Abraham Lincoln in the English Imagination

A couple of years ago I did some work on the image of Abraham Lincoln in England. It’s an interesting subject because at certain moments Lincoln has really mattered — not just in the United States but in England too. People cared about him. In the 1860s miners in Northeast England bought cheap portraits of him from the popular newspaper Reynolds.  In 1918 a play by John Drinkwatercalled Abraham Lincoln opened at the Lyric Hammersmith that was so popular it ran in one production or another almost uninterrupted for the next thirty years. In 1941 when the documentary film-maker Humphrey Jennings wanted some words to sum up the democratic cause for which Britain was fighting, he turned to Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address in his Words for Battle. Understanding why this was so tells us something about British (or more specifically perhaps English) attitudes to democracy as well as to the United States.

This research has appeared as a chapter in Richard J. Carwardine and Jay Sexton’s book, The Global Lincoln, as part of a roundtable in the Journal of American History and as an article in the journal Twentieth Century British History.

Below is a video of me presenting a paper on this subject at the Global Lincoln conference in Oxford in 2009.

Adam IP Smith: Abraham Lincoln and the English Imagination from The Gilder Lehrman Institute on Vimeo.

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