- Byliner Original
I was recently struck by an observation that may have long been tired and obvious to nearly everyone, but that seemed fresh and insightful to me: The way we learn about history is strikingly at odds with the way we experience current events and life in general. History is presented to us as a kind of orderly flow, weaving around big landmark moments like Prohibition and the Depression and World War II. Life, on the other hand, comes to us all at once in a big disorderly mess. And while we try to make sense of all this turbulence, it is almost impossible to know for sure which event, large or small, will turn out to be the one on which the fate of millions will ultimately depend.
The problem with learning about these landmarks is that the truth of our history resides in the details. The true causes of events get left out of the viewfinder when we focus on outcomes. Our leaders lose their humanity when we concentrate on their decisions and neglect their indecisions, not to mention their evasions, blind spots, and mistakes. We tend to think of ourselves as the product of destiny, which has moved in a straight line of progress to reach our times, rather than seeing ourselves as the product of thousands of actions and inactions, most of which could have gone another way.
This is the story of the six months between the election of Abraham Lincoln in November 1860 and the firing on Fort Sumter in April 1861. It was, perhaps, the most intensely political period in American history:...