2023 Gilder Lehrman Lincoln Prize Recipients Announced

February 27, 2023 — The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History announced today 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.

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, 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. Meacham received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from the Berkeley Divinity School at Yale University in 2005. He holds additional honorary doctorates from Williams College, Middlebury College, Wake Forest University, the University of Tennessee, Dickinson College, Sewanee, Loyola University New Orleans, Loyola University Maryland, Millsaps College, and several other institutions.

Jonathan W. White is Professor of American Studies at Christopher Newport University, where he has taught since 2009. He is the author or editor of thirteen 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 one hundred 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 during an award ceremony to be held at the Harvard Club in New York City on April 11. 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 Larry D. 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 fifty-five 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. Elizabeth Varon and Harold Holzer are both Gilder Lehrman Lincoln Prize laureates.

In their report to the board, the jury called And There Was Light “a timely and original biography of Lincoln, well informed by modern scholarship and full of educational value for the broad reading public.” They concluded, “Meacham’s superbly readable biography . . . is one of the very finest that we have, and will stand the test of time.” The jury noted that in A House Built by Slaves, “White captures the symbolic importance of social equality as an issue to be addressed during—and after—the restoration of the Union and eradication of slavery.” Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., called the book “an attempt to size Lincoln up through the eyes of Black Americans who visited the ‘people’s house’ that their people had built and in whose names they were determined to win the fight for freedom and citizenship.”

The three other finalists that the jury selected from 84 nominations are: 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); and 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).

About the 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 $50,000 prize was established in 1990 by businessmen and philanthropists Lewis E. Lehrman and the late Richard Gilder, in partnership with Gettysburg College and Professor Gabor Boritt, Director Emeritus of the Civil War Institute at Gettysburg College.

About the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History

Founded in 1994 by Lewis E. Lehrman and the late Richard Gilder, visionaries and lifelong supporters of American history education, the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History is the leading nonprofit organization dedicated to K–12 history education while also serving the general public. The Institute’s mission is to promote the knowledge and understanding of American history through educational programs and resources. As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit public charity, the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History is supported through the generosity of individuals, corporations, and foundations. The Institute’s programs have been recognized by awards from the White House, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Organization of American Historians, the Council of Independent Colleges, and the Daughters of the American Revolution.


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