James B. Conroy

Lincoln's White House

The People’s House in Wartime


"Conroy (Our One Common Country) finds an original angle on the 16th president, depicting how the Civil War White House looked, felt, and smelled through the recollections of staff and visitors. He opens with Lincoln’s arrival in March 1861, in the company of James Buchanan, to a home that possessed 'too much decay under too many coats of paint.' Upgrading the appearance became a priority for Mary Lincoln, which led her to become enmeshed in a fraudulent scheme to conceal expenditures on furnishings by creative accounting, a potentially explosive scandal that was fortunately contained. Conroy describes the immense amount of time the president spent listening to job-seekers and others who wanted his advice or help. This was a period when the public had almost unfettered access to the White House—a palpably different atmosphere from that of the security-conscious 21st century. Through telling anecdotes, the hands-on nature of Lincoln’s presidency comes through vividly; for example, in 1865, the president himself wrote to the head of the B&O Railroad to make sure the White House was supplied with enough coal. These details about the running of a household while running a divided country meet Conroy’s stated goal of shedding a different light on his subject." - Publisher's Weekly

“Gripping, atmospheric, and at times spellbinding, Conroy’s masterful work does much more than recollect the fraught public and private lives that Lincoln and his family endured in the Civil War White House. Not only are Conroy’s research and analysis impressive, but with the flair of a novelist or playwright, he brings the story alive by skillfully evoking its anxiety-riven characters and its grand but dilapidated locale. I know of no other book since the original recollections of Lincoln’s White House secretaries that does a better job of re-imagining America’s most famous landmark during the war for the nation’s soul.” - HAROLD HOLZER, author of Lincoln and the Power of the Press, winner of the Lincoln Prize

“Conroy finds old and new sources for the fascinating backstairs events and people in Lincoln’s White House. He writes concisely yet imaginatively to bring many famous or forgotten people back to life: black and white, military and civilian, male and female, malicious and beneficent, young and old. This book will be a standard source for the Lincoln presidency.” - JAMES M. CORNELIUS, PhD, curator, Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library & Museum, Springfield, Illinois

"Conroy delivers a rich and lively portrait of Abraham Lincoln’s White House as the center of the storm that was the American Civil War. Here is story-telling at its best. Conroy cracks open the doors of the Executive Mansion, inviting readers to peak at the bustle within: the shady suppliers, the fawning courtiers, the gossipy secretaries. Mary Todd Lincoln, flawed and fascinating, gives the house its heart. Its soul belongs to Abraham Lincoln—husband, father, mentor, yarn-spinner, war leader. Today the White House is a near-fortress, its occupants shielded from prying eyes and threats unknown. Conroy takes us to a time when it was the nation’s house, open to all, with a President eager to listen and to shoulder his people’s burdens." - Michael Vorenberg, author of Final Freedom: The Civil War, the Abolition of Slavery, and the Thirteenth Amendment.

"Even with over 16,000 books and pamphlets written about Abraham Lincoln, there is always a need for another good read. And this author does not disappoint. This is a compelling narrative about the man in the Executive Mansion during the Civil War. Succinct and extremely well written, Conroy describes so well Lincoln's empathy, resilience and political courage - all manifested in the President's home which served as the true headquarters of the Union." - Frank J. Williams, founding Chair, The Lincoln Forum

“Conroy takes us into the life and thought of the gangling, brilliant master of ‘The People’s House,’ and the rollicking conversations of its residents and swarms of visitors. The White House that has been the background of many Lincoln books becomes the foreground of Lincoln’s Civil War thanks to Conroy’s splendid prose and sparkling humor.” - RONALD C. WHITE JR., author of A. Lincoln: A Biography and American Ulysses: A Life of Ulysses S. Grant.

“Conroy brings Lincoln’s White House to life, letting readers step through the gates, past the guards, and into the presence of the Great Emancipator. Sit in Lincoln’s office and observe a cabinet meeting, or watch the president and first lady shake hands at a reception. Eavesdrop on conversations with office seekers, or enjoy a serenade. Recreating moments, great and small, of joy, grief, exhaustion, commotion, and solitude, Lincoln’s White House gives us a new appreciation for the burdens Lincoln and his family endured during the Civil War.” — JONATHAN W. WHITE, author of Midnight in America: Darkness, Sleep and Dreams during the Civil War