The True Lincoln

Only now are historians discovering the personal and political depth of the leader who saved the nation

ALEXANDER GARDNER / LIBRARY OF CONGRESS

Allan Pinkerton, President Abraham Lincoln, and Major General John A. McClernand standing outside a tent on October 3, 1862.

We don't outright invent history, but often it is made by the questions we ask. Few figures have provoked more questions than Abraham Lincoln, both because of his broad importance and his fantastic complexity. And few figures have proved so malleable.

At times, the bearded man in the stovepipe hat seems much like a hologram, a medium for our fears and fantasies. Recent claims that Lincoln was gay--based on a tortured misreading of conventional 19th century sleeping arrangements--resemble the long-standing efforts to draft the famously nonsectarian man for one Christian denomination or another. Over the years, he has been trotted out...

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