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Then there's the Internet. It is possible to word-search, online, Lincoln's collected speeches, his known activities on each day of his life, his incoming correspondence and other ephemera at the Library of Congress and a vast array of primary sources from the 19th century, including letters, diaries and memoirs.
Those new historical tools can be easily abused, allowing writers with a fixed idea to go fish out evidence to support their claim. To do his research, Tripp took 80-some volumes of crucial Lincoln material, shipped them off to India to be digitized and put the results into a database. Then he did his research the new-fashioned way, by typing terms in a search bar. Presumably, a search for various body parts yielded the delicious bit that Lincoln's New Salem, Ill., friend William Greene considered his thighs "as perfect as a human being's could be."
But the revival of attention to primary sources has also peeled back the layers on Lincoln and produced a fresh round of portraits of his life and times. Douglas L. Wilson's incisive study In Honor's Voice cuts straight to Lincoln as a young man, showing him as creative and vulnerable, at once vastly ambitious and preoccupied with doubts and concerns about his future. Similarly, Guelzo's intellectual biography, Abraham Lincoln: Redeemer President, shows a man wrestling with the basic issues of fate and free will, torn between the Calvinism of his youth and the Enlightenment doctrines of freedom. Michael Burlingame's forthcoming multivolume biography will add a tall stack of new documents to the record, including hundreds of newspaper articles that, Burlingame has determined, Lincoln wrote anonymously in his early political career. The articles shed new light on Lincoln's early political hackwork--which, Burlingame argues, makes his later achievements all the more remarkable.
My own research on Lincoln began seven years ago, when I learned, much to my surprise, that the vital subject of his melancholy--which his friends uniformly identified as one of his chief characteristics--had been neglected for much of the 20th century. As I dug into the story, I learned about the two times, at ages 26 and 32, when Lincoln broke down so severely that he came near suicide; about his profound gloom in his middle years and his deliberate work to cope with it; and, finally, about how his depression both plagued him and fueled his great work as President. How could such an amazing story be so long left untold?