Dixie Peach: Happy Birthday, Big Guy

Cooler than the other side of the pillow.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Happy Birthday, Big Guy

To some it may be hard to understand but this woman of the South has an unusual attraction to a dead guy. And it's his birthday. I'm here to admit to the world that I have a fascination with Abraham Lincoln.

It started when I was a kid. Someone had given me a bunch of old books and one of them was a biography of Lincoln that covered his life up until he began to study law. I read it over and over until I felt like I knew this young man who grew up with a distant father but a very kind and loving step-mother and who did all he could to educate himself.

I lived for many years outside of Washington, D.C. and visiting the Lincoln Memorial was something I did many times. Regardless of how many times I'd climbed those stairs up to that marble memorial, it never failed to impress me and I loved the look of his calm, strong face.

There were other things that drew me to Abraham Lincoln and fed my curiosity.

~ Two favorite books about Lincoln are Gore Vidal's Lincoln and Twenty Days by Dorothy Meserve Kunhardt and Philip B. Kunhardt. The first is a novel about Lincoln so, of course, license is taken with facts but the characters surrounding Lincoln and their interaction are interesting. The second book is a large book filled with pictures that not only discusses the assassination of Lincoln but the alleged conspiracy surrounding it, the death of John Wilkes Booth, the arrest of the co-conspirators, the military trials ordered by Secretary of War Stanton, and of course the funeral of Lincoln including the long trip home to Illinois by train.

~ Lincoln's assassination alone captures my imagination. From the assassination itself to the conspiracy to the alleged conspiracy surrounding the other arrests and trials. Even Lincoln's dream that he would be assassinated spooks me in the way that all really interesting true-crime stories do.

~ Lincoln's crazy wife, Mary Todd Lincoln. I never could understand how he could end up with such a character as her but the things she did and said are mind-boggling at times.

~ Lincoln's amazing speeches. Not only the address he gave at the dedication of the national cemetery at Gettysburg but his first and second inaugural addresses. "...better angels of our nature." is a beautiful bit of prose.

~ Lincoln's ability to work a situation for supreme political effect. The Emancipation Proclamation is an example of that. Lincoln knew that if he didn't change political thought about the war - make it for a more noble cause than just saving the union, he was going to lose support, maybe for good.

~ The death of his two middle sons had a profound effect on Lincoln. He was likely already a moody, depressive sort of man anyway and their deaths, one of them coming in the middle of the war, added a sort of melancholy he was unable to shake. Add to it the sort of mystic angle it had and it becomes even more interesting to contemplate. One has to wonder how he managed to deal with his sadness and his wife's depression and a war all at the same time.

Shelby Foote said in Ken Burns' documentary The Civil War that Lincoln was, in his opinion, one of the two geniuses that the Civil War produced and I'm inclined to agree with him. I think Abraham Lincoln embodies much of what we think to be great about America. His ability to pull himself up and educate himself. His ability to compromise. And mostly his compassion and desire for reconciliation. I hope they're examples we can still emulate.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

No wonder why we are best friends: we are both obsessed with a President. While I adore Harry Truman, my first love is John Adams (born October 30th)- I plan to make my way to Quincy Mass someday to see the place of his birth.

Next time I pass by the Lincoln Memorial, I'll wave to Abe for you.


1:42 AM  
Blogger UmmFarouq said...

From the slew of Presidents who have had few redeeming qualities, Lincoln was a sterling exception. He was fallible and introspective, and I truly believe he sought to better himself throughout his life. Complacency is killing the kind of human spirit that he represented.

You've just inspired a post!

7:23 AM  
Blogger jane said...

agree on all counts. lincoln and i share a birthday so i have always looked up to him.

i am curious as to who the other person shelby foote considers a genius produced by the civil war - robert e. lee would be my guess.


3:32 PM  
Blogger Dixie said...

Actually the person Shelby Foote cited as the other genius produced by the Civil War was Nathan Bedford Forrest, a Confederate cavalry general. He was a self made wealthy businessman who enlisted at a private in the Confederate army and aftr seeing how badly equipped the CSA was he formed his own regiment using his own money. He was able to get in and out of tricky battles and escape death over and over and thus Shelby Foote's recognition of his genius but he was also pretty flawed.

Shelby Foote told the granddaughter of Forrest that he consider her grandfather and Lincoln to be the two geniuses produced by the war and he reports that she replied (paraphrased) "Well we never have thought too much of Mr. Lincoln in our family."

This is the sort of stuff I love about history.

9:41 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home