Several decades ago, the Civil War historian James G. Randall raised the question as to whether the Lincoln theme in American history had been exhausted by the vast outpouring of books on the life and lives of our sixteenth president. He need not have worried: There was never any danger that Americans would tire of hearing about Abraham Lincoln or that historians and biographers would run out of things to say about him.

Lincoln, after all, is a central figure—perhaps the central figure—in the unfolding epic of the American nation. What we are today we might never have been had Lincoln not intervened in the sectional conflict of the 1850s. There was also something about the rough-hewn man from the prairie that set him apart from the secular statesmen who founded the nation and the patronage-seeking and media-savvy politicians who followed him. Unpolished, unschooled, and untutored, he somehow...


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