The Lincoln Forum: Rediscovering Abraham Lincoln

The Lincoln Forum: Rediscovering Abraham Lincoln

The Lincoln Forum: Rediscovering Abraham Lincoln

The Lincoln Forum: Rediscovering Abraham Lincoln


Each year, hundreds of scholars and other enthusiasts mark the anniversary of the Gettysburg Address by gathering together in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania for the Lincoln Forum. There, leading historians reinterpret and rediscover the legacy of Abraham Lincoln. Now the best recent Lincoln Forum essays are available in one volume, offering important reexaminations of Lincoln as military leader, communicator, family man, and icon.


John Y. Simon and Harold Holzer

THE FIRST TIME THAT Abraham Lincoln was invited to write an autobiographical sketch in 1859, he was able to produce only four meager paragraphs to describe his fifty years of life. He recalled an ancestry of "undistinguished families," a childhood focused relentlessly on the "farm work" that he loathed, and modest successes at the ballot box, in the law, and in a long-forgotten Indian War. He wrote modestly of a history of failures alternating with successes in politics, culminating in his return to public life in 1854, "aroused," as he put it, by the repeal of the Missouri Compromise.

"What I have done since," he concluded, before offering a brief "personal description," was, he believed, "pretty well known." No further details were offered. Sending this slender manuscript on to the supporter who had requested it as a source for journalists who were preparing life stories, Lincoln seemed almost apologetic about the result. "There is not much of it," he sheepishly confided, "for the reason, I suppose, that there is not much of me." That was about to change.

By the time he died at the hands of an assassin less than six years later, Lincoln—and the country he was elected to lead—had endured upheavals so momentous that they all but rewrote American history, which Lincoln came to dominate as the preserver of the Union and the emancipator of the slaves. In less than a decade, he had transformed himself from a prairie politician into the principal hero in the pantheon of national memory.

Understandably, biographers have been expanding on Lincoln's "little sketch" of 1859 ever since, inspired at least in part because Lincoln the writer seldom shed light on Lincoln the man. By now, more books have been written about him than about any other American who ever lived. Every generation since his death has inspired at . . .

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