Lincoln's White House

The People's House in Wartime

By (author) James B. Conroy

Publication date:

15 October 2016

Length of book:

328 pages


Rowman & Littlefield Publishers

ISBN-13: 9781442251342

Co-winner of the 2017 Gilder Lehrman Lincoln Prize

Lincoln’s White House is the first book devoted to capturing the look, feel, and smell of the executive mansion from Lincoln’s inauguration in 1861 to his assassination in 1865. James Conroy brings to life the people who knew it, from servants to cabinet secretaries. We see the constant stream of visitors, from ordinary citizens to visiting dignitaries and diplomats. Conroy enables the reader to see how the Lincolns lived and how the administration conducted day-to-day business during four of the most tumultuous years in American history. Relying on fresh research and a character-driven narrative and drawing on untapped primary sources, he takes the reader on a behind-the-scenes tour that provides new insight into how Lincoln lived, led the government, conducted war, and ultimately, unified the country to build a better government of, by, and for the people.
Conroy (Our One Common Country) finds an original angle on the 16th president, depicting how the Civil War White House looked, felt, and smelled through the recollections of staff and visitors. He opens with Lincoln’s arrival in March 1861, in the company of James Buchanan, to a home that possessed 'too much decay under too many coats of paint.' Upgrading the appearance became a priority for Mary Lincoln, which led her to become enmeshed in a fraudulent scheme to conceal expenditures on furnishings by creative accounting, a potentially explosive scandal that was fortunately contained. Conroy describes the immense amount of time the president spent listening to job-seekers and others who wanted his advice or help. This was a period when the public had almost unfettered access to the White House—a palpably different atmosphere from that of the security-conscious 21st century. Through telling anecdotes, the hands-on nature of Lincoln’s presidency comes through vividly; for example, in 1865, the president himself wrote to the head of the B&O Railroad to make sure the White House was supplied with enough coal. These details about the running of a household while running a divided country meet Conroy’s stated goal of shedding a different light on his subject.