The Day Lincoln Was Born

It is February 11th 1809, and as a young woman in Kentucky goes into labor, in New York City, Robert Fulton is granted a patent for his invention of the steamboat. The next day the first lusty bellowings of a son born to the former Nancy Hanks can be heard serenading the wilderness outside the one—room cabin that is his nursery. The baby is Abraham Lincoln.

Often we view the past as if it were an inevitable sequence of events, with everything in its proper order, with the famous and infamous dutifully filling their proper roles. It is a seamless, logical, and familiar story. To disabuse ourselves of this habit is difficult, but it is essential in understanding not only history but also our own place in the ever—changing world.

The sixteenth President was born into a world as filled with dramatic happenings and subject to the same chaotic whirlwind of change which we, forgetfully or ignorantly, think of as unique to our own age. To gain understanding, it is a useful exercise to immerse yourself in the world of the historical moment. To try to envision the world as it appeared contemporaneously, to try to see what was seen at the time, what was heard, and felt, as it appeared unfolding, rather than with perfect 20/20 hindsight.

Abraham Lincoln enters the world in a remote settlement at the edge of the civilized world, a very different world.

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