Monday, February 16, 2009

Monday Memories—Abraham Lincoln

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Abraham Lincoln was my first hero. I was in first or second grade when I adopted him. My friends liked Elvis Presley, but once I heard about Abraham Lincoln living in a log cabin and feeling sorry for slaves, I comfortably had a hero. It’s no wonder:

Lincoln didn’t take himself too seriously. Once, during a political debate, his rival accused him of being “two-faced.” Lincoln replied, “I leave it to my audience. If I had another face, do you think I’d wear this one?” Humor was his therapy. Once during the dark days of the Civil War, he said, “I laugh because I must not cry; that’s all—that’s all.”

As jovial and friendly as he was, not everyone liked Lincoln—including his future father-in-law. Mary Todd was born into the aristocracy of Lexington, Kentucky. She was described by her friends as vivacious, impulsive—“the very creature of excitement.” Boasting a fashionably plump figure, long lashes and clear blue eyes, Lincoln was mesmerized by her. However, Mary’s father thought she could do better and thought Abe was nothing but a gangly, deeply in debt, country bumpkin. Abe was hurt by the Todd family rejection, telling a friend, “One d is enough for God, but the Todd’s need two.” However, Lincoln prevailed and on November 4, 1842 Mary Todd became Mrs. Abraham Lincoln. A week after their marriage, Abe wrote a letter to his friend, Samuel Marshall, closing it with, “Nothing new here, except my marrying, which to me, is a matter of profound wonder.” And many years later, while watching Mary put their guests at ease at a White House reception, he said, “My wife is as handsome as when she was a girl, and I . . . fell in love with her; and what is more, I have never fallen out.”*

Though Lincoln was resilient and resolute, the Civil War brought dark and lonely years for the famed president. As the death tolls mounted, his spirits sunk. Yet, with the stress of a tearing nation and battlefield woes, he continued to be a kind husband and father. He found solace in his young sons living in the White House with Mary and him—Willie and Tad. (Robert, their eldest son, was away studying at Harvard.) The boys had a menagerie of pets, including a goat that slept with Tad. Lincoln took the boys with him to visit the troops and wrestled with them on the White House floors. In February of 1862 the boys came down with fevers. Tad recovered, but Willie did not. This was Abe and Mary’s second son to have died and they both plunged into depression. Mary could not attend the funeral and refused to leave the White House for three months after Willie’s death. Lincoln wept alone. He was heard to say, “He (Willie) was too good for this earth, it is hard, hard to have him die.”

Lincoln knew that the secession of the Southern States would destroy our nation and he took every measure to prevent it. Both the North and South would become disgruntled with him over favoritism. Many sensed there was a bounty on his head. Just five days after General Robert E. Lee surrendered—Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. The afternoon before he was shot, April 14, 1965, Abe told Mary, “I never felt so happy in my life.” They attended the British comedy, Our American Cousin, that evening. Mary sat very close to Abe with her hand in his and whispered to him, “What will Miss Harris think of my hanging on to you so?” Mr. Lincoln replied, “She won’t think anything about it”—his last recorded words. Soon after, John Wilkes Booth entered the play box where the Lincolns and their guests were sitting and shot President Lincoln at point-blank range. He died the following morning.

Three days prior to his assassination Lincoln told a few friends and Mary about a dream he had:

"About ten days ago, I retired very late. I had been up waiting for important dispatches from the front. I could not have been long in bed when I fell into a slumber, for I was weary. I soon began to dream. There seemed to be a death-like stillness about me. Then I heard subdued sobs, as if a number of people were weeping. I thought I left my bed and wandered downstairs. There the silence was broken by the same pitiful sobbing, but the mourners were invisible. I went from room to room; no living person was in sight, but the same mournful sounds of distress met me as I passed along. I saw light in all the rooms; every object was familiar to me; but where were all the people who were grieving as if their hearts would break? I was puzzled and alarmed. What could be the meaning of all this? Determined to find the cause of a state of things so mysterious and so shocking, I kept on until I arrived at the East Room, which I entered. There I met with a sickening surprise. Before me was a catafalque, on which rested a corpse wrapped in funeral vestments. Around it were stationed soldiers who were acting as guards; and there was a throng of people, gazing mournfully upon the corpse, whose face was covered, others weeping pitifully. 'Who is dead in the White House?' I demanded of one of the soldiers, 'The President,' was his answer; 'he was killed by an assassin.' Then came a loud burst of grief from the crowd, which woke me from my dream. I slept no more that night; and although it was only a dream, I have been strangely annoyed by it ever since."

A fitting eulogy could be taken from Lincoln’s own words. He began his second inauguration speech, “With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right . . . “ He proved he truly believed these words on the night of the surrender of the South at Appomattox by General Lee. While he was serenaded by many enthusiastic Unionists, President Lincoln asked the band to play “Dixie”, the song of the South. Truly a man “with malice toward none; with charity for all” was Abe Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States of America.

Happy 200th Birthday, Mr. Lincoln.

Are you a Lincoln aficionado?

*much negativity is written about Mary Todd and her relationship with Abe Lincoln, however, it has been determined that the original less favorable articles were written by Abe’s business partner who didn’t care for her. I was glad to find these words from Abe Lincoln about his feelings toward her.

13 comments:

Ryan and Haley Krumblis said...

I just bought a book about the Lincoln relationship called, "The Lincolns: Portrait of a Marriage". I can't WAIT to read it. I will pass it along if it is worth the read. Thanks for your post! Congrats to Abe! I'm planning already! Hopefully it works out!

Susan said...

I love Abraham Lincoln. I have so enjoyed reading and learning about him and Mary Todd.

Amy said...

I don't know that I'm an aficionado, but I'm a definite fan. We just stayed up late watching a documentary about him the other night. When I lived in D.C., the Lincoln memorial was definitely my favorite monument. His words..especially his 2nd inaugural address hold such power.

MCCONKIE FAMILY said...

I learned something! Great Post! Abe is one of my heros. what a different world it was!!!

Kathy said...

Thanks for such a great post on Abrahm Lincoln. I loved reading this breif sketch. I am also a fan of this great man. I love to quote him. "a man is about as happy as he makes up his mind to be." I think that is him and that is so right.

Monkeys ARDently In Sinc said...

Although definintely not an afficionado, I am a huge fan of him. I wish that we could have more Presidents like this humble man!

Kim Sue said...

I have become more curious recently. We have a trip to D.C. planned for the summer and my list of books to read and subjects to explore gets longer by the day. And with that, it has been great fun to see all the press Mr. Lincoln is getting on his 200th birthday.

Cali said...

That was beautiful mom. I love your heros (because they are good and they are dead, so they can't do something to disappoint). I also love cooking with you in the kitchen. We are a good pair. Kiss dad for me, and Dad, you kiss mom for me.

Love, Cali

Mitchell Mark said...

Sis. Payne,

AH, I just learned more about history then my whole school tenure. I didn't even know he was married. Wonderful post!

p.s. I think my first hero was Dr. J. I had a poster of him in my room when I was four.

Becky said...

Abraham Lincoln has always been my favorite US president and I love reading about him. He was truly a man of character who endured a lot of sorrow in his life and kept on in spite of it all.

This was a wonderful post...

Hannah said...

Wonderful post! I feel like I learned more now than I did in school (I guess I am paying more attention now!). I love why he is your favorite.

Lucy said...

I'm a fan. Our country was at a crossroads when he was president and I think the road he sent us on was the best and necessary one. I can't believe you wrote all that. Please tell me you copied it all from an old college essay. That was well researched and well written!

michelle said...

I am definitely a big fan. I love that he had a sense of humor and that he had integrity. Great post, Jane.