The mythologizing of Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865), which began almost immediately after his assassination, placed him in the pantheon of American heroes alongside George Washington. But behind the legend of “Honest Abe”—country raconteur, log cabin president, compassionate father figure, and, finally, national martyr—was a shrewd legal mind, astute politician, and adept student of human psychology. Though he lost his first senatorial election to Stephen Douglas in 1858, the Republican Lincoln outmaneuvered Douglas during the campaign by forcing him to spell out his position on slavery. Publication of their Political Debates helped win Lincoln the presidency in 1860. As a wartime president, Lincoln’s ability to juggle pressing political and military needs and to reconcile conflicting personalities on all fronts was constantly put to the test. Though he clashed early on with abolitionists about how and when to put an end to slavery, Lincoln’s 1863 Emancipation Proclamation and support for the Thirteenth Amendment cemented his reputation as a champion of freedom. Called on to address critical war issues as well as innumerable patronage requests, political squabbles, and personal pleas, he responded with equal measures of shrewdness, integrity, and compassion.

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