The Better Angel

Happy Birthday Abraham Lincoln! It always amazes me that people revere him so much now, but while he was alive he was reviled by so many. And not just because of the Civil War, but because of his personality. He didn't curry favor and bring any of the traditional political protocol to the white house. Lincoln was a plain speaker, and a direct man. He like to talk and tell long stories and humerous anecdotes. He offended many in his own cabinet with his "simple", unassuming ways. There were plots against him from the first day of his election, and until his asassination in 1865 he was seen by a large number of Americans to be incompetent and indecisive. Now of course, those qualities are understood to be a greater vision, deeper intelligence and a steadfast hope for unity.
Abraham Lincoln was an incredibly eloquant writer. His speeches and declarations are famous and considered some of the best American writing in history. Even his notes and letters to friends and commanders in the field are small issues of art. For all his love of a good yarn, he adored poetry and could write as well as any.
Lincoln's family was almost as interesting as he was. Read Gore Vidal's historical novel "Lincoln" for a great look into his personal life from different views of intimate figures around him.
Greg, Cora and I went to see "The American Presidency", a collection of artifacts and memorabilia from all of the president's lives... I saw the gold inkwell that Lincoln used to sign the Emancipation Proclamation. I was touched. I didn't feel quite as overcome at the sight of Howard Taft's best suit, but it was pretty cool, too.
It's hard to believe that we've gone from Lincoln to the current administration. Here is an excerpt from Lincoln's first inaugeral address that Mr. Bush could well benefit from.

"Before entering upon so grave a matter as the destruction of our national fabric, with all its benefits, its memories, and its hopes, would it not be wise to ascertain precisely why we do it? Will you hazard so desperate a step while there is any possibility that any portion of the ills you fly from have no real existence? Will you, while the certain ills you fly to are greater than all the real ones you fly from, will you risk the commission of so fearful a mistake?"

This is a photo of the crowds at Gettysburg.


Anonymous said…
was that howard taft's suit or woodrow wilson's innaguaral tent?
Crabby Amy said…
excellent post!! I do especially like the passage of Lincoln's first inaugeral speech. The current "leader" could indeed benefit :)
BrianKarmelich said…
I'm a big fan of the Taft suits. Did they display the vest period or just the 2 piece?

I like Lincoln as much as the next guy. Especially the speeches. Just like him. In my top 4 presidents.

But sometimes I have a hard time with the concept that preserving the union was worth so many lives. Now I believe ending slavery was worth the lives and moreso. But you, I and Taft know that this was not Lincoln's primary motivation. If we had let the South break off, could the same goals have been accomplished without the tremendous loss of life? Today, if Texas wanted to be their own country so Jeb Bush would get to be a president, how many lives would it be worth to preserve the union? Is Iraq's union worth preserving? Is Taft's suit collection? Where does it all stop?
Diane said…
Poor old Lincoln, for all his eloquance and wisdom was hung up on the "unity at all costs" thing. Plus, when it started he thought it would be over in a couple of months. So many Union generals made huge, ridiculous mistakes! They had more soldiers at their disposal, as well. Then there was the indominable spirit of the south, led by a superhero in a gray beard. Robert E Lee had a lot in common with Lincoln, I think. I love them both dearly. Have you read any of the Shaara books like "The Killer Angels"?
I would like to preserve every artiface, even though eventually it (and I) will disappear. I love seeing and touching the ACTUAL thing and trying to absorb some of its history by being next to it. There's a great book called "Dear Mr. President" that is full of letters to the president over the years. There are letters from little kids to LBJ telling him not to be so sad. There are little old ladies writing to Nixon telling him they hope China will keep him when he visits there.
ps: It was Taft's 2-piece, brown.