In the excitement over the new “Lincoln” movie and Daniel Day-Lewis’s Oscar-winning and truly mesmerizing performance as Abraham Lincoln, it is easy to overlook one of the very best sources of information on Lincoln’s life –Lincoln himself. Abraham Lincoln never kept a diary or wrote a memoir, but he did craft a few, brief autobiographical sketches. The most important of these efforts came in December 1859 at the request of a Pennsylvania newspaper (Chester County Times) that was preparing a series on potential Republican nominees for president in 1860. Joseph J. Lewis, publisher of the Chester Times asked a mutual friend, Bloomington, Illinois attorney (and Pennsylvania native) Jesse W. Fell, to approach Lincoln for information that could be used to craft a profile.
What Lincoln produced was a 600-word document that reveals a striking amount about his background and style. You can access a written transcript of the sketch (along with the equally revealing cover letter to Fell, where Honest Abe states confidentially, “Of course it must not appear to have been written by myself.”) along with a special audio version of the documents created for the House Divided Project by noted actor and Dickinson College theatre professor Todd Wronski. [NOTE: Just right-click on this audio link and select “Save Link As…” in order to download the audio file to your computer / network).
For a Common Core-aligned assignment, students should read and listen to Lincoln’s autobiographical sketch and prepare a short informational essay that summarizes Lincoln’s life story using Lincoln’s own words. After they have completed their essays and discussed them in class, teachers should show clips from Matthew Pinsker’s college-level discussion of Lincoln’s autobiographical sketch, which was filmed by C-SPAN’s American History TV
continue reading "Teaching Lincoln’s Autobiography in the Common Core"