He was unlike any previous president.
He was – startlingly, unpretentiously, magnificently – simply one of us.
No privileged upbringing; no distinguished lineage or connections; no education really, other than what he obtained by his own efforts; no prospects. Just a farmer’s son, hired out until he reached the age of majority, a steady and intrepid work mate, an undistinguished businessman, a self-taught country lawyer.
Even when he began to make his name in politics, he never forgot where he came from. He never forgot who he was.
Even when he began to stand out from the crowd, he never separated from it. He remained among us always; listening, learning, internalizing, deepening his understanding of who we were – who he was. He was one of us, and he knew the richness of that.
The great questions of his time revolved around what the young United States really meant. He studied this problem deeply. He identified the fundamental founding documents that he believed unquestionably and for all time settled the matter.
And he combined those carefully cultivated convictions with his profoundly subtle understanding of the people of the country, of whom he was uniquely – and indispensably – one. This great idea, this “last best hope of earth” is what he and we fought to keep alive, to re-unite, to heal.
We, of course, do this still. And if we continue to look among ourselves for the wisdom, steadiness, and insight to carry on the effort, we will find it, as we did him, deeply ingrained there.
Please consider including the following among your resources for increasing your own understanding of Abraham Lincoln, his times and struggles, and of our own.
Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, by Doris Kearns Goodwin, is a justly famous accounting of Lincoln’s politically and managerially astute selection and use of his cabinet officers. See my review here.
Abraham Lincoln, by Lord Charnwood, is a deeply respectful analysis of Lincon’s character and his political philosophy, which combined made him the historically great statesman Charnwood celebrates.
A. Lincoln, by Ronald C. White, shows the rich moral development of Lincoln from his youth throughout his entire life.
Founder’s Son, by Richard Brookhiser, is an important examination of how Lincoln understood the great American experiment, which founding documents he identified as embodying it, and the manner in which he linked these to the momentous events that defined his times and his presidency.
Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years and the War Years, by Carl Sandburg, has been criticized by some for its poetic license and inclusion of unverified folklore. But Sandburg was a poet, one who understood America, and who beautifully, poetically, explains to Americans this great president who arose so wondrously and inevitably from among them.
I would also recommend to you Steven Spielberg’s movie, “Lincoln.” It brilliantly chooses to shape the central story of this man and this country around the pivotally profound campaign to pass the Thirteenth Amendment.
And while doing your reading assignments, you may also wish to listen to the quintessentially American composer Aaron Copland’s incomparable “Lincoln Portrait,” with narration by Henry Fonda.