William Lee Miller
William Lee Miller, now Scholar in Ethics and Institutions at
the Miller Center of Public Affairs at the University of Virginia, is
the author of Lincoln's Virtues: An Ethical Biography, published
February 12, 2002, by Alfred A. Knopf. He is the author of a number of
other books, including Arguing About Slavery: John Quincy Adams
and the Great Battle in the American Congress, which won
the D.B. Haldeman Award for the best book on Congress in 1996.
Mr. Miller retired from the faculty of U.Va. in 1999 as Commonwealth Professor,
and the Thomas C. Sorensen Professor, of Political and Social Thought.
He had taught also at Yale, Smith College, and Indiana University, where
he was founding director of The Poynter Center on American Institutions.
He has written numerous articles and essays on public affairs; his articles
from his days as a writer and editor at The Reporter magazine were collected
in Piety Along the Potomac (1964). His memories of serving on the New
Haven Board of Aldermen were published as The Fifteenth Ward and the Great
Society (1966). He has made several forays into political campaigns, served
on the Fund for the Republic's Commission on Religion and a Free Society,
and repeatedly been a moderator of humanities seminars at the Aspen Institutute.
He received his Ph.D. in social ethics in 1958 from Yale.
Yale University,Ph. D., Religious Social Ethics, 1958.
Yale University, B. D., Summa Cum Laude,1950.
University of Nebraska, A. B. with honors, 1947. Phi Beta Kappa.
The University of Virginia
White Burkett Miller Center Scholar in Residence, Professor Emeritus
Commonwealth Professor of Political and Social Thought, 1992-1999
Thomas C. Sorensen Professor of Political and Social Thought. Director
of the Program in Political and Social Thought, 1992-1999.
White Burkett Miller Center Professor of Ethics and Institutions,
Chairman, Department of Rhetoric and Communication Studies, 1982-1990
Professor of Religious Studies, 1982-1999.
Professor of Political Science and Professor of Religious Studies,
Founding Director of the Poynter Center on American Institutions,
New Haven Board of Aldermen
Associate Professor of Social Ethics, 1962-69.
Assistant Professor of Social Ethics, 1958-62.
Instructor in Social Ethics, 1951-53.
Assistant in Instruction, Philosophy, 1949-51.
The Reporter Magazine
Staff writer and editor, 1955-58 (regular contributor, 1953-65).
Assistant Professor of Religion, 1953-55.
Arguing About Slavery:The Great Debate in the United States Congress.
Alfred A. Knopf, 1996.
The Business of May Next: James Madison and the Founding. University
Press of Virginia, 1992.
The First Liberty: Religion and the American Republic. Alfred A. Knopf,
Yankee from Georgia: The Emergence of Jimmy Carter. Times Books, 1978.
Of Thee, Nevertheless I Sing: An Essay on American Political Values.
Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1975.
The Fifteenth Ward and the Great Society. Houghton Mifflin, 1966.
Piety Along the Potomac. Houghton Mifflin, 1964.
The Protestant and Politics. Westminster Press, 1960.
Author of numerous articles in magazines and journals, including The
New York Times Magazine, The Yale Review, The New Republic,
PERSONAL STATEMENT FOR LINCOLN BOOK
I have had a life-long interest in Lincoln and in American political
ethics (ethics broadly conceivedAmerican "Values," if
you will) and I have had this book in mind for a long timeat least
since I wrote an essay on the Second Inaugural almost twenty years ago.
David Herbert Donald in his reigning Lincoln biography, I am happy to
see, cites that essay of mine as "the most thoughtful analysis"
of the Second Inaugural. That address will play a large role in this book;
one might almost regard this book as a treatment of that other great Lincoln
addresssome say the greatestcomparable to Wills' treatment
of the Gettysburg Address; the Second Inaugural will introduce and conclude
my book. But there is to be a good deal beyond that address in this book,
as I will say in a moment.
So I have a long interest in Lincoln and have written a well received
essay on a central address. And I have had a career as writer and scholar
and political participant in which a moral understanding of American Public
Life has been the theme.
I went to Yale many years ago specifically to get a degree in a field
(or combination of fields) called "social ethics" in the Divinity
School and the Graduate School, which I specified for my purposes as "political
ethics" (again, think of both of these words broadly), and that has
been my "field," in the academic world, ever since.
But I intended to be a writer as much as, or more than, a scholar. After
I had finished my graduate course work (quite diversified, centering around
that arena) and had taken my exams, but had not yet finished my dissertation,
I began selling articles to a good magazine of those years, The Reporter,
a magazine that was for 19 years one of the nation's best political magazines.
I was given a flattering offer to join the staff of this much-respected
magazine in New York, which, leaving the academy for the time, I accepted.
For five years I was a writer in the higher journalism. I wrote articles
about politics, especially in relation to ethics and religionnot
academic articles, but topical ones, about Nixon and Eisenhower and Dulles
and Kennedy and the like. These had certain themes running through them,
with which I came to be identified in those days.
When my former teacher gave up his courses in social ethics and I was
offered a position back at Yale, I finished my dissertation and returned
to the academy, but in that and my subsequent academic appointments I
have continued to be as much a writer for the general public as a proper
scholar writing for colleagues (although on topics like this one, one
can come closer to doing both than on some other topics.)
I acquired along the way a wider acquaintanceship in Washington and elsewhere
among politicians and political journalists than may be the case with
others in university positions, and did some active politics. I was a
young speech writer for Adlai Stevenson (a particular admirer, and quoter,
of Lincoln) in a presidential campaign; I was a ghost writer of a book
signed by Hubert Humphrey; I worked on presidential messages in the old
HEW for Lyndon Johnson and John Gardner. I myself ran for alderman, not
in the Yale ward but in a ward with real people, in Mayor Dick Lee's day
in New Haven, and retired undefeated after three terms and many battles
over race and other matters (I wrote a book about this experience.) I
was invited by my teacher Arnold Wolfers and Paul Nitze to be a member
of a foreign policy thinking group and commuted to Washington to attend.
I was repeatedly a moderator of summer humanities seminars at Aspen. I
wrote a book about Jimmy Carter that C. Vann Woodward went out of his
way, in his review of another book, to call the best book about Carter
(perhaps not a very exacting standard.) I was the founding director of
a center at Indiana University that brought in visitors, and sponsored
studies and classes, dealing with American public life. All of this can
form an implicit background and be a source of occasional illustrations
in this book.
Although I wrote some books in these years, the articles I wrote were
more central to me than the books; the books were offshoots of articles
and other activities. I knew, however, that one day I would draw back
and write the best books I could write as my major, summary activity.
And I began to do so with a book called The First Liberty. That book,
dealing with religious liberty, grew out of two other activities: I had
been invited to be the younger Protestant (the older Protestant: Reinhold
Niebuhr) on the commission on Religion and the Free Society of the Fund
for the Republic, headed by Robert Hutchins, in which about a dozen of
us discussed religious liberty in the United States, and published widely
read pamphlets; (America's "civil religion" was an important
subject in those discussions, and Lincoln was a considerable figure with
respect to that topic). While in New Haven I was invited to join two law
school professors in giving a Yale Law School course on church and state,
which I did for three years.
The First Liberty and the books that followed, were cast in an historical
setting partly because of named lectures I was asked to give dealing with
the nation's Bicentennial, but by my own design as well; historical settings
give the concreteness one can use in writing about intellectual subjects
for a general readership. My purpose in that and subsequent books, as
I said, was to examine America's moral and intellectual foundations by
telling and interpreting historical episodes. The First Liberty tells
the story of the passage of Jefferson's Virginia Statute for Religious
FreedomI think I can claim that it is a definitive telling of that
story. I have since written two other books with an American historical
setting, one of them a book about James Madison's thinking through of
the national foundations in the 1780s. (Comparisons to Madison, Jefferson,
and the other "fathers," with whom Lincoln felt his strong sense
of continuity, will appear in this book). Most recently I have produced
Arguing About Slavery: The Great Battle in the United States Congress,
which "recreates" and comments on John Quincy Adams' long fight
against the gag rule that excluded abolitionist petitions. In those books
I anticipated this book about Lincoln. The last scene in ARGUING ABOUT
SLAVERY shows Adams collapsing at his desk in the House while "in
the back row, in a not very good seat, there was a young Whig congressman
from Illinois, serving his first and only term in the House, Abraham Lincoln."
Those are the last words of that book.
Now I am ready to write this Lincoln book, which will be the culmination
of this historical series, and also of a longer enterprise in what I have
written on American Values in politicsfrom my personal point-of-view,
the coming together of these two streams. From the point-of-view of a
reader who does not care about that, nevertheless, as I hope, an important
book in its own right.
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March 7, 2002