Case 4



Lincoln’s Words

We understand Abraham Lincoln mostly through his words—especially his writings. There was no formal system in place in the 1860s for preserving a president’s papers, but numerous documents, reminiscences, and other materials have survived. They provide fascinating glimpses into who he was and what he believed.

“The Gettysburg Address” and Lincoln’s other famous speeches help us know the public Lincoln, but his other writings offer us so much more. Some of his letters show him rolling up his sleeves and getting down to the “dirty work” of building political coalitions and enacting policy. Others show him struggling with the issues of his day—the role of slavery in America, the core elements of democracy, the conflicted role of religion in politics. And, of course, there are his personal letters—revealing a devoted father, flirtatious husband, and committed mentor.

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Along with his letters and speeches, Abraham Lincoln also left behind a fascinating collection of notes that he used to sort out his thoughts on complex ideas. This is one of the most arresting. Called the “Definition of Democracy” by historians, it shows Lincoln reasoning why democracy and slavery cannot coexist.

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Abraham Lincoln’s papers are scattered all over the world, but the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum holds about 1,500 Lincoln documents. It also houses the Papers of Abraham Lincoln digital project, which is providing transcribed and annotated copies of all documents by and to Abraham Lincoln in a free online database.

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Every member of Abraham Lincoln’s cabinet received an inscribed portfolio like this one for carrying their papers. Lincoln used his throughout the war, especially when traveling to his quieter presidential residence at the Old Soldiers’ Home in northern D. C. It would have held several of Lincoln’s most important in-progress documents, including the Emancipation Proclamation.

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