ABSTRACT

Nineteenth-century Americans were accustomed to hearing far less from their president than from prominent cabinet officers and national legislators. Contemporaries may have paid relatively little heed to Lincoln’s short speech at Gettysburg, but the president’s inaugural addresses and annual messages to Congress were extensively discussed in the press. In penning these public letters, however, Lincoln pushed the boundaries of what was considered proper for a president. Although presidents had long employed partisan newspapers to defend their policies, it was not customary for the president to directly engage critics in the newspapers. Lincoln was an extraordinary wordsmith, but like every other mid-nineteenth-century president he struggled to pick his way through the minefield of conflicting public expectations and demands. The controversies that emanated from Trump’s Twitter feed should not distract us from those aspects of the Twitter presidency that represent the logical culmination of longstanding developments of the public presidency.