The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History and Gettysburg College announced that Jon Meacham, author of “And There Was Light: Abraham Lincoln and the American Struggle” (Random House), and Jonathan W. White, author of “A House Built by Slaves: African American Visitors to the Lincoln White House” (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers), are joint recipients of the 2023 Gilder Lehrman Lincoln Prize.
The Gilder Lehrman Lincoln Prize is awarded annually for the finest scholarly work in English on Abraham Lincoln, the American Civil War soldier, or the American Civil War era, one that also enhances the general public’s understanding of the Civil War era. The award was established in 1990 by Lewis E. Lehrman and the late Richard Gilder, in partnership with Gettysburg College and Dr. Gabor Boritt, Director Emeritus of the Civil War Institute at Gettysburg College.
Jon Meacham, co-chair of the Vanderbilt Project on Unity and American Democracy, professor of political science at Vanderbilt University, and Carolyn T. and Robert M. Rogers Chair in American Presidency at Vanderbilt, is a renowned presidential historian. A biographer and contributing editor at TIME magazine, he lectures widely in the United States on history, politics, and religious faith, and is the Canon Historian of Washington National Cathedral. He is the author of numerous New York Times bestselling books, and the recipient of many awards, including the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for biography for “American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House.”
Jonathan W. White is a professor of American studies at Christopher Newport University, where he has taught since 2009. He is the author or editor of 13 books, including “Emancipation, the Union Army, and the Reelection of Abraham Lincoln” (2014), which was a finalist for the 2015 Gilder Lehrman Lincoln Prize, a “best book” in the Civil War Monitor, and the winner of the Abraham Lincoln Institute’s 2015 book prize. He has published more than 100 articles, essays, and reviews. He serves as vice chair of the Lincoln Forum and on the boards of the Abraham Lincoln Association and the Abraham Lincoln Institute, as well as on the Ford’s Theatre Advisory Council and the Gilder Lehrman Institute’s Scholarly Advisory Board. In 2019, he won the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia’s Outstanding Faculty Award—the highest honor bestowed upon college faculty by the Commonwealth of Virginia.
The two laureates will be recognized on April 11 during an award ceremony at the Harvard Club in New York City. The award they will share includes a $50,000 prize and bronze replicas of Augustus Saint-Gaudens’s life-sized bust, Lincoln the Man.
James G. Basker, president of the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, said, “’And There Was Light’ and ‘A House Built by Slaves’ powerfully humanize the story of the Civil War by re-examining the lives and legacies of those who lived it. Thousands of books have been written about Abraham Lincoln and his contemporaries, but these studies by Meacham and White stand out for their narrative skill and interpretive brilliance.”
Basker is one of the five Gilder Lehrman Lincoln Prize Board members who selected this year’s winners. In addition to Lewis E. Lehrman, a co-founder of the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History and co-creator of the Gilder Lehrman Collection with the late Richard Gilder, other board members include Robert C. Daum and Curt Viebranz, both trustees of the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, and Gettysburg College Trustee Larry D. Walker.
“We are pleased to be able to honor two outstanding books. Jonathan White’s work provides us with a deeper and important understanding of the view of Lincoln shared by African Americans in the Civil War era. Jon Meacham’s work is a major contribution to the long line of Lincoln biographies that will be read and re-read for decades,” said Walker.
The laureates were two of five finalists recommended to the board by a three-person jury: Elizabeth R. Varon, Langbourne M. Williams Professor of American History at the University of Virginia and a member of the executive council of UVA’s John L. Nau III Center for Civil War History; Harold Holzer, Jonathan Fanton Director of the Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute at Hunter College and author, co-author, or editor of 55 books on Lincoln, the Civil War, and the history of the American media; and John Stauffer, award-winning author and Sumner R. and Marshall S. Kates Professor of English and of African and African American Studies at Harvard University. Varon and Holzer are both Gilder Lehrman Lincoln Prize laureates.
The three other finalists that the jury selected from 84 book submissions include:
- Elizabeth D. Leonard, “Benjamin Franklin Butler: A Noisy, Fearless Life” (University of North Carolina Press)
- Roger Lowenstein, “Ways and Means: Lincoln and His Cabinet and the Financing of the Civil War” (Penguin Press)
- Rita Roberts, “I Can’t Wait to Call You My Wife: African American Letters of Love and Family in the Civil War Era” (Chronicle Books)