The puzzle that is Abraham Lincoln

The longer I live the more fascinated I am by the complexity of human beings. There are so many facets to any person that mere single word descriptions fall far short in  adequately characterizing anyone. Abraham Lincoln was no exception. I recently asked a twenty-something female hair-stylist (who was cutting my hair) what she knew about Lincoln. She simply replied: “He was honest.” In thinking about her answer later on, I understood why she said what she said, but felt the reply was not sufficient at all in describing Lincoln. Yes, I realize Lincoln is known as “honest Abe.” As I have mentioned in other blog postings on this site, Lincoln was many things. And, as I have also stated previously, Lincoln can be hard to get to know. The classic book by Richard N. Current, The Lincoln Nobody Knows- has a chapter entitled: The Most Shut-Mouthed Man. Current writes about the “contradictory propositions” that have been put forth about Abraham Lincoln. The quote from the book below beautifully captures them:

“He loved only one woman in his life, who was not his wife. He was devoted to his wife. His wife was an angel. His wife was a shrew. He was a born politician. He was completely unable to wield political power in important matters. His deepest convictions were based on a strong foundation of religious belief. He was an agnostic.

When war threatened in 1861, Lincoln did his best to keep the peace. At the same time, he cynically manipulated events in order to precipitate war. He knew nothing about warfare and bungled every time he interfered in military matters. He was a military genius-the master strategist of the Civil War. He was too merciful and tender-hearted to pursue policies as thoroughly as the times demanded. He was a hard, shrewd man whose surface affability and benevolence concealed a hard core of ruthlessness.

His Emancipation Proclamation freed the slaves. It was a piece of calculated propaganda which achieved nothing tangible. At the time of his death he was planning an easy peace for the defeated Confederacy. He was giving way to radical Republican demands that the South be punished for seceding. If he had lived to finish his term of office, he would be remembered with even more admiration than he is now-as a great peacemaker as well as a great war leader. He would have been abandoned by his followers in the embittered aftermath of war, and his reputation would have been ruined by compromises, once the idealistic spirit of the war effort had worn off.”


Author Current cautions against rashness in trying to resolve the contradictions. He offers the same concerning any “last word” that might be the fruit of his book. He does indicate that truth and understanding may be found (that’s encouraging!). It goes back to my statement about human complexity-it’s something to keep in mind when studying Lincoln. I mean here was a President, for instance, who in replying to Horace Greely’s plea to free the slaves immediately- gave an answer that betrayed outwardly the action that he had undertaken “behind the scenes”-preparing an Emancipation Proclamation. Lincoln did a lot of similar things! He is a puzzle. But, perhaps, we all are.

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One Response to “The puzzle that is Abraham Lincoln”

  1. keeli and ali says:

    i love abe and so does ali

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