Monday, June 3, 2013

Giant in the Shadows: The Life of Robert T. Lincoln

By Jason Emerson

He is known to history as Robert Todd Lincoln, the oldest of Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln’s four sons, and the only one to survive to adulthood.  Never preferring to use his full name during his lifetime he was known as Robert T. Lincoln.  To those who knew and loved him, he was simply Bob.

From his birth to his death, and since, Robert T. Lincoln has remained hidden in the shadows of his martyred father and controversial mother.  With  “Giant in the Shadows: The Life of Robert T. Lincoln,” journalist and an independent historian, Jason Emerson has delivered Robert T. Lincoln from the shadows of his famous parents and given him his own well deserved place in history.

Comprehensive in its scope, “Giant In the Shadows,” details the life of Robert T. Lincoln from his birth on August 1st, 1843 in a rented from of Springfield, Illinois’ Globe Tavern to his death on July 28, 1926 at Hildene, his private estate in Manchester, Vermont.  During his nearly 83 year lifespan, Robert would be present at Robert E. Lee’s surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox Court House; he would be the only person in American History to be closely associated with three presidential assassinations (those of his father, James Garfield and William McKinley); he would become the 35th Secretary of War, serving under Presidents James Garfield and Chester Arthur; United States Minister to the United Kingdom during the administration of President Benjamin Harrison; President of the Pullman Palace Car Company; but most notably Robert was the keeper of the historical legacy of Abraham Lincoln.

Much of “Giant in the Shadows” explores the dynamics of the Lincoln family and their personal relationships with one another.  Mr. Emerson demonstrates that Abraham Lincoln’s relationship with his son, Bob, was a warm and intimate one, rather than cold and distant as it has often been portrayed.  Robert’s often tumultuous relationship with his mother, Mary Todd Lincoln is thoroughly examined.  During his childhood Robert shared a close relationship with his mother, but the cumulative effect of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in combination with the deaths of three of her four children took its psychological on Mary Lincoln.  As his mother’s mental health deteriorated Robert and Mary Todd Lincoln’s roles were reversed; the son became his mother’s protector.  With few options and a fear for his mother’s safety, Robert had his Mother declared insane and placed her in an institution, causing a deep family rift that never fully healed.

Biographers often fall in love with their subjects, and Mr. Emerson is not immune.  In the book’s only major shortcoming Robert Lincoln’s role in the Pullman strike of 1894 is not fully examined and murky at best.

With all of the tragedy in his life, it is easy to feel sympathetic toward Robert T. Lincoln, and that is completely understandable.  Emerson demonstrates time and again, that Robert Lincoln is not a man to be pitied.  It is true, his name opened many doors for him, but time and again Robert shut those doors, opened other doors of opportunity of his own choosing, and never once used his father’s memory and legacy to his own advantage while rising to his own prominence.  Much like his father Robert T. Lincoln was in many ways a self made man.

ISBN 978-0809330553, Southern Illinois University Press, © 2012, Hardcover, 640 pages, Photographs & Illustrations, End Notes, Bibliography & Index. $39.95.  To purchase click HERE.

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