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Monday, January 16, 2006

Lincoln's dirty laundry

I'm watching the History Channel program on Lincoln and his depression. Tagline: He fought two wars. One was in his head.

These are some of the things they don't teach you about Abraham Lincoln. At least not in the 1960's. And, certainly not in Springfield, Illinois. This is more than about depression, though. It's about so many minute details of his life. Which, I suppose, when added together, gives evidence to his depression.

The strife in his marriage. Mary was wealthy, but yet a gold digger for a powerful man. He was poor and detached. His fear of syphilis. His comparing his lack of success with Stephen A. Douglas' great success.

His love for Joshua Speed. Was it gay love? I don't really know. Some would say it was.

He was vehemently opposed to the Mexican American War. His views, which he never hesitated to make public, were profoundly out of sync with the administration, and even public opinion, at that time.

Ya know, when you go on the tour of the Lincoln Home in Springfield, if you mention even the slightest contrary thing about either of the Lincolns, the tour guides immediately silence you. But, I guess that's not the time or place for such conversations.

He was profoundly affected by the death of Ann Rutledge. To the point where he became dysfunctional.

From early on, I always thought that Lincoln loved Ann Rutledge. That she was his one true love. (I know, I wasn't the only one.) Maybe such thoughts were just the fancy of a silly schoolgirl. Because whenever such a notion was brought up, it was immediately hushed and frowned upon. Especially by the teachers.

Now, I'm watching this show, and I'm hearing such Lincoln scholars like Harold Holzer and Gore Vidal giving credence to some of the notions that were previously forbidden discussion. At least, in these quarters.

Why is it? Is it because we all have some insatiable desire to know every bit of gossip, whether fact or fiction, about politicians and great people. Have we reached a point in our own history where things that were never discussed by gentle people in open circles are now acceptable conversation. Or, is it simply that the time has come that knowledge of these things has become necessary to understanding the man.

There's still an hour to go of the show.

Posted by Marie at January 16, 2006 9:00 PM


I hope I can catch that show, it looks very interesting!

Posted by: Bradjward at January 17, 2006 9:48 AM

Yes. I think it's going to be on again this weekend. But, I don't know the times.

Posted by: Marie at January 17, 2006 10:17 AM

I'm in the middle of "Team of Rivals." So of course I can't stay away from the reader feedback at Amazon. I was totally amazed that there reviews reviling Lincoln. I never would have thought that anyone would regard Lincoln as anything other than a great man. I'm still shaking my head. Is the tour of the Lincoln home worth a trip to Springfield? Or is it more low-key?

Posted by: Kem White at January 17, 2006 4:41 PM

Kem: It wasn't until I got on the internet that I found out so many people are so outspoken about their hatred for Lincoln.

For those that live and work around here, the Lincoln Home tour is a great place to pop in on your lunch hour, or for something to do. It is sort of lowkey.

Fortunately, there's so much more to take in around here, in addition to the Lincoln Home. To name a few, there's the Old State Capitol (place where he gave the House Divided speech), Lincoln Herndon Law Office, and the icing on the cake, the new Lincoln Presidential Museum. Most everything is downtown. A little farther out (about two miles from down town) is the Tomb. And even farther out is New Salem.

Posted by: Marie at January 17, 2006 8:15 PM

Five Things I Want to Say About This Post:

1. The History Channel's ads (and much of its programming): Making history even dumber than it has been in the U.S.A.

2. Interesting about how Goodwin handles the Speed Factor in "Team of Rivals": Without addressing the gay Lincoln book directly, she falls all over herself to assure readers Lincoln's affections were not homosexual in nature. She also emphasizes the *much* more pronounced tendency among men in the mid=19th century, at least among her subjects, to declare passionate love for each other as part of their friendship. (The subject for probably a whole shelf of new books, probably.)

3. I think I'm only becoming aware now of how thoroughly Lincoln is mythologized for Illinois school kids. And if you were a kid of the '60s on top of it -- when a direct line was being drawn from him to the civil rights movement -- forget it: The man was a god.

4. Everyone who's ever seen "Young Mr. Lincoln knows that Abe was nuts for Ann Rutledge.

5. As shocking to me as persistently expressed contempt for Lincoln in some quarters is the general veneration for Robert E. Lee. Oh, yeah, I know -- he was real honorable and all that. But it's funny how the same people who might crucify Clinton (for instance) as a draft dodger sing the praises of a man who violated his oath to his country and took up arms against it. Sounds like a traitor to me, cut and dried.

Posted by: Dan at January 17, 2006 11:22 PM

1. True dat.

2. I just started reading the book, but am keeping an open mind (as I try to do with everything, I think).

3. Yes, the man was a god. There were many times when my kids were in school that I wished I had my own books from school for comparison purposes. There were more than a few times when what I read in their books was much different than what I read in my books.

4. Obviously, the people who wrote school kids' history books in the 60's tried to figure out the most "proper" way to write Ann Rutledge into the story.

5. I've never heard you sound so harsh. But, you're right.

Posted by: Marie at January 18, 2006 12:06 AM

Sorry for the harshness. There was a glass of red wine involved.

Posted by: Dan at January 18, 2006 6:09 PM

I didn't mean it as a criticism. Just an observation.

Posted by: Marie at January 18, 2006 6:19 PM

I've wondered about the validity of Lincoln's hinted at behavioral quirks especially after recently reading Philip K. Dick's We Can Build You and the details he ascribes to the robot reproduction of Lincoln (as well as Stanton). The bummer is: no cable. Ah well. I might bug someone in the history department at work about it.

Posted by: goneaway at January 20, 2006 3:06 PM