Ida M. Tarbell: A Progressive Look at Lincoln

| | January 11, 2021

As the muckraking journalist of McClure’s Magazine who helped focus national attention on the trust problem in the first decade of the twentieth century, Ida M. Tarbell is forever linked with the reforming spirit of the Progressive Era. Like many others at that time, Tarbell was disturbed by the effect of rapid industrialization on workers and independent businessmen, by the growing power and influence of monopolies in government, and by the seeming lack of leadership in dealing with the stresses and strains of the time. However, before Tarbell became well known for exposing the unethical business practices of John D. Rockefeller‘s Standard Oil Company, she was praised for her biography of Abraham Lincoln which first began to appear in serial form in McClure’s Magazine in 1895. Not completely distinct from her later muckraking activities, Tarbell’s work on Lincoln reflected many of the impulses of the Progressive Era.

Ida Tarbell was born in the middle of raw capitalistic endeavor in the oil region of Pennsylvania in 1857. Her father, an “ardent Republican,” had made a living in the frontier community by devising a tank to hold the oil that gushed daily from the wooded hills near Cherry Run, Pennsylvania.[1] Eventually, he was one of the independent oilmen broken by John D. Rockefeller of the Standard Oil Company.

Tarbell was old enough in the early 1860s to remember the Civil War. “Heels in the air,” she and her brother lay on the floor following the events of the conflict in the pages of Harper’s Weekly and Harper’s Monthly.[2] However, like many children of her generation, [End Page 57] Tarbell’s first recollection of Lincoln was the impression made by the news of his assassination. She saw her mother hurry into the house, “sobbing as if her heart would break,” when her father told her the news.[3] Like other homes across the North, the Tarbell house was draped in black for Lincoln’s funeral. The young Ida Tarbell realized that there might be “something beyond the circle of hills” around her home that could affect her life.[4]

Tarbell began her work as a historian in France. After graduating from Allegheny College in Meadville, Pennsylvania, in 1880, Tarbell had worked as a teacher for two years and then as assistant editor on the Chautauquan for eight years. Finally she decided to go to France where she planned to support herself by writing for American syndicates and to make her name as a historian of the French Revolution.[5]

In 1892, a piece Tarbell wrote on the city of Paris first brought her to the attention of S. S. McClure. McClure, a young, energetic editor who would begin publishing McClure’s Magazine in 1893, was on one of his many trips to Europe to find more writers and articles for his syndicate, when he called at Tarbell’s flat and offered her a job. Eventually accepting a salaried position in New York with McClure’s new magazine, Tarbell returned to America in 1894, thinking that she would take the job temporarily and then return to France to study its history.[6]

Although McClure would eventually help lead the way toward progressive reform by turning out muckraking exposés on social and political problems, during the first ten years of his magazine’s existence he concentrated on pieces to entertain and enlighten the reading public. Standard fare included historical topics, especially those dealing with the Civil War, and biographical pieces on prominent people. McClure first engaged Tarbell to write a biography of Napoléon.[7] Tarbell’s next assignment secured the success of the [End Page 58] magazine, marked a shift in the historiography of Lincoln literature, and set her on a course that would lead her toward the muck-raking reform of the first decade of the twentieth century.

Despite the fact that William Herndon had already gathered many reminiscences of Lincoln’s early life and that John G. Nicolay and John Hay’s work was at its time thought to be the definitive work on Lincoln, McClure decided that there was still much to write and publish about the sixteenth president. McClure, educated at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois, the site of the fifth Lincoln-Douglas debate, had long been fascinated by Lincoln, considering him “the most vital factor in [American] life since the Civil War.”[8] Some discouraged McClure’s latest brainstorm.[9]Century had already published Nicolay and Hay’s work.[10] Still, McClure trusted his intuition. With dozens of Lincoln’s former friends and acquaintances still available for interviews, he proposed to turn the McClure offices into a “Lincoln Bureau” for collecting and disseminating Lincoln information to the public.[11] Eventually, these findings would be “dovetailed” into a new account of the president’s life.[12]

McClure gave the task of finding this information to Tarbell. “Out with you—look, see, report,” was McClure’s command.[13] At first, Tarbell balked at the thought. She had no interest in American history. This threatened to be the end of her goal to return to France to study the history of great social questions. Lured on by the prospect of earning five thousand dollars a year, she finally accepted the project. As she put it, she finally decided that “there was no question in my mind but it was my duty to earn that money.”[14]

Tarbell began her assignment by going to talk to John Nicolay at the Washington Literary Society. Hoping to get some unpublished material from him, she told him of McClure’s plan. Leaving little doubt of his position, Nicolay told her that there was “nothing of importance” left to be printed on Lincoln’s life. His work on Lincoln was “complete,” and he discouraged her from entering into such a “hopeless … assignment.”[15] [End Page 59]

Nicolay’s response only made Tarbell more determined to pursue the project—with one significant alteration in her research strategy. Kentucky, not Washington, would form the point of departure for her research.[16] Retracing the president’s journey from his western origins to the White House, she planned to interview people who had known him and to search “courthouses and county histories and newspapers” for new insights into Lincoln’s life and development.[17] In February 1895, Tarbell left for a month of “Lincoln hunting” in Kentucky.[18] McClure, with “sudden alarm” for her well-being, asked as he helped her depart: “Have you warm bed socks? … We’ll send you some if not. It will be awful in those Kentucky hotels.”[19]

The results of Tarbell’s research began to appear in November 1895. Tarbell’s method in writing her series of articles on Lincoln reflected McClure’s approach to journalism as well as the Progressive Era’s faith in scientific investigation and the use of experts.[20] McClure rewarded his “writers for their study rather than for the amount of copy they turned out.”[21] A typical series took several years to research with only three or four installments appearing each year. McClure hoped writers would “write with such accuracy as could inform the public and meet with the corroboration of experts.”[22] Besides the “boon” of being able to spend more time on each article, the writer was paid as much as two to four thousand dollars an article. The writers became “experts” on their topics and such “authoritative” research identified those contributions as “McClure articles.”[23]

Tarbell spent several years on her biography. She thoroughly researched her topic, talking to people, gathering information, and double-checking facts.[24] Aided by several research assistants, Tarbell eventually turned up around three hundred reminiscences, letters, and speeches, enough to fill a two-hundred-page appendix to [End Page 60] her two-volume Life of Abraham Lincoln.[25] Tarbell credited J. McCan Davis, a Springfield lawyer who hunted information for her, for making such important finds as “Lincoln’s first published speech, … most of the documents of Lincoln’s early life in New Salem and Springfield, such as his first vote, his reports and maps of surveys, his marriage certificate and many . . . letters.”[26] Tarbell also received much help in her work from the reading public who sent stories, reminiscences, and photographs to Tarbell’s office in New York.[27]

Writing from the perspective of a generation once removed from the man and the conflict, Tarbell marked a new generation of Lincoln scholars.[28] Most of the other biographers had known Lincoln or lived through the Civil War. Although Tarbell’s adoration and reverence for her topic encouraged her to endorse poorly documented stories, such as that concerning Lincoln’s lost 1856 speech and the legitimacy of Nancy Hanks, and to continue the legend of the Freeport question, her perspective, combined with her background as a historian and McClure’s emphasis on facts and expertise, caused her to be more critical and thorough in the investigation of Lincoln’s life than had previous biographers.[29] Tarbell challenged the story of Lincoln’s early revulsion against slavery in New Orleans in the 1830s, finding that the source cited for that story, John Hanks, was not there at the time. Countering Herndon, Tarbell produced several witnesses to contest the story that Lincoln had left Mary Todd waiting at the altar after their first engagement. She also accepted the fact that Lincoln and his partner, William F. Berry, had sold liquor in their New Salem store.[30] She was, in one historian’s estimate, the “pioneer scientific investigator” of Lincoln’s life.[31]

Tarbell’s special contribution lay in her depiction of the American frontier as a positive factor in Lincoln’s development.[32] Some biographers had belittled the frontier environment in their works.[33] [End Page 61] Herndon said Lincoln grew to manhood in “restricted and unromantic environments.”[34] Tarbell, perhaps drawing on her own “backwoods” beginnings, took issue with these interpretations of Lincoln’s early surroundings.[35] As she said: “I have never had any sympathy with the half-pitying, half-contemptuous attitude towards Abraham Lincoln’s early life or the habit that biographers had fallen into of caricaturing him…. It seemed to me high time that somebody put emphasis on the other side.”[36]

Tarbell’s depiction of Lincoln’s early life differed from previous biographers. The “squalor and wretchedness” of Lincoln’s home, she said, had “been overdrawn.” She described the comforts the Lincoln family did enjoy, such as “a cow and a calf,” a “featherbed,” and the various household tools necessary for life on the frontier.[37] Tarbell talked of the delights of growing up on the frontier and pictured the trek from Kentucky to Indiana as a “wonderful voyage into the unknown” for the young Abraham Lincoln.[38] Tarbell found nothing “ignoble or mean in … Indiana pioneer life.” “It was rude,” she wrote, “but with only the rudeness which the ambitious are willing to endure in order to push on to a better condition than they otherwise could know.”[39] Rather than having a dulling effect on Lincoln’s mental development, Tarbell emphasized the frontier as encouraging traits that led to his success. “The depths of his nature were unclouded” by frontier life, she said. “He could feel intensely, and his imagination was quick to respond to the touch of mystery.”[40] Tarbell also upgraded the image of Lincoln’s father, Thomas Lincoln, whom she felt previous historians had disparaged in order to make his son seem more remarkable.[41]

Highlighting this more flattering portrayal of Lincoln’s western origins was Tarbell’s perhaps greatest find, a photograph given to her in Chicago by Robert Todd Lincoln.[42] As with other biogra- [End Page 62] phers, Lincoln refused her access to his father’s presidential papers, but he did produce a then unpublished daguerreotype that “he believed to be the earliest portrait made of his father.”[43]

The portrait appeared in the first article of her series on Lincoln’s early life, and it caused a “sensation.”[44] The McClure offices solicited opinions of the portrait that were then printed in the magazine along with the second and third installments of Tarbell’s series. Statesmen, journalists, and former acquaintances of Lincoln commented on the photograph of the neatly dressed, beardless man, taken when he was almost forty years old.[45]

For many readers, the portrait constituted a contribution to the new interpretation of Lincoln’s frontier experience. When Tarbell first gazed at the portrait, she “realized that this was a Lincoln which shattered the widely accepted tradition of his early shabbiness, rudeness, ungainliness.” This new “Lincoln … took [her] by storm.”[46] Others responded similarly. Contributors noted that rather than a rough, crude, unkempt backwoodsman, the photograph pictured a neatly tailored young man. One commentator noted with pleasure that there was “nothing about the picture to indicate the low vulgarity that some persons who knew Mr. Lincoln in his early career would have us believe belonged to him at that time. The face is very far from being a coarse or brutal or sensual face. It is as refined in appearance as it is kindly.”[47] Murat Halstead, the editor of the Brooklyn Standard-Union, noted the “not careless, but neat and elegant” attire and the “elaborate tie of the cravat.”[48] Joseph Medill, editor of the Chicago Tribune, also noticed the “scrupulous care” of Lincoln’s appearance: “His hair is combed and brushed down with something like youthful vanity, and he has a smooth, bright, rather handsome face.”[49] [End Page 63]

Tarbell’s new interpretation of Lincoln fit into the stream of progressive historiography.[50] Frederick Jackson Turner caught the renewed interest in the common man and epitomized a new regard for the centrality of the West in his essay, “The Significance of the Frontier in American History,” given as a speech at the Columbian Exposition in 1893.[51] In his interpretation of American history, the western pioneer came to embody traits more representatively American than either the northerner or the southerner. Turner suggested that truly American “traits,” such as roughness, keen intellect, wit, practicality, inventiveness, “individualism,” confidence, daring, and lack of aesthetic refinement as well as American democracy and nationalism, were developed on the cutting edge of the frontier.[52] Thus, the American West was central to the development of the American character and history.

The same traits that Turner admired in the westerner could be seen in Tarbell’s Lincoln.[53] Tarbell described Lincoln’s pride in his strength and the ability to do any chores necessary in frontier life. She pointed out the practical and ingenious side of his nature. As examples she related how Lincoln freed a flatboat stuck on a mill dam in 1831 and pointed out his invention, patented in 1849, for getting boats over shallow areas in rivers. Lincoln’s storytelling ability, his sense of humor, and his genial nature when among his peers formed a running theme throughout Tarbell’s work, as did Lincoln’s open, inquisitive mind that moved him to learn grammar and law on his own and allowed him to master the surveying skill in six weeks. Her Lincoln exhibited all of the traits found in the American westerner.[54]

In Tarbell’s study, these traits combined with Lincoln’s other qualities of honesty, a relentless persistence in understanding new problems, and an ability to act on logically reached conclusions to pro- [End Page 64] duce a leader capable of guiding the country through the Civil War.[55] Tarbell was after “Lincoln the man,” and for her, the “real Lincoln” was not a “prophet” or a “martyr.” Tarbell’s Lincoln was touched by sorrow and, in the case of Ann Rutledge, by romance, but she emphasized as well Lincoln’s logic developed from “incessant mental effort” and his “moral courage” as keys to his greatness.[56]

Tarbell wrote in a readable style that contributed to the general appeal of her work. McClure and John Phillips, who edited her work, insisted on that. McClure’s rule of thumb was that an article must be able to retain one’s interest after a third reading. Otherwise, it had to be rewritten.[57]

The effect of Tarbell’s articles on the public could be seen in circulation figures for McClure’s which jumped from 120,000 in August 1895 to 175,000 in November when Tarbell’s first Lincoln article appeared. In December, 250,000 copies were sold, exceeding magazine legends such as the Century, Scribner’s, and Harper’s Monthly.[58] Years later in his autobiography, McClure, who had had difficulty starting his magazine during the depression of 1893, summarized the effect of such success on the staff at McClure’s: “A new sense of hope came to all of us. The uncertainty and dread that we had lived under for so long passed away.”[59]

The popularity of Tarbell’s series could also be seen in its success in book form. In 1896, Tarbell completed her series on Lincoln’s early life up to 1858. The series was republished in a short-lived publication by McClure called McClure’s Quarterly shortly thereafter. The first four installments were republished in book form in 1896 to make up for the inability to satisfy the original demand in serial form. In 1898–99, Tarbell’s series on Lincoln’s later years from 1858 until his assassination appeared in McClure’s. That series combined with the earlier work was published in a two-volume work in 1900 with a dedication to her father. It had gone through several editions by 1920.

Book reviews were favorable to Tarbell’s work.[60] Even Robert Todd Lincoln informally gave her a complimentary review. He wrote to her that he had to “confess” his “astonishment and pleasure” at the “result” of her “untiring research.” He deemed her biography an “indispensable adjunct to the work of Nicolay and [End Page 65] Hay.”[61] The emphasis on the frontier experience in Tarbell’s early life of Lincoln did not go unnoticed. Like Tarbell, one reviewer appreciated the early West as a beneficial influence on Lincoln’s development.[62] McClure’s own estimate of the value of the new study foreshadowed his later muckraking emphasis on scientific inquiry and the maintenance of law and order: “No other story in American history impresses one more deeply with the necessity of studying public questions clearly and dispassionately, and abiding like a rock by what is lawful and just.”[63]

Tarbell continued to write about Lincoln throughout the Progressive Era even after she turned to her famous series of exposures on the Standard Oil Company in 1902. When Jesse Weik inquired if her work on the History of the Standard Oil Company meant that she was finished with her research on Lincoln, she answered: “Of course, I have not dropped Lincoln, I intend to keep hold of him as long as I live.”[64] Tarbell continued the investigative work begun in her biography of Lincoln by editing a collection of Lincoln’s letters, speeches, and state papers published in 1911 and by exploring the ancestry of the Lincoln family in In the Footsteps of the Lincolns (1924). In 1907 and 1909, Tarbell also wrote two of her Billy Brown stories, He Knew Lincoln and Father Abraham, which presented reminiscences of a fictionalized character from Springfield, Billy Brown.[65] The Billy Brown stories served as popular vehicles to illustrate Lincoln’s wisdom, humanity, and intelligence. They especially played on the link between Lincoln and the common man. In the books, both Lincoln and Billy Brown spoke in the unpolished manner of the western pioneer.

The 1890s saw the intensification of problems associated with the process of rapid industrialization.[66] Tarbell felt that her work on [End Page 66] the life of Lincoln had helped her to rediscover her country and provided her with an ideal by which to analyze the changes occurring around her. Looking back on her career from the vantage point of 1939, Tarbell noted that her years of work on her biography “aroused my flagging sense that I had a country, that its problems were my problems.”[67] Tarbell’s study of Lincoln made her wonder why things had developed as they had after the Civil War. She felt that the passions of the war encouraged people to follow paths of “corruption,” “greed,” and revenge rather than Lincoln’s counsels of “charity” and forgiveness after the conflict.[68] She questioned the “effect” of the war “on democracy” and wondered whether the infringements upon democracy were not a “more subtle form of slavery.”[69] Her work on Lincoln encouraged her to leave France in an intellectual sense and to involve herself with the problems of the United States. As Tarbell said, her work on Lincoln and his times provided “a nice box of problems to tease me as I worked on Lincoln’s life and out of the corner of the eye watched what was going on in the country.”[70]

Tarbell and other members of McClure’s staff would soon be caught up in the muckraking crusade of the first decade of the twentieth century. From McClure’s poured a series of realistic, factual stories intended to “shock” the public by exposing the social and political ills of the new industrial society.[71] The stories created a national sensation.

While members of the staff differed in their views of the problem and its possible solution, the muckrakers in general felt that a collaboration of political, business, and criminal interests at all levels of politics had created a “shadow government” that subverted the legal process.[72] As a solution, the muckrakers often supported democratic reforms such as the initiative, the referendum, and the direct election of senators. Eventually, they favored a “restructuring of political power” in the form of strong executive leadership.[73] This concentration of power would protect the public against corrupt special interest groups in government and business.[74] [End Page 67]

Like many of their contemporaries, progressive journalists compared their political situation to that of the 1850s.[75] They felt that the Old Guard of the Republican party had drifted far from the founding principles of Lincoln’s day and, combined with other defenders of corporate wealth, had brought the country to the brink of a crisis similar to that which faced the country in the 1850s. Writing to his father, Ray Stannard Baker, another muckraking journalist at McClure’s, compared his battle for reform to that of a previous generation: “This crusade against special privilege in high places is a real war, a real revolution. We may not have to go as far as you did, when you fought out the slavery question, with powder & blood. At the present, when any of us is wounded we bleed nothing but ink. But ink may serve the purpose.”[76] Tarbell also developed a Civil War analogy, defining progressive reform as a battle “to rid ourselves of the abuses of a carelessly administered democracy—abuses which we have as plainly fixed on ourselves as the country North and South allowed slavery to become fixed.”[77] Tarbell felt that conservative Republicans could no longer claim themselves as heirs of Lincoln’s legacy: “They have denied him at every point.”[78]

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The Progressive Era’s emphasis on the need for strong leadership led journalists to draw inspiration from the Civil War era. Baker recalled a staff meeting at the McClure’s offices one day when the American landscape looked “bleak,” with no “leadership” or “vision” evident in the country. Tarbell reminded her colleagues: “Remember that we have had great leadership in the past: we shall have it again in the future. Keep looking back to Abraham Lincoln.”[79] Other writers associated with McClure’s also referred to Lincoln as an example of needed leadership in their writings.[80] [End Page 68]

A link between Tarbell’s work on Lincoln and her muckraking interests emerged as the period proceeded. Tarbell commented on the labor problem through Lincoln in her volume, Father Abraham (1909). In a conversation between Lincoln and the fictional character, Billy Brown, a visitor from Springfield during the Civil War, Lincoln remarked: “We ain’t got our values of men’s work figured out right yet—the value of the man that gives orders and of the man that takes ’em.”[81] In 1924, when Tarbell revisited Lincoln’s beginnings in In the Footsteps of the Lincolns, she emphasized (as she had not in her Life of Abraham Lincoln [1900]) the importance of Lincoln’s early work as a laborer, crediting his understanding of labor as a central “strength” in his arguments against the spread of slavery during the Lincoln-Douglas debates. “He saw labor as the foundation of all that might come after it, for he had labored himself, starting a community.”[82]

In an undated address, Tarbell linked Lincoln to current reform efforts. She encouraged Americans who were concerned about the problems of their time to emulate Lincoln’s “openness,” self-discipline, “moral nature,” and ability to act on logically determined convictions instead of mythologizing Lincoln as a man who possessed traits unattainable to the average citizen.[83] People often made myths of people, she said, ascribing to them exceptional traits or circumstances that explained their feats of greatness.[84] But Lincoln taught that all individuals can develop the qualities necessary to reform current-day problems. “The best of it is that his achievement is Democratic—something open to all—his methods Democratic, something practical for all.”[85]

In 1912, Tarbell specifically used Lincoln to evaluate the trust problem, again emphasizing his self-discipline and rational nature. While she felt that citizens could not know what Lincoln would have thought on the issue, they could approach the trusts with the same objectivity and perseverance with which Lincoln dealt with slavery. Citizens must patiently struggle with the trust question until the root of the problem was destroyed, just as Lincoln had battled the slavery issue until that injustice was eliminated.[86] [End Page 69]

Tarbell’s perspective on Lincoln also led her to support the sculptor George Grey Barnard during the controversy over his Lincoln statue, dedicated in Cincinnati in 1917 and sent to Manchester, England, in 1919 after being rejected as a suitable gift for London. A reformer in politics and art, Barnard modeled his Lincoln around the image of Lincoln as a hero of democracy and as a man of the working class.[87] Rather than a finely clothed, flawless Lincoln, Barnard’s Lincoln posed in rumpled, worn clothes and old shoes with his arms clasped around his stomach. Barnard tried to portray Lincoln before he became president, as one who came from the people.[88]

Conservative critics, such as Frederick Wellington Ruckstuhl, editor of the Art World, Robert Todd Lincoln, Henry Cabot Lodge, and Lincoln enthusiast, Judd Stewart, felt that the pose and attire of the statue were unbecoming to the memory of Lincoln.[89] Ruckstuhl was particularly vocal in his opposition, referring to the statue as a “mistake in bronze” and “radicalism in rags.”[90] Barnard’s defenders included some prominent individuals, such as Theodore Roosevelt, Edwin Markham, and Ida Tarbell, who had been associated at some point in their careers with progressive reform.[91] [End Page 70]

Tarbell admired Barnard’s work and visited the artist in his New York studio while he was working on the statue. In Barnard’s portrayal of Lincoln, Tarbell saw reflected her own appreciation for Lincoln’s western, common-man origins. Responding to Judd Stewart, who had launched a vigorous letter-writing campaign to generate as much sentiment against the statue as he possibly could, Tarbell said:

Have you seen the Barnard statue, or have you been judging by the photograph? If you have seen the statue, then I really cannot understand how you can say what you do. To my mind, it is entirely in a class by itself. No man that has attempted to do Lincoln has achieved what Barnard has done. It is a very great piece of interpretation. That is as I see it. I have never been able to look at it without tears myself, so wonderful is it to me.[92]

Tarbell felt so strongly about Barnard’s work that she used part of her introduction to a new 1917 edition of her Lincoln biography to defend briefly the artist’s statue. Barnard, she wrote, had opened up a “fundamental discussion” over the proper interpretation of Lincoln.[93] In a published article, Tarbell further criticized the “organized campaign against an interpretation of Abraham Lincoln which not only admits the poverty and meagerness of his early life but glories in it; makes it a masterful feature of his interpretation.”[94] Seeking to score a direct hit against Barnard’s detractors by challenging their ability to perceive Lincoln’s essential qualities, she concluded, “Sure I am of this: that those who do not see the great soul of Barnard’s statue would never have seen it in the living man himself.”[95]

As has been noted by others, Tarbell’s work on the life of Abraham Lincoln achieved a new objectivity unheard of in the Lincoln field to that time. That new perspective came not only from the passing of time and an older generation but also from Tarbell’s own talents as a researcher and the Progressive Era’s emphasis on sci- [End Page 71] ence, rationality, and realism. Her efforts to establish Lincoln’s frontier environment as a benefit to his early development also melded with progressive historiography and a new appreciation for the common man. Tarbell used Lincoln as an example of what could be accomplished by strong, executive leadership and later urged readers to emulate his impartial logic and moral fortitude in solving their own problems. Tarbell’s series on Lincoln helped put McClure’son solid footing, guaranteeing its continuation into the twentieth century. While her study of Lincoln did not in itself cause her to become a muckraker, Lincoln served to wean Tarbell away from foreign topics and became for her an ideal against which she measured the leaders and values of her own time. Like others of her generation, she drew parallels between her own time and the Civil War and gained encouragement from a time when, it seemed to Tarbell, rationality, compassion, discipline, and a sense of fair play had formed the rules of the game and won the day. [End Page 72]

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1. Ida M. Tarbell, All in the Day’s Work: An Autobiography (New York: Macmillan, 1939), 12 (hereinafter cited as ADW).
2. Ibid.
3. Ibid., 11.
4. Ibid.
5. Ibid., 23, 46–47, 60, 114; Kathleen Brady, Ida Tarbell, Portrait of a Muckraker (New York: Seaview/Putnam, 1984), 46–47; Benjamin P. Thomas, Portrait for Posterity: Lincoln and His Biographers (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1947), 178.
6. Brady, Ida Tarbell, 65, 83–84; Harold S. Wilson, McClure’s Magazine and the Muckrakers (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1970), 69–70; S. S. McClure, My Autobiography (New York: Frederick A. Stokes, 1914), 217–18; Louis A. Filler, The Muckrakers (University Park: Pennsylvania University Press, 1976), 36–37 (this is a new and enlarged edition of Filler, Crusaders for American Liberalism, originally published in 1939 by Harcourt, Brace).
7. McClure, Autobiography, 219–20; Tarbell, ADW, 151–53; Wilson, McClure’s Magazine, 71–73; Brady, Ida Tarbell, 91–93.
8. Tarbell, ADW, 161.
9. Ibid., 162; Filler, Muckrakers, 37.
10. Tarbell, ADW, 162; Wilson, McClure’s Magazine, 73; Filler, Muckrakers, 37.
11. Tarbell, The Life of Abraham Lincoln: Drawn from Original Sources and Containing Many Speeches, Letters and Telegrams Hitherto Unpublished, 2 vols. (New York: Doubleday and McClure, 1900), 1:vii; Thomas, Portrait for Posterity, 178; Tarbell, ADW, 161.
12. Tarbell, ADW, 165; McClure, Autobiography, 221.
13. Tarbell, ADW, 161.
14. Ibid.
15. Ibid., 163; Brady, Ida Tarbell, 96; Thomas, Portrait for Posterity, 179.
16. Brady, Ida Tarbell, 96; Tarbell, ADW, 164.
17. Tarbell, ADW, 164; Brady, Ida Tarbell, 96.
18. Brady, Ida Tarbell, 96; Tarbell, ADW, 164–65.
19. Tarbell, ADW, 164; Brady, Ida Tarbell, 96.
20. Ray Stannard Baker, American Chronicle: The Autobiography of Ray Stannard Baker [David Grayson] (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1945), 94–95; Wilson, McClure’s Magazine, 191; Robert Wiebe, The Search for Order, 1877–1920 (New York: Hill and Wang, 1967.)
21. McClure, Autobiography, 244–45.
22. Ibid., 245.
23. Ibid., 244–45; Baker, American Chronicle, 94–95.
24. Brady, Ida Tarbell, 99.
25. Merrill Peterson, Lincoln in American Memory (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994), 151–52; Thomas, Portrait for Posterity, 184.
26. Tarbell, Life of Lincoln, 1:viii.
27. McClure, Autobiography, 221; Brady, Ida Tarbell, 98; Thomas, Portrait for Posterity, 183–84.
28. Thomas, Portrait for Posterity, 178.
29. Brady, Ida Tarbell, 99–101; Thomas, Portrait for Posterity, 188–92.
30. Brady, Ida Tarbell, 100–101; Thomas, Portrait for Posterity, 188–89; Tarbell, ADW, 174; Tarbell, Life of Lincoln, 1:57–58, 94–96, 174–80.
31. Thomas, Portrait for Posterity, 201.
32. Ibid., 185–87.
33. Ibid., 186–87.
34. William H. Herndon, Herndon’s Lincoln: The True Story of a Great Life, 2 vols., ed. Paul M. Angle (New York: Albert and Charles Boni, 1930), 39.
35. Brady, Ida Tarbell, 101.
36. Quoted in Thomas, Portrait for Posterity, 186.
37. Tarbell, The Early Life of Abraham Lincoln: Containing Many Unpublished Documents and Unpublished Reminiscences of Lincoln’s Early Friends (New York: S. S. McClure, 1896), 42–43.
38. Ibid., 54.
39. Ibid., 96.
40. Tarbell, Life of Lincoln, 1:28.
41. Thomas, Portrait for Posterity, 186; Tarbell, Early Life, 30–36; Brady, Ida Tarbell, 100.
42. Peterson, Lincoln in American Memory, 151–52.
43. Tarbell, ADW, 164–67; John S. Goff, Robert Todd Lincoln: A Man in His Own Right (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1969), 179–80, 189–91. While Lincoln was helpful in answering Tarbell’s factual questions about his father, he carefully guarded papers from his father’s presidential years. He let Nicolay and Hay use them with his supervision, but he was afraid information found in documents and correspondence would be harmful to those still living. The papers were not made public until 1947.
44. McClure, Autobiography, 221; Brady, Ida Tarbell, 97–98.
45. Tarbell, “The Earliest Portrait of Lincoln,” McClure’s Magazine 6 (Dec. 1895): 112; Tarbell, “Miss Tarbell’s Life of Lincoln,” McClure’s Magazine 6 (Jan. 1896): 206–8.
46. Tarbell, ADW, 167.
47. Tarbell, “Earliest Portrait,” 109.
48. Ibid., 112.
49. Tarbell, “Miss Tarbell’s Life of Lincoln,” 208.
50. Thomas, Portrait for Posterity, 187.
51. Correspondence between Tarbell and Turner in the Tarbell Papers gives no indication that Tarbell was directly influenced by Turner’s work. It may be worth noting, however, that Hamlin Garland, who tried to reclaim the west for American literature just as Turner did for American history, wrote for McClure’s. His Crumbling Idols (1894) was the counterpart of Turner’s criticism of American history. See Richard Hofstadter, The Progressive Historians: Turner, Beard, Parrington (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1968), 48. It is likely that McClure’s staff, including Tarbell, was familiar with his work.
52. Frederick J. Turner, The Significance of the Frontier in American History, March of America Facsimile series: number 100 (N.p.: University Microfilms, 1966), 226–27; Hofstadter, Progressive Historians, 53, 69.
53. Thomas, Portrait for Posterity, 187.
54. Tarbell, Early Life.
55. Ibid., 218–22.
56. Tarbell, Life of Lincoln, 1:x, 2:261–62.
57. McClure, Autobiography, 204.
58. Ibid., 221–22; Brady, Ida Tarbell, 98.
59. McClure, Autobiography, 222.
60. Brady, Ida Tarbell, 101.
61. Tarbell, ADW, 169.
62. “Miss Tarbell’s Life of Lincoln,” 207.
63. McClure, “The McClure’s Life of Abraham Lincoln,” McClure’s Magazine 5 (Oct. 1895): 480, ts. in McClure Papers, Lilly Library, Indiana University, Bloomington.
64. Quoted in Thomas, Portrait for Posterity, 184–85.
65. Tarbell, He Knew Lincoln (New York: McClure, Phillips, 1907) (a variation of this was published in American Magazine 63 [Feb. 1907]: 339–48); Tarbell, Father Abraham (New York: Moffat, Yard, 1909) (a version of this appeared in American Magazine 67 [Feb. 1909]: 324–34).
66. Two historians have suggested a link between Lincoln and the reform journalists. See Thomas, Portrait for Posterity, 199; Wilson, McClure’s Magazine, 316–17. Although Merrill Peterson downplays the effect of Lincoln on Tarbell’s role as a muckraker, he notes that Lincoln served “as an ideal of democracy and brotherhood” for Tarbell. See Peterson, Lincoln in American Memory, 155.
67. Tarbell, ADW, 179.
68. Ibid.
69. Ibid., 179–80.
70. Ibid., 180.
71. Wilson, McClure’s Magazine, 191–95.
72. Ibid., 210–32; David Mark Chalmers, The Social and Political Ideas of the Muckrakers (New York: Citadel Press, 1964), 106–7.
73. Wilson, McClure’s Magazine, 231–52.
74. Ibid.
75. The influence of the Civil War in general on the staff of McClure’s forms one theme of Wilson’s study of McClure and the magazine. See especially Wilson, McClure’s Magazine, 310–22.
76. Quoted in ibid., 314.
77. Tarbell, “Abraham Lincoln,” 51, Tarbell Papers, Pelletier Library, Allegheny College, Meadville, Pa.
78. Quoted in Thomas, Portrait for Posterity, 196.
79. Baker, American Chronicle, 502.
80. William Allen White, The Old Order Changeth: A View of American Democracy (New York: Macmillan, 1910), 144; Ray Stannard Baker, “The Measure of Taft,” American Magazine 70 (July 1910): 267, 370–71; Baker, “Is the Republican Party Breaking Up?” American Magazine 69 (Feb. 1910): 447–48. The staff at McClure’s split over personal and professional issues in 1906. John Phillips, Tarbell, Baker, and Lincoln Steffens left to form the American Magazine. It continued to make contributions to muckraking literature.
81. Tarbell, Father Abraham, 27–28.
82. Tarbell, In the Footsteps of the Lincolns (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1924), 137.
83. Tarbell, “Abraham Lincoln,” 53–54.
84. Ibid., 1–5.
85. Ibid., 56.
86. Tarbell, “What Would Lincoln Do Now?” American Magazine 73 (Feb. 1912): 509–10, 512.
87. George Grey Barnard, “The Sculptor’s View of Lincoln,” in Barnard’s Lincoln: The Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Charles P. Taft to the City of Cincinnati (Cincinnati: Stewart and Kidd, 1917), 21, 26, 28; also noted in Donald Charles Durman, He Belongs to the Ages: The Statues of Abraham Lincoln (Ann Arbor, Mich.: Edwards Brothers, 1951), 152, 156.
88. Durman, He Belongs, 152.
89. Robert Todd Lincoln’s views on the statue can be found in “Robert Todd Lincoln and the Barnard Statue,” Chicago History 7 (Dec. 1966): 353–59; James T. Hickey, “Lincolniana: Some Robert Lincoln Letters on the ‘Dredful Statue’ by Grey Barnard,” Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society 73 (Summer 1980): 132–39; correspondence in “Barnard Lincoln Statue,” Boxes 1 and 2, Robert Todd Lincoln Papers, Illinois State Historical Library, Springfield, Ill. Letters from Henry Cabot Lodge on the issue can be found in the George Grey Barnard Papers, American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, New York, N.Y., and in the Robert Todd Lincoln Papers. Judd Stewart is discussed in Philip M. Benjamin, “The George Grey Barnard ‘Lincoln’ Controversy: Notes for a New Appraisal,” Lincoln Herald 55 (Fall 1953): 13–14.
90. F. W. Ruckstuhl, “A Mistake in Bronze,” Art World 2 (June 1917): 213; Ruckstuhl, “Barnard’s ‘Lincoln’ Once More,” Art World 3 (Dec. 1917): 190.
91. For views of Edwin Markham on the statue, see Markham, “Barnard’s Lincoln,” Touchstone 2 (Dec. 1917): 228. Roosevelt’s views may be found in “Which Is Your Lincoln?” Independent 92 (Nov. 3, 1917): 207–8; “The Barnard Statue of Lincoln,” Outlook 117 (Oct. 17, 1917): 241; “George Grey Barnard’s Statue of Lincoln,” Outlook 114 (Dec. 27, 1916): 891; “Mr. Barnard’s Lincoln,” Outlook 118 (Jan. 16, 1918): 86, 105.
92. Tarbell to Stewart, quoted in Benjamin, “The George Grey Barnard ‘Lincoln’ Controversy,” 18.
93. Tarbell, The Life of Abraham Lincoln, 2 vols. (New York: Macmillan, 1917), 1:xii–xiii.
94. Tarbell, “‘Those Who Love Lincoln’: A Word for Barnard’s Statue,” Touchstone 2 (Dec. 1917): 225.
95. Ibid., 228.


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