The youthful Abe Lincoln you see on our cover may seem far removed from the war-weary face that has become an icon, yet that is how he appeared for most of his adult life. The painting for TIME by artist Michael Deas is based on a photograph taken in May 1858, only three years before Lincoln became President. He had just won a noteworthy court case in Illinois, defending a man on a murder charge, and marked the occasion by stopping by a portrait studio. What Deas found telling about the photo was the prewar freshness of Lincoln's expression and "a certain gentleness around his eyes."
His face was a map to his soul. The inherent contradictions of the man, whose gift for empathy was matched by his brutal determination to keep the Union together, are what make him one of the most edifying subjects to study in all of U.S. history. Three years ago, TIME began the Making of America series. Each year around the Fourth of July it features a major American figure who helped shaped the nation. We began with explorers Lewis and Clark, then focused on Ben Franklin and last year chose Thomas Jefferson. This year we decided to dedicate an issue to a man who may not have been there at America's founding but sealed its character by prosecuting a civil war over the scourge of slavery. "Lincoln has long been a favorite subject for historians," says executive editor Priscilla Painton, who conceived and supervised the package, "but this year, with a wealth of new research emerging, there's a fresh passion to get past the icon and find the real character."
For our project, we bring you stories from writers on the verge of publishing some major works of Lincoln scholarship. In our opening piece, author Joshua Wolf Shenk shows how much closer historians are coming these days to demystifying the Civil War President, both by humanizing him and by delineating his exceptional talents. Shenk's forthcoming book, Lincoln's Melancholy, focuses on how depression simultaneously challenged Lincoln and made him stronger. Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin offers us a preview of her forthcoming work on Lincoln's political genius by showing how different aspects of Lincoln's deep emotional intelligence made him a highly effective leader. Lincoln scholar Douglas L. Wilson probes the sources of Lincoln's rhetorical powers; Harvard professor John Stauffer focuses on Lincoln's surprising relationship with another towering figure of that age, abolitionist Frederick Douglass; and Illinois Senator Barack Obama, who holds the seat Lincoln tried and failed to gain, explains the man's enduring power to inspire.
The Lincoln issue allowed Civil War buffs at TIME to indulge their passion. Graphics director Jackson Dykman scoured dozens of histories to present a succinct picture of Lincoln as a micromanaging commander who sacked seven generals before settling on Ulysses S. Grant. Deputy art director Cynthia Hoffman and photo researcher Jessica Cruz sifted through the imagery of a wartime era more powerfully documented than any before it. Reporters Andrea Dorfman and Deirdre van Dyk immersed themselves in new scholarship. Says Painton: "Lincoln is fascinating because the more you dig, the more layers you find." In fact, we hope you'll visit TIME.com where we offer more on his great legacy.