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Jamie Stiehm
Past and Present
26 Sep 2014
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12 Sep 2014
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The mood in the Capitol was jittery on Sept. 10. The day descended into the night scene of a somber president,… Read More.

Abraham Lincoln: My Historical Boyfriend

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Just back from a sublime date with my historical boyfriend at the movies. Reader, it seemed a dream, to see Abraham Lincoln on the big screen. I practically had to loosen my corset to breathe, keeping smelling salts handy.

Don't get me wrong. Mary Lincoln and I give each other our space, born more than a century apart. And author Doris Kearns Goodwin is too famous to have rivals. There are absolutely no emails between Mr. Lincoln and me; the parchment we may have scribbled on is long gone. Once he let me edit a speech, but I told him not a single word could be added or taken away.

This crush goes back to a visit to Springfield, Ill. when I was a Wisconsin girl. Ever since, the more I learn about the 16th president, the more I must know. The all-male club of Lincolnista experts has not invited me to join, but that is just too bad for them. Do they know what it's like to hear him recite Shakespeare from memory? I don't think so. Do they know his favorite of the Bard's plays? For the record, it's "Macbeth," the cold-blooded murder of a good king. We're as close as could be without a world of time.

Now comes the lavish Steven Spielberg picture, preaching political toughness with Hollywood fanfare (apparently) to the re-elected American president, Barack Obama. The film is set in early 1865 when, like this hour in history, Lincoln is soon to be inaugurated for his second term. As a true narrative, it's not bad except for the astonishing omission of abolitionist publisher Frederick Douglass, a trusted advisor to the president on slave emancipation and military service. Also baffling is a nonsensical conversation between Lincoln and the Elizabeth Keckley character, a free black family servant. Other than that, as they say ... how did we like the show?

Daniel Day-Lewis as Lincoln is the next best thing to being there back in 1865. How well he looked the character's part: hauntingly familiar, with gray-green eyes that danced with telling a story or joke.

Folks don't really know it, but the Civil War president was the first sage wit among the American presidents. It sprang from his prairie roots. Ever hear of Thomas Jefferson saying something funny?

The actor's brilliant performance captured the spark of shrewd political genius in the man from Illinois. Nobody could handle big trouble like Lincoln, who did not see a day of peace until the final April week of his presidency. He died at age 56, the ultimate casualty of the Civil War. Heartbroken tears shed everywhere.

But here's the thing that never gets properly explained, not by Spielberg, nor the clubby historians: Lincoln was no abolitionist when he came to Washington. I repeat; he was no abolitionist when he arrived as president-elect. Saving the Union, keeping it safe from the Southern secessionary movement, was paramount. He spoke to the slave states in his first inaugural address, saying in effect: keep slavery frozen where it already exists, it will not be allowed in any future states and life will go on. He cared about the nation's rosy westward destiny, not the dark part. The "peculiar institution" of slavery was something he promised to preserve on his watch — though he personally deplored it.

In January 1863, less than two years after the bitter early spring of 1861, Lincoln had conceived, written and signed the Emancipation Proclamation. He transformed the meaning of the Civil War to greater glory than geography. As he put it himself in the 1863 address at Gettysburg, the conflict promised "a new birth of freedom." To make this happen swiftly, with no turning back, Lincoln underwent a personal transformation. Aided by abolitionist lawmakers such as Charles Sumner in the Senate and Thaddeus Stevens in the House, he also felt the suasion of Philadelphia Quakers and Bostonian Unitarians who opposed slavery.

This is my most cherished backstory: Lincoln took a moral journey in the midst of war and changed in a revolution from within.

So you see? My historical boyfriend is a much older married man who died the year my great-grandfather was born. Yet he'll always belong to the ages — and to me.

To find out more about Jamie Stiehm, and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit www.creators.com.

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Comments

1 Comments | Post Comment
Get bent. Abe Lincoln would be appalled at what you and your liberal cronies are doing to the country he helped save. Always pandering to special interests and towing party lines. Most politicians today are the polar opposite of what Abe stood for.
Comment: #1
Posted by: Chris McCoy
Thu Nov 15, 2012 11:35 AM
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