Why are the American people hero-worshippers? By what process are our heroes chosen? How are they elevated and by whom? Are heroes everywhere basically the same or is there a distinctively American variety? Why do truth and poetry get so quickly and inextricably mixed? What is the significance of the hero in American culture?
In seeking the answers to these questions I have explored a good many biographies, but have found in them little about the nature of the heroic process. Even those which purport to be "true" generally fall heir to much fancy in their search after facts.
As a result, I have tried to devise a new way of analyzing our great men, putting special emphasis on a behind-the-scenes group which I call the hero-makers. The reader will have to judge for himself how successful I have been. Perhaps I have not gone far-- but far enough, I hope, to suggest that here is a largely uncharted, vastly significant new area of American history.
Believing that debunkers have had little permanent effect on American reputations, I have not adopted their methods or poses. However, I have tried frequently to cross the fence in order to get a better look at the sacred cows which graze in our legendary pastures.
In a little book called The Mythifying Theory, Or Abraham Lincoln a Myth ( 1872), D. B. Turner took for granted a principle that I shall try to document: that as far as heroes are concerned, the line between myth and reality is very narrow, and apt to disappear. "In a period of less facility of printing," Emerson wrote, "Lincoln would have become mythological in a very few years." Books like Roy Basler The Lincoln Legend and Lloyd Lewis' Myths After Lincoln indicated that the printing press did not put on the brakes.
The faculty for myth and hero-worship is, of course, universal