Abraham Lincoln’s Dueling Words
Long before he was our beloved president, Abraham Lincoln was known for his smarts and his knee-slapping humor. In 1842, that got him into a heap of trouble. When he clashed with James Shields, a political rival, Lincoln came up with a rascally plan.
It was silly.
It was clever.
It was a great big mistake.
Shields challenged Lincoln to a duel!
Lincoln would need his wit and a healthy dose of humility to save his career—and even his life.
A rare look at the more human side of Abraham Lincoln and how the lessons he learned made him a better man.
Blurb: “A rollicking story, well told with all the original color.”
–James M. Cornelius, Ph.D., Curator, Lincoln Collection
Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library & Museum
“I was able to use your Lincoln story when dealing with a student issue yesterday. Some very bright and (usually) sweet girls made up a not-so-nice song about a boy in our class that isn’t always nice to others. One thing led to another and words were exchanged. So we had a talk about using words as weapons, and I was able to use Lincoln’s story to remind them what happens when our creativity and cleverness are used in ways that hurt others. The consequence for all 3 was to write kind notes to each other so they can practice using words the right way. When I follow up with them tomorrow, they might be getting a dose of Doc Key too. Thanks for sharing stories that are not just interesting, but also help with teachable moments!” Shari Sawyers, 3rd grade teacher.
Reviews and Accolades:
Abraham Lincoln’s Dueling Words has been nominated for Alabama’s Camellia Book Award
Abraham Lincoln’s Dueling Words has been nominated for a 2019-20 Delaware Diamonds Book Award in the grade 3-5 category.
“Bowman’s upbeat telling is infused with folksy humor, and Schindler’s superb watercolor-and-ink illustrations effectively capture the time period” —Kirkus Reviews
“Lively, engaging… Bowman’s conversational, folksy reader-directed paragraphs incorporate droll, dramatic, and suspenseful touches that will likely hold readers’ interest…Schindler’s intricate, expressive watercolor-and-ink illustrations lend further vibrancy.” —Booklist
“Bowman adds levity and appeal through the use of a Midwestern dialect, second-person point of view, and figurative language that readily evokes time and place. Schindler’s illustrations, done in watercolor and ink, are a perfect accompaniment to this moralistic story.”—School Library Journal (lovely review, but let me correct that the dialect is southern or folksy, not midwestern, and there is direct address, not second-person pov.)
Betsy Bird, for School Library Journal and Fuse #8 Productions, recommends Abraham Lincoln’s Dueling Words in her article Goofs, Gaffs, and Everything in Between—Nonfiction Considers Mistakes in which she makes the great point that “… in this day and age it is a novel thing to see a politician owning up to a mistake.”
PSLA Teaching and Learning review excerpt: “Bowman’s book will be useful when explaining the difference between fact and opinion and the harmful effects of abusive language in the media, including social media. A timely and relevant work.”
Librarian’s Quest review: “After reading this book, Abraham Lincoln’s Dueling Words written by Donna Janell Bowman with illustrations by S. D. Schindler, you find yourself excited to share this information with the first person you meet. You want to, at the very least, make sure this is something enjoyed in classrooms.”
School Library Connection excerpt (Aug/Sept 2018 issue): “With a casual, conversational tone, author Donna Janell Bowman shares the humorous and troublemaking side of Abraham Lincoln. . . With many books focused on the successes of Abraham Lincoln, this title takes a refreshing look at one of Lincoln’s mistakes. Likely a story not known to many, this selection humanizes a celebrated man and solidifies his position as one of America’s greatest heroes! Illustrated by S. D. Schindler. . . Recommended.”
Library Thing review excerpt: “With brilliant illustrations and clear language, Bowman and Schindler bring to life this little-known tale, making Lincoln into more a person than a symbol of ideal. He’s got a playful sense of humour, and bit of an impetuous nature. It was neat to see Lincoln in a trickster light!”
Reading Rockets review excerpt: “Rather than demount old Abe from a pedestal, this historical episode serves to demonstrate that even the best folks make mistakes and that errors can be rectified. Humorously told and expressively illustrated…”
A Book and a Hug review excerpt: “This would make a great read-aloud around Presidents’ Day or any day when you are discussing reputation, getting along with others, honesty, American history, problem-solving or as a prequel to the American Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation.”
PSLA review excerpt: “Bowman’s book will be useful when explaining the difference between fact and opinion and the harmful effects of abusive language in the media, including social media. A timely and relevant work.:
Click on the links below for even more information about the Lincoln-Shields duel:
- Click here to see the Select Sources and Quotation Sources for Abraham Lincoln’s Dueling Words.
- My working timeline for Abraham Lincoln’s Dueling Words
- Read the account (scroll to page 2) of John D. Whiteside (Shields’ second), followed by a response from Lincoln’s second (Elias Merryman).
- *Read the transcript of the Elias Merryman’s (Lincoln’s second) most complete account, with reproduced duel-related notes.
- The history of Bloody Island—the Mississippi River location of the Lincoln-Shields duel
- 19th-Century Dueling Terms.
- What Sparked the Lincoln-Shields Duel & Lincoln’s Unusual Fight Terms
- The gentleman’s code of conduct. There was a reason for all that hat-tipping and formality.
- The Lincoln-Shields Duel Sparks Two Other Duels
- James Shields and his Working Relationship with Lincoln Before and During the Civil War
- Character education and curriculum tie-ins
- My onsite and digital research journey
- Reading of the Nicolay and Hay 1890 Account of the Lincoln-Shields Duel
Abraham Lincoln’s Dueling Words is featured on Publisher’s Spotlight showcase on Kidlit TV. See the video here.