By Lincoln’s late twenties, friends and colleagues regarded him as "melancholic." The condition was virtually indistinguishable from the modern conception of depression, but did not carry the same stigma. Back in those days, despite an individual feeling "unmanned" by his affliction, there was considerable leeway for males to express their feelings in public, especially with the Romantic movement entering full flower. In Lincoln’s case, his sorrowful demeanor induced people to come to his aid. Nowhere was this more apparent than when the young man turned up to practice law in Springfield, Illinois with all his worldly possessions in two saddlebags. A store proprietor, Joshua Speed, urged his forlorn customer to take the bags upstairs to his room and the two became fast friends. In an age when contact with the opposite sex was severely circumscribed, young men were encouraged "to pair off and form a special bond" as part of their grooming for greater responsibilities. Lincoln and Speed even shared the same bed for four years, but this was fairly common practice not to be mistaken for homosexuality. Nevertheless, gender roles were defined quite differently. It was acceptable for young men to display their affection for one another. This kind of intimacy encouraged the expression of one’s innermost thoughts and feelings, including depression. Mr Shenk points to a number of forces at work when Lincoln was coming of age. On one hand, it was an age of hope. The new economy for the first time gave ambitious young white men like Lincoln the opportunity to realize the dreams of the Founding Fathers. Steam power and the telegraph effectively shrunk the world and created a whole new mobile labor force. Advances in medical science instilled the belief that God was not punishing an individual, which effectively destigmatized illness. This spawned a whole new movement in self-improvement. At the same time, thanks to a new religious revival, a loving redemptive God replaced the harsh vengeful God of John Calvin. Rather than predestination to hellfire and brimstone, men and women had the power to make moral choices and find their way to God’s favor. For the first time in history, the individual did not have to subsume his needs to the needs of the tribe or community. But with this new freedom came new fears and anxieties. Gone was the communal security blanket. Ever present was the specter of failure, with full responsibility borne by the exposed individual. America, the land of opportunity, led the world in mental illness. It was in this heady atmosphere of hope and insecurity that young Lincoln, now a hotshot lawyer and rising star in the state legislature, was to become badly unhinged.
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