Whitworth Communications

For Immediate Release

March 19, 2002

Historian and Author Ronald White to Lecture at Whitworth on His Ground-Breaking New Book, Lincoln's Greatest Speech

Historian and author Ronald C. White Jr., a former chaplain and professor of religion at Whitworth College, will lecture on his new book, Lincoln's Greatest Speech: The Second Inaugural, on Wednesday, April 3, at 7:30 p.m. in Seeley Mudd Chapel at Whitworth College. The lecture is free and open to the public. For more information, please call (509) 777-4433.

Published in February by Simon & Schuster, White's book has been called "Well researched, wonderfully written, and at times extraordinarily moving," by Kirkus Reviews in a starred review, which includes the praise "White's relatively small volume comes closer to finding the true spirit of Abraham Lincoln than many of the more celebrated biographies."

In Lincoln's Greatest Speech, the first book devoted solely to the Second Inaugural Address, White draws from original documents and literature about Lincoln and the Civil War, as well as White's own expertise on American intellectual and religious history, to analyze the context and content of Lincoln's speech and to add new depth to our understanding of one of the nation's most revered leaders.

In a February New York Times Book Review article, Max Byrd writes "White describes in journalistic detail the inauguration itself on March 4, 1865, presenting the dramatis personae, the look of the new iron dome on the Capitol, even the weather... Then paragraph by paragraph, sometimes word by word, for the rest of the book White proceeds to explain the meaning of the president's speech.

"White is very good on Lincoln's rhetorical techniques. He shows how the speech moves in time from past to present to future," Byrd writes. "He uncovers biblical allusions and points out devices like alliteration and anaphora. Most important, he shows us how such rhetorical devices reveal character and create meaning."

According to White, Lincoln regarded his Second Inaugural Address, which he delivered just 41 days before his untimely death, as the greatest speech he had ever given. He delivered his oration to an anxious nation battered and weary from the Civil War. The crowd that had gathered in front of the nation's capitol building to hear Lincoln's address included wounded Union and Confederate soldiers, thousands of African Americans, citizens from throughout the country, and John Wilkes Booth.

The crowd of approximately 35,000 people was disappointed when Lincoln's refused to lay all blame for the Civil War on the South, and instead declared that the entire nation was guilty in the matter of slavery and presented a framework for reconciliation and peace, White says. Lincoln's speech concludes with his famous words describing his vision of how to "bind up a nation's wounds" and calling on Americans to proceed "with malice toward none; with charity for all."

In his book White asserts that Lincoln's speech of just 703 words can be regarded as the summation of Lincoln's greatness.

"In a line-by-line analysis, White explores the speech's antecedents - found in Lincoln's letters, interviews, and private musings," says White's publisher, Simon & Schuster. "He examines how Lincoln's rhetorical genius developed, how much it changed over his lifetime, and how its evolution paralleled his growth as a statesman and as a moral leader."

"This is the very best book on the most famous of all inaugural addresses... We are indebted to Ronald White for his splendid analysis," says Frank J. Williams, chair of the Lincoln Forum.

White, who served as chaplain and professor of religion at Whitworth College in the 1970s, is the author and editor of five books on American intellectual, religious and social history. In addition to teaching at Whitworth, he has taught at UCLA and Princeton Theological Seminary. White currently lives in San Anselmo and La Canada, Calif., where he is dean and professor of American religious history at San Francisco Theological Seminary.


Dale Soden, professor of history, political and international studies, Whitworth College, (509) 777-4433 or dsoden@whitworth.edu.

Julie Riddle, public information specialist, Whitworth College, (509) 777-3729 or jriddle@whitworth.edu.

Related Links

History Home Page > Department Spotlight >

Philosophy Home Page > Theology Home Page >

Whitworth Press Release Index