Wilson, Douglas L. 1935-

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Wilson, Douglas L. 1935-


Born November 10, 1935, in St. James, MN; son of Charles E. (a railroad clerk) and Mae Wilson; married Sharon Sheldon, June 8, 1957; children: Cynthia Ann, Timothy Charles. Education: Doane College, A.B., 1957; University of Pennsylvania, M.A., 1959, Ph.D., 1964. Hobbies and other interests: Country life, wild plants.


Home—Galesburg, IL. Office—Lincoln Studies Center, Knox College, 25 East S St., Galesburg, IL 61401. E-mail—[email protected]


Knox College, Galesburg, IL, instructor, 1961-64, assistant professor, 1964-69, associate professor of English, beginning 1969, George A. Lawrence Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus of English, director of library, 1972—, former codirector of Lincoln Studies Center.


American Antiquarian Society, Abraham Lincoln Association, Abraham Lincoln Institute.


Abraham Lincoln Institute Book Prize, 1998, for Herndon's Informants, 1999, for Honor's Voice, and 2007, for Lincoln's Sword: The Presidency and the Power of Words; Lincoln Diploma of Honor, Lincoln Memorial University, 2000; Doctor of Letters, Knox College, 2007.


(Editor) George Santayana, The Genteel Tradition, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA), 1967, University of Nebraska Press (Lincoln, NE), 1998.

(Editor, with James Gilreath) Thomas Jefferson's Library: A Catalog with the Entries in His Own Order, Library of Congress (Washington, DC), 1989, reprinted, Lawbook Exchange (Clark, NJ), 2007.

(Editor) Jefferson's Literary Commonplace Book, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ), 1989.

Jefferson's Books, Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation (Charlottesville, VA), 1996.

Lincoln before Washington: New Perspectives on the Illinois Years, University of Illinois Press (Urbana, IL), 1997.

Honor's Voice: The Transformation of Abraham Lincoln, Knopf (New York, NY), 1998.

(Editor, with Rodney O. Davis and Terry Wilson) Herndon's Informants: Letters, Interviews, and Statements about Abraham Lincoln, University of Illinois Press (Urbana, IL), 1998.

(Editor, with Lucia Stanton) Jefferson Abroad, Modern Library (New York, NY), 1999.

Lincoln's Sword: The Presidency and the Power of Words, Knopf (New York, NY), 2006.

(Editor, with Rodney O. Davis) William Henry Herndon Herndon's Lincoln, Knox College Lincoln Studies Center (Galesburg, IL), 2006.

(Editor, with Rodney O. Davis) The Lincoln-Douglas Debates: The Lincoln Studies Center Edition, University of Illinois Press (Urbana, IL), 2008.

Contributor to Atlantic Monthly, Time, American Heritage, and American Scholar.


Douglas L. Wilson attended Doane College, where he earned his undergraduate degree, and the University of Pennsylvania, where he was awarded both his master's degree and his doctorate. He joined the faculty of Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois, in 1961, beginning as an instructor in the department of English and working his way up to become the George A. Lawrence Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus of English and eventually the director of the library. He also has served as codirector of the college's Lincoln Studies Center. His primary area of research and academic interest is American literature, and, in conjunction with fellow professor Rodney O. Davis, he helped to found the college's American Studies program, which has focused on the place of American writings in the history of the country. Wilson has written or edited a number of books, many of which focus on the lives and writings of Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln. In 2007, he was honored with the Abraham Lincoln Institute Book Prize for Lincoln's Sword: The Presidency and the Power of Words.

Lincoln before Washington: New Perspectives on the Illinois Years focuses entirely on Lincoln's life while he still lived in Illinois, from his early years through his election to the House of Representatives. The book takes the form of a series of essays, all of which were previously published separately. Topics covered include Lincoln's reliance on reading for his education and its importance in shaping his personality and eventual career, his relationship with law partner William H. Herndon, and Lincoln's romantic relationship with Ann Rutledge, among others. The final essay looks at the way Lincoln studied and came to understand the Declaration of Independence, and how that understanding influenced his own approach when governing the nation. James A. Rawley, in a contribution for History: Review of New Books, remarked that "Wilson's essays are a stimulating, informed challenge to earlier interpretations. No other book on Lincoln's pre-presidential years is quite like it."

In Honor's Voice: The Transformation of Abraham Lincoln, Wilson addresses the miraculous way that Lincoln was able to come from his country life in Illinois and adapt his manners and level of sophistication sufficiently for city politics and his eventual role as leader of the nation. In 1831, when Lincoln was twenty-two, he was both unpolished and unsuccessful. By 1842, he had transformed himself, becoming a successful and respected attorney and a member of Illinois's House of Representatives. Wilson suggests that Lincoln suffered from often crippling bouts of self-doubt, but that his marriage to Mary Todd was in part responsible for turning his outlook around and for his ability to focus on his ambitions. In addition, Lincoln studied extensively on his own, furthering his education, and set his eyes on politics, which provided him with a concrete goal. Karl Helicher, in a review for Library Journal, wrote that while "not a comprehensive biography, this book will nevertheless be warmly welcomed." Brad Hooper, writing for Booklist, found that Wilson provides readers with "a deeply revealing picture of Lincoln's makeup that most previous biographies barely scratch the surface of."

Lincoln's Sword takes an in-depth look at the span of Lincoln's writings, examining such memorable speeches as his farewell to Springfield, his words at both his first and second inauguration, the Gettysburg Address, and the Emancipation Proclamation. In addition, there are various letters and lesser-known speeches, which are also analyzed down to the smallest detail. In many cases, earlier drafts of the speeches in question are also available, and Wilson compares these to the final versions that Lincoln presented in public. Each speech is examined for how effective Lincoln's words are in conveying both his message and his tone, as well as for persuasiveness. Booklist reviewer Gilbert Taylor found the book "a perceptive portrait of Lincoln with pen in hand." A reviewer for Publishers Weekly remarked that "readers deeply immersed in Lincoln trivia will find Wilson's intricate forensics inviting."



Booklist, January 1, 1998, Brad Hooper, review of Honor's Voice: The Transformation of Abraham Lincoln, p. 773; November 1, 2006, Gilbert Taylor, review of Lincoln's Sword: The Presidency and the Power of Words, p. 18.

History: Review of New Books, fall, 1998, James A. Rawley, review of Lincoln before Washington: New Perspectives on the Illinois Years, p. 14.

Library Journal, February 15, 1998, Karl Helicher, review of Honor's Voice, p. 158.

Publishers Weekly, August 28, 2006, review of Lincoln's Sword, p. 41.

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Wilson, Douglas L. 1935-

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