Not So Quiet Neighborhood © Christo Komarnitski, Bulgaria

Century Marks

Mightier than the sword: Of all U.S. presidents, Abraham Lincoln was perhaps one of the greatest writers, matched only by Thomas Jefferson. That assessment would have surprised his contemporaries. Nevertheless, the Gettysburg Address, the Second Inaugural Address and the Emancipation Proclamation are three of the most remarkable pieces of political writing in American history, not just for what they say but for how they say it. All were written during tumultuous times by a largely “self-educated prairie politician.” Lincoln knew that writing could shape public opinion. Rather than bully people, he used truth and clarity to win them over. Lincoln worked hard at the craft, and his rewriting paid off: “His pen, to alter the proverb, became his sword, arguably the most powerful weapon of his presidency” (Douglas L. Wilson, Lincoln’s Sword: The Presidency and the Power of Words, excerpted in the American Scholar, Autumn).

 

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