“‘Lincoln in Private’ Review: Conﬁdential Ruminations”
By Andrew F. Lang
“Abraham Lincoln stands among the foremost lyricists of the American experience. His first inaugural address called on a divided citizenry’s ‘better angels’ to uphold the sacred inviolability of the Union. His Gettysburg Address envisioned a nation baptized by the blood of battle into ‘a new birth of freedom.’ And his second inaugural meditated on a just God chastening a republic of liberty that tolerated slavery.
How did Lincoln arrive at these arresting ideas and phrases? As far as we know, he didn’t leave a personal diary to posterity. But he did bequeath 109 surviving fragments or notes that feature what he called his ‘best’ (though often ‘disconnected’) thoughts. In scrawled penmanship, Lincoln explored a range of subjects: the mysteries of nature, a lawyer’s public reputation, the immorality of slavery, the active role of God in human affairs. These notes—some no more than a few sentences, others multiple paragraphs—were not, according to Lincoln’s personal secretaries, John Nicolay and John Hay, ‘written to be seen by men.’…”
Andrew F. Lang is an Associate Professor of History at Mississippi State University and specializes in the history of nineteenth-century America, using the era of the American Civil War as a lens through which to investigate the century’s dynamic setting. The Society of Civil War Historians endowed his first book, In the Wake of War: Military Occupation, Emancipation, and Civil War America (LSU Press 2017), with the 2018 Tom Watson Brown Book Award. His most recent book, A Contest of Civilizations: Exposing the Crisis of American Exceptionalism in the Civil War Era (2021), is the final installment of UNC Press’s landmark series, the Littlefield History of the Civil War Era. The book centers the concept of American exceptionalism at the heart of the mid nineteenth century to demonstrate how contested ideas of the United States’ self-proclaimed unique and destined standing in the world contributed to the coming, conduct, and consequences of the American Civil War. He is in the beginning stages of a new project that explores Abraham Lincoln’s philosophy of history.
Professor Lang is a JMC fellow.
Want to help the Jack Miller Center transform higher education? Donate today.