So now Abraham Lincoln is a vampire killer or hunter, or whatever.
I know next to nothing about Seth Grahame-Smith’s bestselling novel, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, on which the movie of the same name that just came out is based.
I suspect it will be good theater – and from what I’m reading, in a sort of peculiar, comic, and fantastical way it does exalt the genuine heroic and eternally noble qualities of our 16th president; and angel, saint and martyr of our republic.
Still, though, I would hope that the kids of today understand that Abraham Lincoln’s life need no fictionalizing, no glorifying, no embellishment, to establish him as a leader and man of such momentous moral character – and who directed his life with such moral clarity – that it is only wholly appropriate that his visage is carved into the side of mountain and a giant marble monument dedicated to him is one of the most conspicuous edifices in our nation’s capital.
As I have written here before, there is evidence that Abraham Lincoln stopped on Bay Road in Easton – and this would have most certainly been prior to the presidency.
As well, we are sure that Abraham Lincoln held two Easton gentlemen, the Ames brothers, Oakes and Oliver Jr., in high regard. One night, late, Pres. Lincoln called Oakes Ames, a U.S. congressman, into his office to talk to him about the construction of the Union Pacific Railroad, which had been faltering.
Pres. Lincoln wanted Congressman Ames to take a leadership role in getting the railroad completed.
The president said to the congressman, “Take hold of this thing.”
Oakes (the father of Oliver Ames, the future Massachusetts governor and for whom is named), and his brother – the uncle of the future governor – took hold of the railroad, and they got it done.
Oakes Ames rode point on the effort – and that effort met with disapproval among some – but he saw it through what Pres. Lincoln had asked of him.
Abraham Lincoln – imperfect, flawed, often beset with crippling depression, and yet fully convinced of his mission on this earth – was exactly what this nation needed to remain whole.
Maybe it could have only been Lincoln to prevent the crumbling of America at that terrible time of peril.
And, here’s the thing – while we rightly consider Abraham Lincoln an angel, one who agonized over the day in and day out carnage on the battlefields, he also accepted that if war and carnage were necessary to preserve the union then the war and carnage must come.
Lincoln would, as the late Christopher Hitchens wrote, give Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman the go ahead to “incinerate Atlanta” if it could not be avoided to save the union.
(By the way, another Easton connection here. Remember the 1980 Olympic Games at Lake Placid, and the thrilling U.S. hockey team’s upset of the Soviet Union – a shocking victory that was backboned by Jim Craig, a kid from North Main Street in North Easton? Well, after the gold medal ceremony, Jim Craig was off to Atlanta to start in net for the Atlanta Flames of the NHL. It was all good; indeed, Jim appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated, with a photo of him in the locker room following his triumphant first game for the Flames. The headline on the cover of Sports Illustrated read, “The Golden Goalie Cashes In: Olympic Hero Jim Craig Wows ‘em in Atlanta.” What I didn’t know until a few years ago is that the Atlanta Flames were named for the burning of Atlanta during the Civil War. Not sure why you would want to name a team after a disaster – but that was the case with the Atlanta Flames.)
Abraham Lincoln – born poor, and into squalor, and into extreme deprivation, would be the transcendent figure who guide and escort this young country to the cusp of international prominence.
And, yes, Lincoln was a politician, and the Emancipation Proclamation was driven with a political imperative – to prevent Europe from recognizing the Confederacy as a separate nation – and also to impart to the Union a sacred cause, and a very public and sacred motive.
But let there be no mistake about it – Abraham Lincoln sought to abolish slavery.
Every I am honored to deliver the Gettysburg Address – usually at the Civil War monument at the nexus of Center Street and Depot Street – at our town’s Memorial Day ceremonies.
As I tell the assembled on this most solemn day every year, the Gettysburg Address is among the most beautiful and poetic statements ever delivered on American soil. (That’s nice, huh? The “most beautiful and poetic statements ever delivered on American soil?” I actually read that somewhere and coopted it for my speech.)
Christopher Hitchens wrote, “Before Gettysburg, people would say ‘the United States are …’ After Gettysburg, they began to say ‘the United States is …’ That they were able to employ the first three words at all was a tribute to the man who did more than anyone to make that hard transition himself, and then to secure it for others, and for posterity.”
Then again, so much of what Lincoln said and wrote was beautiful and poetic – and so much of what he did was magnificent and beyond reproach.
Yet, to get back to this language business, I dare say that Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address ranks with the Gettysburg Address in artistic and moral stature. Consider these concluding lines from the “Second Inaugural”:
With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.
The life of Abraham Lincoln is far more heroic and dramatic and inspiring than any production of Hollywood – no matter how profoundly, and artistically, his story is appropriated and leveraged.
We can never know enough about Abraham Lincoln.
I leave you here with one of my favorite tellings of the impact and importance of Abraham Lincoln on history.
The great Russian novelist, Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910), told how he had been traveling through the Caucasus, an area in Eurasia between the Black Sea and Caspian Sea that even today is about as remote a region as you can find on earth.
While in the Caucasus, he met up with a wild tribe, almost barbarian in nature. The tribe treated him well and warmly. Here Tolstoy relates a portion of this meeting – with particular reference to the chief of the clan:
I was received with the usual Oriental hospitality and after our meal was asked by my host to tell him something of my life. Yielding to his request I began to tell him of my profession, of the development of our industries and inventions and of the schools. He listened to everything with indifference, but when I began to tell about the great statesmen and the great generals of the world he seemed at once to become very much interested.
“Wait a moment,” he interrupted, after I had talked a few minutes. “I want all my neighbors and my sons to listen to you. I will call them immediately.”
He soon returned with a score of wild looking riders and asked me politely to continue. It was indeed a solemn moment when those sons of the wilderness sat around me on the floor and gazed at me as if hungering for knowledge. I spoke at first of our Czars and of their victories; then I spoke of the foreign rulers and of some of the greatest military leaders. My talk seemed to impress them deeply. The story of Napoleon was so interesting to them that I had to tell them every detail, as, for instance, how his hands looked, how tall he was, who made his guns and pistols and the color of his horse. It was very difficult to satisfy them and to meet their point of view, but I did my best. When I declared that I had finished my talk, my host, a gray-bearded, tall rider, rose, lifted his hand and said very gravely:
“But you have not told us a syllable about the greatest general and greatest ruler of the world. We want to know something about him. He was a hero. He spoke with a voice of thunder; he laughed like the sunrise and his deeds were strong as the rock and as sweet as the fragrance of roses. The angels appeared to his mother and predicted that the son whom she would conceive would become the greatest the stars had ever seen. He was so great that he even forgave the crimes of his greatest enemies and shook brotherly hands with those who had plotted against his life. His name was Lincoln and the country in which he lived is called America, which is so far away that if a youth should journey to reach it he would be an old man when he arrived. Tell us of that man.”
“Tell us of that man.”
It is all right if Hollywood does some of the telling.
But let us make sure that we listen and read and understand the true telling as well.