Recently at a library book sale I purchased two volumes Lincoln 1840-1846 (1939) and Lincoln 1809-1839 (1941). Both volumes were written by Harry E. Pratt and published by the Abraham Lincoln Association of Springfield, Illinois. These two volumes attempted to relate the events of Lincoln’s life day by day. They joined two earlier volumes that accomplished the same task for the years 1847-1861.
The Abraham Lincoln Association still exists. Go here to view their website. The Association did pioneer work in the last century in studies about the Sixteenth President, particularly in assembling documents written by Lincoln and publishing them. The publication of the eight volume work of the writings of Lincoln bankrupted the Association for a time.
The volumes about the day to day activities of Lincoln often focused upon legal documents filed with courts by Lincoln, and proved an effective weapon against the cottage industry of the forging of Lincoln legal documents. I find the volumes make fascinating reading, perhaps because I am not only a Lincoln student, but also a lawyer. I have nothing but admiration for the hard work that went into compiling them and everyone who studies Lincoln is in the debt of Mr. Pratt and the two other authors of the series.
However, I do not think this technique is very useful in getting a sense of Lincoln. He, like all of us, lived his life day by day, and most of those days were filled with mundane, forgettable tasks and events. How many of us can recall the events of a particular day a year later, unless something special marked the day in our memories? Now human minds are complicated and all of us have pieces of trivia of our lives floating in our memories for no apparent reason. I can distinctly recall, for example, when I was three or so, seeing my younger brother take an apple and toss it down the hilly street on which we then lived. However, most of our lives are missing from our memories soon after the day on which particular events occurred, as the day is buried under by the weight of subsequent days. So it was with Lincoln I think. Looking at his activities day by day is simply too small an instrument to look at any man, perhaps particularly a great man. Of course what Lincoln thought of significance in his life doubtless differed greatly from why we recall him. The births of his four sons might well have bulked larger in his mind than his Gettysburg Address. His marriage, and many a precious memory of that marriage, doubtless mattered more in Lincoln’s mind, than his efforts to find a General who could take the day by day management of the War from his shoulders. Of course, Lincoln would have understood the distinction between Lincoln the private man and Lincoln the public man, a distinction that has been lost in our time where the concept of personal privacy seems like a quaint artifact from a bygone era. More’s the pity.