“What Is Hell To One Like Me...?”

Lincoln’s melancholy is famous. Less well known is that he not only penned thoughts about suicide but published them in a newspaper. Scholars have long believed that the only copy in the newspaper’s files was mutilated to hide those thoughts from posterity. But the composition has apparently always been in plain sight—and unrecognized.

How did such a thing come to be written? How was it lost? Why should we think it has been found? And what does it reveal about its author? Read more »

“A Most Abandoned Hypocrite”

A newly discovered document almost certainly written by the young Abraham Lincoln shows him dismantling a shifty political rival with ruthless wit and logic

As soon as he moved to Illinois in 1830, Abraham Lincoln found himself on the opposite side of the political fence from Peter Cartwright, a well-known Methodist preacher and politician. They crossed paths in the Illinois legislature, but their best-known confrontation was as opponents in the 1846 congressional election, which Lincoln won handily. Late in that campaign Lincoln found himself having to combat a rumor that he was an “infidel,” or unbeliever, a charge uncomfortably close to the truth.Read more »

The House At Eighth And Jackson

Clues uncovered during the recent restoration of his house at Springfield help humanize the Lincoln portrait

One good measure of our apparently inexhaustible interest in Abraham Lincoln is that this year eight hundred thousand of us will be led through his house at the corner of Eighth and Jackson streets in Springfield, Illinois. So many people edge past the horsehair furniture and stomp up and down the narrow stairs that the National Park Service had to close the place down in 1987, take much of it apart, and put it back together again, newly decorated and sturdily reinforced with steel, to withstand the next generation of pilgrims. Read more »

Matters Of Fact

Vidal’s Lincoln

WHEN ABRAHAM LINCOLN’S wartime secretaries, John Hay and John G. Nicolay, serialized their life of the President in Century magazine in 1885, Lincoln’s old friend and law partner William H. Herndon did not like it. The articles were too reverential, he thought, too Republican, too everlastingly long. But worse than that, he added, the authors “handle things with silken gloves & a ‘cammel hair pencil’: they do not write with an iron pen.” Read more »

Lincoln’s Life Preserver

To stave off despair, the President relied on a sense of humor that was rich, self-deprecating—and surprisingly bawdy

A great “intensity of thought,” Abraham Lincoln once counseled his friend Joshua Speed, “will some times wear the sweetest idea thread-bare and turn it to the bitterness of death.” No aspect of Lincoln’s character has become more tangibly real in the literature than his melancholy.Read more »