Abraham Lincoln's 56 years on earth have been exhaustively documented: There are thousands of books about him and a handful of new ones in stores today. Our writers spent time burrowing in various corners of Lincolniana, from recently published histories to older novels and films, to Abe's presence in music and poetry.
His hold on America's public memory is unassailable. As familiar as he is, from the face on the penny to the phrase "Four score and seven years ago," it seems impossible to wear him out. President Barack Obama, with few objections, appositely claimed Lincoln's mantle at last month's inauguration, borrowing a Bible from the (not very religious) 16th president and a few of Lincoln's phrases in his inaugural address.
Fortuitously, Lincoln's 200th birthday just after the election of America's first black president. It's a development that few of Lincoln's white supporters would ever have thought desirable, and Southern partisans did indeed fear eventual black rule. After his death, Lincoln became a beacon for international liberation movements, from the Abraham Lincoln Battalion of American Communists who fought in the Spanish Civil War, to the exhortations of the Chilean Communist poet Pablo Neruda: "Let the woodcutter awaken."
Lincoln's revolutionary associations have dimmed, due in part to the new crop of radical leaders that emerged in the 1950s and '60s. Although he's pretty mainstream these days, somehow the modern Republican Party hasn't been able to co-opt him into its present-day agenda of corporate tax cuts and bans on abortion. Instead, there's the wan reminder that they are "the party of Lincoln."
It's hard to imagine the America that Lincoln was born into, somewhere in Kentucky on or about Feb. 12, 1809. Part of the reason we can't, however, is that Lincoln was so instrumental in ushering in a modern America, connected by railroads and telegraphs, with a powerful chief executive and modern financial institutions. And one rid of the barbarism of slavery.
The North Carolina Museum of History will display three Lincoln manuscript documents for six days, beginning Tuesday, Feb. 10. For more information, visit ncmuseumofhistory.org.
Bad Money: Reckless Finance, Failed Politics, and the Global Crisis of American Capitalism. Kevin Phillips. (March 31, 2009)
Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln. Doris Kearns Goodwin. (2006)
Lincoln. David Herbert Donald. (1996)
Abraham Lincoln. Thomas Keneally. (2002)
Our Lincoln: New Perspectives on Lincoln and His World. Eric Foner. (2008)
The Age of Jackson. Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. (1988)
Mr. Lincoln's T-Mails: How Abraham Lincoln Used the Telegraph to Win the Civil War. Tom Wheeler. (2008)
Lincoln: The Biography of a Writer. Fred Kaplan. (2008)
Lincoln as I Knew Him: Gossip, Tributes, Revelations from His Best Friends and Worst Enemies. Harold Holzer. (Feb. 10, 2009)
Lincoln: A Novel. Gore Vidal. (2000)
Young Mr. Lincoln. Directed by John Ford. (1939)
Abe Lincoln in Illinois. Directed by John Cromwell. (1940)
Johnny Horton. "Young Abe Lincoln (Make a Tall, Tall, Man)" from 1956-1960 Box Set.
Sufijan Stevens. "Decatur, or, Round of Applause for Your Step-mother!" from Come on Feel the Illinoise. (2005)
Bob Dylan. "Talkin World War III Blues" from Freewheelin'. (1963)
Joan Baze. "Lincoln Freed Me Today (The Slave)" from Blessed Are.... (1971)
Marvin Gaye. "Abraham, Martin and John," from That's The Way Love Is. (1970)
Bishop Allen. "Abe Lincoln" from EP Collection Vol. 2. (2006)
Hank Williams, Jr. "Mr. Lincoln" from America (The Way I See It). (1990)
Sufijan Stevens. "Mr. Supercomputer" from The Avalanche: Outtakes & Extras from the Illinoise Album. (2006)
Gillian Welch. "April The 14th Part 1" and "Ruination Day, Part 2" from Time (the Revelator). (2001)