For some time now, I have been carrying on an affair–with Abraham Lincoln. I guess it’s a good thing more than a century separates us, not that I think Mr. Lincoln would stoop to cheating on his beloved Mary. Despite her spending habits and the probability that she needed major doses of Lithium, he adored her. He understood commitment in a way the rest of us would do well to emulate.
Oh, well. It’s an affair of the intellect, anyway.
There are a lot of misconceptions about Mr. Lincoln–these things always spring up around an icon. For instance, it is widely believed that he had a morose personality, and was constantly depressed. Early in his adulthood, he suffered a very severe depression–I believe he was coming to terms with his enormous destiny, for which nothing in his childhood could have prepared him. Later on, the Lincolns lost two children–first, Eddie, who died when they were still living in Springfield, and then Willie, while they were in the White House. The grief of losing these children etched itself deeply into Lincoln’s face and, I believe, his soul. Poor Mary was never quite the same. The Civil War began immediately after he took office, if not slightly before, and the toll this took on him was beyond most people’s ability to conceive. He was accused, with some justification, of moving too slowly, especially when it came to tasks like firing that egotistical incompetent, General McClellan. (My family got a big kick out of my consternation over this as I listened to ‘Lincoln’ on my iPod. “Why doesn’t he show that fool the road?” I would rave, waving both arms in frustration, and it did them no good to remind me that history had already written the story.)
No, Lincoln was not a terminal depressive. When he smiled, it would light up a room. He loved stupid jokes–today, he would probably be insufferable for forwarding them over the internet. When he laughed, the sound rang off the walls, and he laughed often.
As for the ignorant backwoodsman gambit–that was the 1860s version of spin. Lincoln was fiercely ambitious. He was a master political strategist. He was brilliant, and possessed of a literary eloquence that is miraculous in light of his limited education–three years, slap-dash. He came to most decisions very slowly, much to the agitation of his friends and advisors, because he thought things through down to the last seemingly insignificant detail.
But these are only some of the reasons I admire Abraham Lincoln. The primary ones are courage, persistence and compassion in the face of incomrehensible adversity, and the extraordinary discipline it must have taken to decide upon the right course of action and see it through–no matter what. He was unpopular. The war was unpopular. Everybody, including his own cabinet, thought they knew how to handle things better.
Thank God they didn’t get to take the reins.