the World: A Chronology
The following chronicle charts not only the history of Abraham Lin- coln’s life but also external events that surely shaped it. It attempts to place him within the context of both national and world events, as well as the cultural and scientific breakthroughs that were at the same time enriching mid-nineteenth-century society.
Whenever possible, the chronology adapts Lincoln’s own, all-too- rare words of self-description—drawn from his two pre-Civil War autobiographical sketches—to enhance descriptions of his early experi- ences. Unfortunately, while these “little sketches” constitute funda- mental building blocks in the Lincoln story, they are seldom revealing. As prolific as he was overall—his collected speeches and letters now fill ten volumes—Lincoln never kept a personal diary of his day-to-day activities, never recorded his innermost thoughts in a personal journal. The only time he ventured to start a scrapbook, he filled it with official newspaper reprints of his debates with Stephen A. Douglas. Even most of his letters to intimate friends were rarely revealing. Familiar though he is to us, he remains always elusive, a baffling mystery, whether intentionally or not, of his own making.
There can of course be little mystery about Lincoln’s enormous influence on history, but we cannot tell for certain how well informed Lincoln himself ever became about the world around him, or even precisely when he began to pay close attention to events unfolding in his own country. Save for the Mexican War, which he opposed, Lin- coln’s autobiographical sketches barely mentioned events outside the crisis-roiled United States. Likewise, his speeches and letters paid no more than occasional attention to global affairs.