Chasing the Papers of Abraham Lincoln

Papers of Abraham Lincoln logoThe Papers of Abraham Lincoln “is a long-term project dedicated to identifying, imaging, and publishing all documents written by or to Abraham Lincoln during his lifetime (1809-1865).” The Papers is physically located in Springfield, Illinois, and is a project of the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency and the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. They are co-sponsored by the Center for State Policy and Leadership at the University of Illinois Springfield and the Abraham Lincoln Association.

I’ll be in Springfield this month doing research for my new Lincoln book. The staff will show me how to use the database and how to best use the documents found. As Daniel Stowell, the Papers Project Director put it to me:

Much depends on what you are looking for and what you find.  Understand that all of our documents to March 1861 are transcribed and word searchable, but only perhaps one third of the presidential documents have been transcribed.  That’s still some 27,000 documents, so it’s a lot of material.  Most, but not all, of the untranscribed materials will have images attached.

I have a lot of work ahead, but it’s much easier now that the Papers Project has begun organizing, scanning, and transcribing the documents collected from all over the country and the world.

On Lincoln's SideThe impetus for my impending visit was a talk given by Abraham Lincoln himself (in the guise of George Buss) at the Lincoln Group of DC this past December. Joining him was his Chief of Staff, played by former Abraham Lincoln Association President Bob Lenz. It was Lenz who passed my name on to Stowell, after which Stowell invited me out to Springfield. He even sent me two publications, One Lincoln’s Side and On Lincoln’s Mind.

Much is going on with the Papers Project these days. Professional historians and editors like Dan Stowell and Stacy Pratt McDermott (whom I met at the recent Lincoln symposium in Ford’s Theatre) are diligently at work collecting and organizing the papers. Unfortunately, politics has intruded, funding has been severely curtailed, and the project is in danger of not being able to complete its mission. A New York Times editorial describes some of the issues and the travesty of the project being used as a political punching bag.

I’m doing my part by being among the many historians who are showing how valuable the project is by taking advantage of the database.

Here’s how you can help.

[Note that the Papers project has been severely disabled by even more recent budget cuts and personnel removals.]

David J. Kent has been a scientist for thirty-five years, is an avid science traveler, and an independent Abraham Lincoln historian. He is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (now in its 5th printing) and two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate. His book on Thomas Edison is due in Barnes and Noble stores in spring 2016.

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