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Lincoln's Forgotten Friend, Leonard Swett

Lincoln's Forgotten Friend, Leonard Swett

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Robert S. Eckley


Paperback (Other formats: E-book)
326 pages, 6 x 9, 22 illustrations


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About the Book

In 1849, while traveling as an attorney on the Eighth Judicial Circuit in Illinois, Abraham Lincoln befriended Leonard Swett (1825–89), a fellow attorney sixteen years his junior.  Despite this age difference, the two men built an enduring friendship that continued until Lincoln’s assassination in 1865. Until now, no historian has explored Swett’s life or his remarkable relationship with the sixteenth president. In this welcome volume, Robert S. Eckley provides the first biography of Swett, crafting an intimate portrait of his experiences as a loyal member of Lincoln’s inner circle. 

Eckley chronicles Swett’s early life and the part he played in Lincoln’s political campaigns, including his role as an essential member of the team behind Lincoln’s two nominations and elections for the presidency. Swett counseled Lincoln during the formation of his cabinet and served as an unofficial advisor and sounding board during Lincoln’s time in office. Throughout his life, Swett wrote a great deal on Lincoln, and planned to write a biography about him, but Swett’s death preempted the project. His eloquent and interesting writings about Lincoln are described and reproduced in this volume, some for the first time.

With Lincoln’s Forgotten Friend, Eckley removes Swett from the shadows of history and sheds new light on Lincoln’s personal relationships and their valuable contributions to his career. 

Superior Achievement from the Illinois State Historical Society, 2013


Robert S. Eckley was the president of Illinois Wesleyan University from 1968 to 1986 and is currently president emeritus. He served as president of the Abraham Lincoln Association from 2002 to 2004 and was honored with their Logan Hay Medal in 2007. He published an article on Swett in the Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society.


“Swett is ‘Lincoln’s forgotten friend’ at least in part because he did not leave a significant cache of primary sources. His post-1865 reminiscences of Lincoln are immensely valuable and have become a staple of Lincoln scholarship, but they tell us little about Swett himself. Confronted with serious information gaps about his personal life, marriage, and other vital information, Eckley faced a real challenge as Swett’s biographer. But Eckley does a lot with a little, and the result is a wonderful little gem of a biography. His efforts were worthwhile: as Eckley points out, Swett was a key figure in Lincoln’s life, both as a courtroom colleague (and occasionally opponent) and as a “sounding board” for Lincoln’s politics and ideas.” —Brian Dirck, Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association

“Eckley brings renewed and deserved attention to Swett, who practiced law with Lincoln, played a key role in Lincoln’s 1860 nomination and 1864 campaign, and who, after Lincoln’s death, wrote about his intimate knowledge of Lincoln’s career.” —Henry S. Cohn, The Federal Lawyer
“In a sense Eckley's biography is a portrayal of Lincoln through Swett's eyes, and that is as it should be. Swett's fame, after all, rests on Lincoln's. Eckley also helps us understand how much Lincoln admired Swett. . . . The story of this friendship belongs in every good collection of Lincolniana. It is rich in detail about Lincoln's legal career and presidency.” —Roger D. Billings, Journal of Illinois History
Lincoln's Forgotten Friend, Leonard Swett is a scholarly and thoughtful biography of Leonard Swett (1825-1889), an attorney who became a loyal friend of Abraham Lincoln long before Lincoln was elected President. . . . An excellent contribution to public and college library biography shelves, highly recommended.” —James A. Cox, Midwest Book Review
“Leonard Swett was the most influential person in Abraham Lincoln's life who likely is unknown to you, the Lincoln devotee. Fortunately for those dedicated to preserving the Lincoln memory, Robert S. Eckley has authored Lincoln's Forgotten Friend, Leonard Swett. . . . It is a pleasure to read this book. It conveys a true sense of what it must have been like to be a close friend of Lincoln, whether on the circuit or in the White House.” —William G. Shepherd, For the People
“Swett’s life and fate deserved to be rescued for scholars and lay readers, both for his association with Lincoln, which yielded interesting comments on the president's character, and for his own path up from ragged circumstances. Bob Eckley, always a ‘Lincoln man,’ merits our gratitude for this fine study.” —Dan Monroe, Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society
“The story of Abraham Lincoln cannot be told adequately without including those Maine men who were close by his side. Among them was Leonard Swett, born and raised in Turner; he eventually became one of Lincoln’s closest advisors. . . . Now Swett’s story has been told in Lincoln’s Forgotten Friend, Leonard Swett, written by the late Dr. Robert S. Eckley.” Bangor Daily News
“Leonard Swett, who met Abraham Lincoln as a young circuit-riding lawyer in Central Illinois, is referred to as the president’s ‘forgotten friend.’ He might have remained largely ‘forgotten’ if not for a book by former Illinois Wesleyan University President Robert Eckley and the efforts of Eckley’s children to help their father finish the book as he slowly succumbed to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.” Bloomington Pantagraph

“With the publication of this well-documented and well-written book, another of those ‘original Lincoln men’ is rescued from obscurity. Swett was Lincoln’s confidant in the elections of 1860 and 1864. His loyalty to Lincoln may have stymied his own ambitions to be governor or congressman. During his successful post-war legal career in Chicago, he wrote or spoke valuable reminiscences of Lincoln, many of which are published here.”—Mark Plummer, author of Lincoln’s Rail-Splitter, Governor Richard J. Oglesby

“Eckley’s title says it truly: Leonard Swett has long been Lincoln’s ‘forgotten friend.’ But no more. This needed book reveals the important friendship—political and personal—that developed between the men during Lincoln’s midlife (late 1840s on). And, just as important, Swett comes alive for the reader as a fascinating character in his own right.” —Robert Bray, author of Reading with Lincoln

“Robert Eckley’s biography of Leonard Swett brings a special perspective to Abraham Lincoln, focusing on the long friendship the men first forged during their days on the Eighth Judicial Circuit. Eckley portrays Swett as one of the leaders who was most active in securing Lincoln’s presidential nomination at the Republican National Convention in Chicago in 1860. Swett continued to serve as a very important working supporter through both of Lincoln's presidential elections. Even more, Swett remained a confidante and advisor to Lincoln during his White House years, and Eckley draws attention to Swett’s overlooked and unrecognized importance. This book is a major contribution that shows the lifelong dedication of a friend from Lincoln’s inner circle.”—Ronald D. Rietveld, professor emeritus, California State University, Fullerton