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MARK NOLL


The Struggle for Lincoln's Soul Part 1

Lincoln in American Memory

By Merrill D. Peterson

Oxford University Press

482 pp.; $30

The Inner World of Abraham Lincoln

By Michael Burlingame

University of Illinois Press

380 pp.; $29.95

The Presidency of Abraham Lincoln

By Philip Shaw Paludan

University Press of Kansas

384 pp.; $29.95

Lincoln has been portrayed both as a devout Christian and as a discreet infidel. The truth is more complicated than these alternatives allow.

What was Abraham Lincoln's religion? What was the connection between Lincoln's private life, including his religion, and his influence on American history? Why should such historical questions matter?

These are straightforward queries, but pursuing them leads immediately into dense thickets. They are thickets growing from the intense concern that has been lavished upon the details of Abraham Lincoln's life. The 130 years since the assassination of the sixteenth president of the United States have witnessed prodigious quantities of publication-much, much more in Lincoln's case, for example, than for George Washington or Thomas Jefferson, the two early presidents with whom Lincoln is most often compared. For nearly a century after his death, the business of recording reminiscences from those who knew Lincoln personally-or who knew those who knew him, and so on to the fifth and sixth degrees-roared along with tremendous energy. Almost as soon as the work of recovering personal reminiscences began, however, so also did the laborious trouble of sorting the reliable witnesses from the unreliable. Now even those who knew those who knew Lincoln are almost all gone. But battles over Lincoln still rage, and almost as acrimoniously as when eyewitnesses were alive.

Substantial industries have grown from the veneration of Lincoln. (In the deep South, a contrasting industry-feeding off hatred of Lincoln as a coarse, despotic, and godless conspirator against liberty, community, and true republicanism-flourished ...

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