About Lincoln's Biography
By Drew E. VandeCreek, Ph.D.
Lincoln's contemporaries often noted that he had lived a "representative life." By this they meant that he had shared many experiences with ordinary Americans. As a young man Lincoln moved west with his family, tilled the soil, educated himself, and overcame numerous setbacks to become a successful attorney and politician. Republican political handlers refined Lincoln's experiences into the 1860 presidential campaign's image of "the railsplitter" at work on the frontier. This image has remained a part of Americans' historical memories and makes Lincoln a compelling, even mythic, figure today.
Lincoln/Net provides a set of online biographical materials as a means of examining this image more closely. Lincoln/Net's rich databases provide an opportunity to examine Lincoln's life in the context of antebellum Illinois' political and social development. Conversely, these biographical materials will help World Wide Web users to make sense of Lincoln/Net's rich databases in several ways.
These biographical materials will tell the story of Lincoln and his context in a familiar chronological, narrative style. Lincoln/Net users may examine eight sets of biographical materials discussing successive periods in Lincoln's life and career. As importantly, these biographical materials set Lincoln's life in the context of national events such as the rise of party politics, the Mexican War, and the American sectional crisis.
Thus World Wide Web users searching through the Lincoln/Net databases may set the primary source materials they find within the story of Lincoln's life and antebellum American history. For example, a Lincoln/Net user coming upon political pamphlet materials from the campaign of 1840 can discover that this was an important, even watershed, event in American political history. After a period of considerable political instability, Americans organized their political lives around two major electoral parties, the Democrats and the Whigs. Lincoln threw himself into the new Whig Party's Illinois campaign and made a name for himself. This system of party competition defined American electoral politics for nearly twenty years and framed the sectional crisis that preceded the Civil War.
Abraham Lincoln's life has comprised a major theme in American historical
scholarship for over a century. These materials take their place within
that tradition. But the staff of the Abraham Lincoln Historical Digitization
Project hope that these biographical materials help Lincoln/Net users
to put its large databases to work. With these interpretive materials
Lincoln/Net users can begin to formulate historical questions and hypotheses
and use the databases' primary source materials to explore history for