet again in December of 1865 when the 13th Amendment was ratified. Unfortunately, there was nothing the southerners could say to forestall the country from going forward with "the slavery narrative."
 


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