Delving Into the Life of an Historical Figure

For history buffs, there are many different ways to look inside the life of an American president.   For those who are only mildly interested, they can always find books about Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, and even more current presidents like Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. The problem with most biographies, however, is that they are written from a certain vantage point. They come with the baggage and interpretations of the author and it’s not always easy to filter that perspective into ones reading of the book.

For historians who are interested in going even deeper, there are childhood homes to explore, plantations to visit and reenactments to watch and enjoy.

One further way of exploring the life of a past American president even more deeply is to find originally letters, manuscripts and other written materials of theirs.   Locations like the Library of Congress, the Presidential Libraries and Shapell Manuscript Foundation all house a treasure trove of documents on past presidents.   At Shapell Manuscript Foundation, for instance, they have 36 original documents from Abraham Lincoln.

These original documents offer a glimpse into the man in his capacity as a lawyer, a president and a statesman. One unique document is a letter from Lincoln, in his position as a lawyer, defending a farmer over the price of a hog.   There is another letter in the collection from 1848 explaining why he supports Taylor for president and a letter where he writes to his defeated rival, Cassius Clay.

Certainly, materials at a location like Shapell Manuscript Foundation offer unique insights into the subject and background about the thoughts and beliefs of famous people that you might not otherwise discovery.   The Library of Congress, the Presidential Libraries and other similar locations also house documents of this sort and can add to the insights found at Shapell.

Reading firsthand accounts penned from the subject can offer fascinating glimpses into the subject’s character; for history buffs, such a find can help to reshape and enlighten ones perspective on the subject at hand.




James Allenby is the editor of Gowanus Lounge, bringing to his position a vast background on New York, and especially Brooklyn history, culture and lifestyle. Born and bred in the heart of "the County of Kings" James Allenby knows what it means to be a Brooklynite, and imparts this meaning at all times to his readers. Contact James at info(at)