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The Living Lincoln

Heroes come and go in a nation as large and diverse as the USofA.  The ones that stand out are the ones that keep coming back to us in times of trouble, re-evaluated and reclaimed for a new generation.  None of our heroes has the ability to comfort us in difficult times like Abraham Lincoln, and his resurgence recently is a wonderful mirror through which we can see where we stand with a strong clarity and resolve.  As great as he was, his presence as a myth is even more powerful than the man himself.

Last year was the bicentennial of Lincoln’s birth and next year is the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War.  That’s fuel enough for revisiting this towering figure from our past.  Yet there is much more to Lincoln and our interest in him today because he is still very relevant in many ways.

Watching over us

It goes without saying that President Obama has often cited Lincoln as a role model.  More than the ability to be firm in his principles and yet committed to our unity as the strength that preserves our freedom, Obama has always used the methods Lincoln employed as his own tools of leadership.  It starts with the power of words, certainly, but extends into a willingness to have a “Team of Rivals” in his cabinet – strong personalities who may not be perfectly loyal to the President but who are unwavering in their determination to do what is best for the nation.

This is the Lincoln that is one level deeper than the marble figure who still watches over us.  The man, and how his enduring myth was created, are even deeper still.  I believe that Obama knows this well.

Two new works have renewed the Great Emancipator for the 21st Century in ways that are worth discussing.  The first is Henry Louis Gates’ epic “Looking for Lincoln,” a PBS special that tries to uncover the man himself.  Ultimately Lincoln remains enigmatic, as always, but Gates discovers some remarkable emotions both in himself and in our culture about this mythological figure. It’s hard to reconcile statements we regard today as racist with the Great Emancipator, but yet it is hard to imagine anything else from 150 years ago.  Lincoln’s obvious struggles with Depression are discussed at length but left apart from the great resolve that carried him through the Civil War.

What we are left with is a man who ultimately could stand outside of his own body and his own time like few others can.  Whether or not Obama can achieve this feat is something we will simply have to see.

Another work that I have to recommend is “Mr. Lincoln’s High-Tech War”, written for an 8th grade audience by Thomas B. Allen and published by National Geographic.  This enlivens Lincoln for a new generation of kids who are immersed in a belief in technology.  It depicts Lincoln as not only a master political strategist, but also as someone immersed in the details of his struggle.  Lincoln is extremely hands-on in searching for new ways to get out of old problems, pushing hard for observation balloons with telegraph connections, ironclad ships, and the breech-loading Spencer carbine.  The book includes a picture of the target board when Lincoln and Secretary of War Stanton first took the Spencer rifle out into the field to give it their blessing.

This may be a kids’ book, but it both renews the legend of Lincoln and gives his enigmatic personality the additional face of troubleshooter-in-chief.  It’s a role that we can see Obama dearly loves, too, as his rhetoric sparkles with calls for new solutions to the old problems that have plagued us for a long time.  When we look back through our history we always wind up looking forward again, savoring the legacy of a nation built on a belief in progress and the skill of a frontier people.

Why is Lincoln enjoying such a resurgence?  The round-number anniversaries do not begin to describe how we need Lincoln, even today.  We will remain fascinated by him for as long as we need him, and today we need a figure like him almost as much as he was needed the first time around.  That’s the true power of both the man and the myth, both of which belong to all of us.

8 thoughts on “The Living Lincoln

  1. I don’t know if we’re anywhere near as divided as we were before the Civil War but it sure seems like it at times. We do need someone like Lincoln to guide us through these troubled times. I hope Obama has what it takes.

  2. I think the real lesson is that we have been through worse. Getting to know the people who got us through that is comforting. I’m glad to know that people are still interested in Lincoln after all these years because I agree that there is a lot to learn.

  3. Thanks, everyone. I don’t think it’s just the series of anniversaries that make Lincoln so interesting. I expect we’ll be hearing a lot more about him in the near future.

  4. I will be a bit of a contrarian here as I am currently reading House of War about the Pentagon. What if the U.S. had split? The Indian genocides would have still continued it was beyond Lincoln’s control. In the third and fourth american republics by Michael Lind the 30-70 year cycles he alludes to would have been changed. The atrocities our country has done are often not evident in popular culture. The expansion, the all out war WWII and beyond. Would monsters like mad bomber LeMay have come to such power? Just some stupid questions and yes I desperately want to see the Lincoln museum for 2 whole days and it is on my list along with the WWI museum in Kansas City.

  5. Things may not be as different as we think, I suppose. We have an excellent relationship with Canada that includes more bi-lateral trade than any other two nations, and we once burned each others’ capitols. So it’s possible that it might have worked out pretty well in that sense.

    However, there would have been a constant wave of refugees (I won’t call them “slaves”) escaping that would be a constant headache. My guess is that some kind of conflict was inevitable even if we had gone the Czech-Slovakia route.

  6. What makes a man leave his hometown, homeland, a place where he was born, studied life? The reasons are different. Nostalgia for the past is always with the man, wherever he is not running. No sugar to be a refugee and have no means of livelihood, not be able to work, to benefit their country, the people, the family did not have the opportunity to visit the graves of their ancestors. The war in the 21 st century is a disgrace of human civilization. The violence, the shame of human civilization. Refugee – an opportunity to live, to survive, to exist. The world needs any person, the work needed to any person, love and respect for loved ones need anyone. race, age, gender does not matter. Ability to live in peace and harmony. Earth needs peace. Politicians need war and the opportunity to earn a chaos, calamity, the people of entire countries and continents.
    Man is born naked and helpless, goes into another world, and anything with no kills. The path that he walks on earth – his life. What will leave a man?

  7. Pingback: The Hero’s Pitch | Barataria – The work of Erik Hare

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