Today is Abraham Lincoln‘s birthday, our sixteenth President. Born in 1809, he is renowned as the first elected Republican president (though he was previously a Whig for about twenty years). The Republican Party was founded in March of 1854.
My elder daughter and I have had an ongoing debate over the last ten years about Lincoln. She does not admire him; I have always held him in high respect.
As a child, of course, I learned about Lincoln in school. Growing up in St. Louis, Springfield wasn’t that far away (just over 100 miles) and the surrounding area still has Lincoln memorabilia and monuments scattered far and wide.
In my teens, historical fiction was my favorite reading material. I must have read Love Is Eternal by Irving Stone at least two or three times, maybe more. This book tells the story of Mary Todd and Abe Lincoln.
Stone offers interesting and well-researched scenarios depicting the differences between these two individuals and helps the reader understand what a difficult relationship the couple had. It’s a sympathetic look. (The book was written in 1954 − long before Lincoln detractors like Thomas DiLorenzo had constructed an alternate view.)
A more recent book (more recent than Stone’s or DiLorenzo’s) that discusses Lincoln is the 2007 book by Andrew Ferguson, Land Of Lincoln, Adventures in Abe’s America. Ferguson’s book takes the reader on a journey not just through the land of Lincoln (i.e. the places he lived or to which he had some connection at various periods of his life). The journey also tracks down the multitude of stories and mythology related to old Abe.
Ferguson also offers some feedback on how his view of Lincoln contrasts from DiLorenzo’s. Apparently, since the release of Ferguson’s book, there may have been some debates between the two men about their differing viewpoints. (I’m still trying to track that down. They may have been interviewed separately and just critiqued the other’s positions on Lincoln.)
I recommend the Ferguson book. The journey of discovery he brings to the pages is amusing, insightful and an excellent example of sorting the truth from the fiction when it comes to all the stories that have proliferated about Lincoln.
As I view Lincoln today, I continue to think of him with respect. When I read Irving Stone’s book (so long ago), my recollection is Stone didn’t paint an idealized picture of Lincoln; Stone’s presentation reflected a far from perfect man. Did he have qualities to admire? Absolutely. I have always admired Lincoln’s determination to educate himself.
But in assessing Lincoln, I acknowledge he was a man subject to the foibles and concerns of everyday people. As President, he had challenges and decisions that were monumental. He didn’t always make the right decisions. What President does? I would not have wanted his job, but I believe Lincoln, like Esther in the Old Testament, played a pivotal role in a trying time for our nation.
Happy Birthday, dear old Abe.