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UWF Adjunct History Instructor Explores Lincoln’s Home Life In New Book

Michael Spooneybarger/CREO

 Alan Manning grew up loving history, which he learned first-hand from his grandfather who used to regale him with stories of World War I.

When he was 8, his grandparents gave him a book about American presidents. He read it over and over. He started to collect campaign buttons, and he continued to read about the presidents. When he was in college, he read “The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt” by Edmund Morris.

“It was the first history book I ever read that felt as though someone was just telling a good story,” Manning said. “I told myself then, maybe you can write a book about a president some day.”

Some day came earlier this summer when Manning published “Father Lincoln: The Untold Story of Abraham Lincoln and His Boys—Robert, Eddy, Willie and Tad” from Lyons Press.

As the title and subtitle indicate, the book offers a look at Lincoln as Dad. Here is an excerpt from the book’s epilogue that sums up Lincoln’s paternal experiences.

The story of Lincoln the father reveals a side of Lincoln that helps complete the picture of the sixteenth president and demonstrates what most people instinctively suspect but find difficult to reconcile with the larger than life image that has been created around him: that Lincoln was, in many ways, just an ordinary man. He loved his career and found meaning in his work, but he also knew that he had to fulfill his obligations as a father. His frequent absences from home, especially early in his career, often brought work and family into conflict. Yet he persisted in carrying out his fatherhood roles. Along the way, he experienced the typical joys and challenges of fatherhood: playing with his children, mediating sibling disputes, seeing a son off to college, giving career guidance, forging emotional bonds, worrying about family finances, offering religious training, and leading by example. 

Using primary sources as well as Lincoln’s papers, many of  which have been digitized by the Library of Congress, Manning put together a timeline for the book.

“I love doing research,” Manning said.

The book started off as the basis for his master’s thesis in history, which he earned from the University of West Florida.  

“I was looking to tell a story not yet told about somebody a lot of people are interested in, and I wanted to write a book that was a respected work of historical research that academia and the public could both enjoy.”

Credit Michael Spooneybarger/CREO
Alan Manning authored the book Father Lincoln The Untold Story of Abraham Lincoln and His Boys- Robert, Eddy, Willie, and Tad.

Manning, who is an adjunct professor of history at UWF, is a retired lawyer who teaches U.S. history at Pensacola Catholic High School. He lives with his wife and four daughters in Perdido Key.

The timeline Manning created for his book and the primary sources he quotes show that despite what is widely believed, Lincoln’s oldest son, Robert, and Lincoln did not have a strained or distant relationship. That belief has been based on some of Robert’s own statements suggesting that they rarely spent time together.  They, in fact, spent a lot of time discussing Robert’s future after college and enjoying time together during family vacations.

So why would Robert want to paint a picture that seemed to create distance between him and his father, or at least give that impression to biographers that he spent so little time with him?

Manning goes on to answer that question based on the research he did for the book.

Robert made statements minimizing his interaction with his father at a time when he was fending off requests for intimate details of his late father’s life. By suggesting to others that he spent so little time with his father that he did not know much about him, he was able to curtail further inquiry by curious biographers.

Since its publication earlier this summer, Manning has been interviewed on regional radio and television programs, and the book garnered reviews in the Florida Bar Journal and the Wall Street Journal. The book also climbed into the top 20 books on Amazon’s best-sellers list in the category of Civil War era topics.

“It’s been a very gratifying experience,” Manning said about the attention the book has received. “I think it has appeal because it is not just a book about Lincoln, it is a book about fatherhood that a lot of modern day parents can relate to.”

Manning continues to explore his personal fascination with presidential history and pursue his career as an author.

He is working on a book about personal virtues that were passed from Teddy Roosevelt’s father, Theodore Roosevelt Sr., down to Teddy Roosevelt’s son, Quentin.  He hopes to have it finished by next summer in time to publish in the summer of 2018.

This article is part of a collaboration between WUWF and the UWF Center for Research and Economic Opportunity.