Abraham Lincoln – Image of a Man From Frontier to Urban Politician

Talia Eaton asked:

Abraham Lincoln, although Kentuckian by birth, has ancestry that stems from proper Virginia heritages. Thomas Lincoln moved into Kentucky when it was merely an extension of Virginia. When Kentucky was on its way to becoming a state, the frontier beckoned the family and they moved into the frontier of what later became Indiana. It was the influence of the Kentuckian Daniel Boone that drove the Lincolns and so many other Kentuckians into the frontier. Indeed, the general perspective of frontier life was that when a neighbor moved closer, usually a distance amounting to three miles or so, it was time to consider moving to yet another frontier. Abraham Lincoln’s perspective was forever colored by this viewpoint. In his last days he was considering the move to California at the end of his Presidency. The idea was that a frontier would afford his sons opportunity, much as his opportunity came from the frontier of the West at the time.

For decades after Lincoln’s death, national figures have sought how to categorize that uniqueness that was Lincoln’s. The fact that Lincoln could rise above the impression of being a backwoods frontiersman and could integrate into the socialized society of New York and Washington was the key to the increased perception of Lincoln as representative of the totality of America.

Woodrow Wilson correctly identified this synthesis of rural and urban American when he said, “In Henry Clay East and West were mixed without being fused or harmonized…. In Jackson there was not even a mixture; he was all of a piece and altogether unacceptable to some parts of the country, a frontier statesman. But, in Lincoln the elements were combined and harmonized. It is the conclusion of all observing students of history that Lincoln was literally ‘The First American.’ “

In fact, Lincoln struggled to become this American. In life, he was vilified for his backwoods ways. Yet, Lincoln studied and learned the ways of city social life well. He crafted a persona that blended backwoods stories to the situations he encountered in the cities. It was not always a seamless performance as he was portrayed as vulgar and base in his ways many times in his life. It was the cleansing martyrdom of that Good Friday of 1865 that washed away all the perceptions of impropriety and made Lincoln’s backwoods manners an accepted part of what makes an American.

These days Abraham Lincoln’s legacy and contributions are to American society remembered through various writings including biographical and similar Lincoln books, artwork including many Abraham Lincoln photographs, prints, posters. His 200th birthday was recently celebrated in 2009 and he remains an icon in history.

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