New discoveries about Lincoln

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With sorrow, the Abraham Lincoln industry chopped off a major commemoration Tuesday due to weather. First Lady Laura Bush was to be in Hodgenville, Ky., at the site of the 16th president's birth in 1809, to help lead the nation in a celebration worthy of his life. Perhaps it's just as well that the party did not come off. What, after all, would the country do to follow that act next year, on the 200th anniversary of Lincoln's birth?

That question may not be so easy to resolve. As it stands now, we will have to choose whether Washington, D.C., or Hodgenville gets to be the focus of attention next year. Bicentennial commissions have been set up in a dozen states already—aimed at teaching and enlivening and bringing in tourist money. But those panels are all supposed to defer to Hodgenville this year, and Washington next year. Now it looks as though the next Lincoln birthday will resemble Super Tuesday: each state jockeying for position ahead of the others.

Lincoln would not have minded. Competition was normal and healthy, he thought—in wrestling matches, in commerce, in politics … until the shooting started. After taking down a turkey as a boy, he never shot another living thing. Firing upon federal properties or persons always stirred his wrath.

Sourpusses say there is already too much Lincoln worship afoot in the land. They are wrong. In the midst of the Great Depression the world heard a timely question from the first of the scholar-historians to study Abraham Lincoln, James G. Randall of the University of Illinois. "Has the Lincoln theme been exhausted?" he asked a meeting of teachers and researchers. Hadn't, as many felt even then, the fan-historians, like Lincoln's law partner William Herndon, and journalist-historians, like Ida Tarbell, and poet-historians, like Carl Sandburg, milked that cow dry? No, said Randall, who then went on to write a half-dozen key books about Lincoln's life, especially the presidency, asking unpleasant questions about civil rights in wartime and the role of an opposition party. His wife, Ruth Painter Randall, wrote the first serious books about Mary Lincoln and their family life. Exhausted? The Lincolnologists had only just begun.

And many are at it still.

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