McGovern writes new book on Abraham Lincoln

George McGovern had to do a lot of research for his new book on Abraham Lincoln. Luckily for McGovern, he has his own library. In an interview this week with The Daily Republic, McGovern said he did much of his research at the McGovern Library on...

'Abraham Lincoln,' by George McGovern
The cover of George McGovern's new book. (Image courtesy of Times Books/Henry Holt & Company)

George McGovern had to do a lot of research for his new book on Abraham Lincoln.

Luckily for McGovern, he has his own library.

In an interview this week with The Daily Republic, McGovern said he did much of his research at the McGovern Library on the campus of his alma mater, Dakota Wesleyan University in Mitchell. McGovern has an office in the library and a home nearby.

"They have a fairly good collection on Lincoln," McGovern said. "I could find most of what I needed in that library."

The book, "Abraham Lincoln," is part of The American Presidents Series by Times Books. Each book is a concise biography of a president written by a "distinguished contributor" such as McGovern, who was a U.S. senator and the 1972 Democratic presidential nominee.


Other series authors include former Richard Nixon White House counsel John Dean (Warren Harding); John S.D. Eisenhower, son of Dwight Eisenhower (Zachary Taylor); and former senator, McGovern campaign staffer and presidential candidate Gary Hart (James Monroe).

McGovern said the series' former editor, the late presidential historian Arthur Schlesinger, asked him several years ago to write one of the books. At that time, McGovern said he was too busy with speaking engagements and the McGovern-Dole international school lunch initiative.

"But I said that if I could get Abraham Lincoln, I would consider it," McGovern said.

Former President Bill Clinton was originally picked to write the Lincoln book, according to McGovern. Clinton eventually passed on the job, though, and McGovern agreed to take it.

McGovern began working on the book 18 to 24 months ago, he said. He finished it in September, and it was published last month. It's available online and locally at the Reader's Den.

The eight-chapter, 208-page book was written in longhand. McGovern's daughter, Ann, did the typing. There was a tight deadline, because the publisher wanted the book released prior to the 200th anniversary of Lincoln's birth next month.

"I had to work pretty hard to pull it together," said the 86-year-old McGovern.

While researching the book, McGovern, who has a Ph.D. in history, gained an even greater appreciation for the man he considers the greatest president. McGovern was particularly impressed that, even as the Civil War raged, Lincoln signed such landmark legislation as an act establishing the U.S. Department of Agriculture; the Homestead Act, which provided free land to western settlers; the Morrill Act, which allowed for the creation of land-grant colleges; and the Pacific Railway Act, which enabled the construction of a transcontinental railroad.


"I was dimly aware of those things," McGovern said, "but I just never really associated them with the Lincoln administration."

McGovern said that, like everyone else, he has always known Lincoln as a "statesman of the highest order." But during research, McGovern came to appreciate Lincoln's lesser-known political skills.

"He was careful to touch bases with other leading figures of the day and careful to stay close to where the public was on the issues," McGovern said. "I would say that he was a masterful politician and an inspired statesman. He had both of those talents."

During the recent presidential campaign, McGovern said another Illinois politician -- Barack Obama -- reminds him of Lincoln. McGovern now considers himself lucky to be releasing a book about the "Great Emancipator" just prior to the inauguration of the first black president.

When McGovern began working on his book, he knew little about Obama. He eventually endorsed Obama and thinks Lincoln would be pleased with the outcome of the election.

"I really think he'd rejoice because, finally, after all these years, we've got a black citizen in the White House," McGovern said. "He felt strongly about the equality of people, regardless of race."

McGovern spoke this week by phone from Florida, where he was taking time to rest and relax ahead of some publicity events. Tuesday, he'll be at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia to speak about Lincoln and the book.

McGovern is the author of 12 prior books. His latest effort was a good way, he said, to keep his mind occupied in the months following the death of his wife, Eleanor, in 2007.


"I miss Eleanor more than I can tell you," he said. "We were together for 63 years, so that's been tough."

In the years ahead, McGovern hopes to write additional books.

"If I live long enough," he said, "I've got two or three in the back of my head. I won't discuss what they are right now, but I hope that my health holds and my years last long enough and I'll be able to do at least another three books."

What To Read Next
Get Local