Neely, Mark E., Jr. 1944- (Mark Edward, Neely, Jr.)

views updated

Neely, Mark E., Jr. 1944- (Mark Edward, Neely, Jr.)


Born November 10, 1944, in Amarillo, TX; son of Mark Edward (a businessman) and Lottie Neely; married Sylvia Eakes (a college professor), June 15, 1966. Education: Yale University, B.A., 1966, Ph.D., 1973; Lincoln College, L.H.D., 1981. Politics: Democrat. Hobbies and other interests: Literature of World War I, tennis, movies, birdwatching.


E-mail—[email protected].


Iowa State University, Ames, visiting instructor in American history, 1971-72; Louis A. Warren Lincoln Library and Museum, Fort Wayne, IN, director, 1972-92; Saint Louis University, St. Louis, MO, John Francis Bannon Professor of History and American Studies, 1992-98; Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA, McCabe-Greer Professor of Civil War History, 1998—. Member of advisory board of Indiana Historical Bureau, 1980—.


Abraham Lincoln Association (member of board of directors, 1981—), Society of Indiana Archivists (president, 1980-81), Indiana Association of Historians (president, 1987-88).


D.H.L. from Lincoln College, 1981; Pulitzer Prize, 1992, for The Fate of Liberty: Abraham Lincoln and Civil Liberties.


The Abraham Lincoln Encyclopedia, McGraw Hill (New York, NY), 1981.

Lincoln and the Constitution: Bulletin of the 39th Annual Meeting of the Lincoln Fellowship of Wisconsin Held at Madison, Wisconsin, April 18, 1982, The Fellowship (Madison, WI), 1983.

(With Harold Holzer and Gabor S. Boritt) The Lincoln Image: Abraham Lincoln and the Popular Print, Scribner (New York, NY), 1984, University of Illinois Press (Urbana, IL), 2001.

(With Harold Holzer and Gabor S. Boritt) Changing the Lincoln Image, Louis A. Warren Lincoln Library and Museum (Fort Wayne, IN), 1985.

(With R. Gerald McMurtry) The Insanity File: The Case of Mary Todd Lincoln, Southern Illinois University Press (Carbondale, IL), 1986.

(With Harold Holzer and Gabor S. Boritt) The Confederate Image: Prints of the Lost Cause, University of North Carolina Press (Durham, NC), 1987.

(With Harold Holzer) The Lincoln Family Album, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1990, Southern Illinois University Press (Carbondale, IL), 2006.

The Fate of Liberty: Abraham Lincoln and Civil Liberties, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1991.

Confederate Bastille: Jefferson Davis and Civil Liberties, Marquette University Press (Milwaukee, WI), 1993.

The Last Best Hope of Earth: Abraham Lincoln and the Promise of America, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA), 1993.

(Coauthor) Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory: the Civil War in Art, Orion Books (London, England), 1993.

Southern Rights: Political Prisoners and the Myth of Confederate Constitutionalism, University Press of Virginia (Charlottesville, VA), 1999.

(Coauthor) The Union Image: Popular Prints of the Civil War North, University of North Carolina Press (Durham, NC), 2000.

Retaliation: The Problem of Atrocity in the American Civil War, Gettysburg College (Gettysburg, PA), 2002.

The Union Divided: Party Conflict in the Civil War North, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA), 2002.

The Boundaries of American Political Culture in the Civil War Era, University of North Carolina Press (Chapel Hill, NC), 2005.

Contributor to history journals and newspapers. Editor of Lincoln Lore, 1973—. Member of editorial advisory committee of Indiana Magazine of History, 1981—; member of editorial board of Ulysses S. Grant Association, 1981—.


Hailed by the Chicago Tribune Book World, as "extraordinary," "remarkable," and "a major achievement," The Abraham Lincoln Encyclopedia by Mark E. Neely, Jr., includes facts on virtually every aspect of the life and death of the sixteenth U.S. president. The book's several hundred entries, arranged alphabetically, are accompanied by three hundred illustrations and extensive bibliographical references. Chicago Tribune Book World reviewer Harold Holzer praised The Abraham Lincoln Encyclopedia's "especially fine brief essays on such key Lincoln subjects as slavery, the debates with Stephen A. Douglas, the rise and fall of the Whig Party, and the assassination conspiracy…. Alongside these ‘big subject’ entries," Holzer continued, "come ‘small,’ anecdotal revelations that refresh, amuse and astound…. Deserving of mention, too, are Neely's biographical sketches of all Lincoln's contemporaries, his leading biographers (their works expertly analyzed), and even the top Lincoln collectors."

Director of the Louis A. Warren Lincoln Library and Museum from 1972 to 1992, and editor of the monthly Lincoln Lore since 1973, Neely approached the writing of The Abraham Lincoln Encyclopedia with the authority of an acknowledged expert. "Neely has a point of view," observed Holzer, that he "knows how to express … forcefully but subtly, and this transforms what might have become a stodgy almanac into a surpris- ingly complete and consistently readable biography-by-minisubject." Holzer concluded that The Abraham Lincoln Encyclopedia "is a priceless addition to the Lincoln shelf. Painstakingly indexed and footnoted, it will take its place among the chief Lincoln references."

While still working at the Lincoln Library and Museum, Neely told CA: "When I took a job at a Lincoln institution, my only hesitation stemmed from the fear of entering a field in which there were already some seven thousand titles. Now I am wondering which of the subjects that I'd like to treat in the future must be dropped for want of time in a normal life span. To be sure, I got an unusual break in being able to write a book on Mrs. Lincoln's insanity trial, based on documents no historian had ever seen before. (Robert Lincoln Beckwith gave my coauthor and me exclusive access to the Lincoln family's extensive file on the case.) For the most part, those of us who work on Lincoln use documents read by hundreds of scholars before us. Even so, Lincoln was so complex (and personally secretive) and so intertwined with the important events of his era that opportunities for research still abound. For example, there is no book on the Emancipation Proclamation that uses the Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress, and there is no work on the Lincoln-Douglas Debates (and the senatorial election of which they were a part) which uses the modern statistical tools for voting analysis.

"My work thus far has two distinguishing traits. Because there is already a great body of literature on Lincoln, I feel that any new work must do two things: (1) Say what's wrong with our previous understanding of the particular aspect of Lincoln's life and (2) say why those who looked at the problem before did not get the answer right. I am always looking at two historical layers. The first is the stratum laid by Lincoln's era itself. The second is the layer (or layers) above it left by historians who interpreted the original stratum of evidence. In other words, I believe there are two answers to every Lincoln question: What really happened and why are we only just now figuring out what really happened.

"The second distinguishing trait stems from my belief that the vast Lincoln literature takes so long to read that historians have too often been weak on the context of Lincoln's life. The modern era's ability to speed up research (photocopying instead of writing notes, microfilm instead of long and uncomfortable research trips, and reliable published editions of the central documents) allows us—and, I think, requires us—to look outside the strictly Lincoln literature to appreciate the era in which he lived. Most of the advances in the modern literature on Lincoln have come about this way. For example, we have an altogether more sympathetic understanding of his racial views than we did in the 1960s because we are now able to place them in the context of the commonly-held racial assumptions of his day. I am always trying to put Lincoln's life in its proper context, to measure him against the men of his era."

The result of Neely's theories and approach is a vast body of work that contributes to Lincoln scholarship. He has written numerous books detailing various aspects of Lincoln's life, experiences, beliefs, and actions. In The Fate of Liberty: Abraham Lincoln and Civil Liberties, Neely addresses the development of Lincoln's policies regarding civil liberties, particularly for freed or escaped slaves, from his relatively moderate stance taken prior to his election to the presidency, to his position as the writer of the Emancipation Proclamation and the force behind the Civil War. Although Lincoln hated slavery from his earliest days as a politician and lawyer, he was not particularly a steady advocate for the rights of former or runaway slaves until later in his career. Initially, he was as willing to represent slave owners looking to reclaim their runaway slaves as he was to assist the slaves in question. This midline position was very likely one of the main factors in his successful campaign to become president, as neither the radicals nor the conservatives found him utterly offensive as a potential leader, in contrast to candidates who were more decided in one direction or the other. However, once elected and finding himself in the middle of a civil war, Lincoln became much more strident in his treatment of the nation's citizens, regardless of color or status, and his strict behavior extended to numerous arrests, shutting down of newspapers, and other incidents where general civil liberties were ignored. Neely looks as this darker side of Lincoln's personality and his presidency, investigating whether his ultimate goals were politically motivated or for the good of the capitol and the nation. Paul Finkelman, in a contribution for the Michigan Law Review, remarked: "Neely makes a very important contribution to our understanding of Lincoln, the Civil War, and the problem of civil liberties during wartime. Neely's story shows a confused administration with uncertain policies. It also demonstrates the importance of maintaining due process and civil liberties during wartime." Neely won the 1992 Pulitzer Prize for his effort.

In The Last Best Hope of Earth: Abraham Lincoln and the Promise of America, Neely offers readers a brief yet authoritative biography of Abraham Lincoln, originally published as a companion volume to the 1993 Huntington Library exhibit on Lincoln's legacy. Neely includes all of Lincoln's major achievements, conveying his ambition but also his lack of an overall driving goal during the early stages of his career. Geoffrey C. Ward, writing for American Heritage, called the book "the best single-volume study of the Emancipator since Benjamin P. Thomas's biography was published more than forty years ago." In a review for Political Science Quarterly, Michael Burlingame commented that the book "fills a conspicuous lacuna in the literature by providing a brief, readable, lavishly illustrated, well informed overview of the life of the sixteenth president."

If The Fate of Liberty looks at Lincoln's treatment of civil liberties during the Civil War, Southern Rights: Political Prisoners and the Myth of Confederate Constitutionalism addresses the same situation in the Confederacy. Although it appeared as if Jefferson Davis avoided many of the hard-line actions taken by Abraham Lincoln during the war, in reality, the South was just as guilty, if not more, of ignoring civil liberties and acting in the manner of a police state. Under Davis, the South existed in a state of martial law during the war, and was in general far less concerned with its citizens' rights than many historians claim. In a review for the Historian, Kenneth W. Noe commented: "Stylistically, the author's approach is so episodic as sometimes to suggest a collection of related essays rather than a unified monograph. Despite those flaws, Southern Rights remains a fresh, thought-provoking, and largely convincing work that every Southern and Civil War scholar must address."

In The Union Divided: Party Conflict in the Civil War North, Neely argues against the theory that the North was strengthened during the Civil War by their two-party political system, which was in direct contrast to the single-party system in the South. Neely points out that, contrary to conventional wisdom the North was not a tolerant region, in that the primary belief was that it was necessary to put down the rebellion of the South and end the war, and that dissenting opinions were not tolerated—were in fact considered to be treasonous. Nicole Etcheson, writing for History: Review of New Books, remarked: "Neely's will not be the last word on the subject, but he has written a provocative book that should serve to prompt further inquiry and that should be read by anyone interested in the politics of the Civil War."



American Heritage, January, 1993, Geoffrey C. Ward, review of The Last Best Hope of Earth: Abraham Lincoln and the Promise of America, p. 16.

Chicago Tribune Book World, January 3, 1982, Harold Holzer, review of The Abraham Lincoln Encyclopedia.

Historian, March 22, 2001, Kenneth W. Noe, review of Southern Rights: Political Prisoners and the Myth of Confederate Constitutionalism, p. 653.

History: Review of New Books, winter, 2003, Nicole Etcheson, review of The Union Divided: Party Conflict in the Civil War North, p. 58.

Michigan Law Review, May, 1993, Paul Finkelman, review of The Fate of Liberty: Abraham Lincoln and Civil Liberties, pp. 1353-1381.

Political Science Quarterly, fall, 1994, Michael Burlingame, review of The Last Best Hope of Earth, p. 703.