Great leaders such as Abraham Lincoln are, by definition, capable of shaping the course of history. In fact, and in reality, Abraham Lincoln forever changed the course of American history: he forced a showdown over slavery and States rights, resulting in a brutal civil war, from which a stronger more unified country emerged. He effectively ended slavery, and enacted many important and visionary laws, including legislation to create the first transcontinental railroad.
But at every important cross road of history, there is also the road not taken. What would have Lincoln done or achieved if things had gone differently? The most obvious "What if" is the question of what would have happened if Lincoln had not been assassinated, or if he had survived the attempt? We know what he had planned to do with the freed slaves, and how he had hoped to reconcile the South after the war ended. Would these plans have come to fruition?
Or what if the South had won the Civil War, and managed to gain independence from the North? What if he had lost his bid for re-election or had never been elected at all? Surely the fabric of history would have been changed.
Some crossroads leading to alternate futures are harder to see than others, and we stumble down one path without consciously choosing or understanding which one we are on. So too was Lincoln's path shaped by some of these lesser paths: what if his family had settled in the south instead of the north" What if he had married his first sweetheart rather than the nutty Mary Todd? How would his personality and his choices have been different.
This section examines the alternative futures that might have resulted if Lincoln had made different decisions or if certain events had unfolded differently. One might ask why. Obviously it is fun to speculate and to look at history through the fun house mirror of alternative reality. But if one needs a practical excuse for looking into the Lincoln multiverse, it can also be argued that peering into the Lincoln multiverse and the historical paths not taken helps us to appreciate and understand the consequences of the actions and decisions that he did take.
What if Lincoln had not been assassinated? What would the rest of his Presidency have achieved?
We are all shaped by the experiences and events in our life, particularly hose in childhood and early adulthood. In Lincoln's case, the traumatic loss of his mother, his relationship to his step mother, and his stint as a river barge captain on the Mississippi all shaped the man. What would Lincoln have been like if things had worked out differently?.
The defining moment in Lincoln's presidency was his refusal to allow the Southern states to secede, and his steadfast leadership during the North's most difficult times. But what if the Civil War had resulted in a Confederate victory? How would President Lincoln be remembered now in what was left of the Union?