Sunday, October 16, 2011

Honest Abe, Rail-Splittin' and Constitution Splittin'
(but not nation-splittin')

now finished: Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years and The War Years by Carl Sandburg
next up: The Beach by Alex Garland

So, Abraham Lincoln: a benchmark, it would seem, in my prez bios project. I mean, Abraham Lincoln is a president that other people read bios of, even people who aren't doing a wonderfully dorky read-a-bio-of-every-president-in-order-to-see-where-we-went-wrong project. That means I had a lot of choices, for the first time since Thomas Jefferson, but we settled on the Carl Sandburg.

Have I mentioned that it was originally published in six volumes?  This is one big bio. You can find just The Prairie Years or just The War Years, but I opted for the all-in-one combined volume that Sandburg himself abridged from the six volumes. It was very in depth, and I definitely feel that I spent a great deal of time with Lincoln and learned more about the Civil War than I ever came close to doing in my history classes over the years. I mean, there just isn't time to focus that deeply (unless you're a history major) as Sandburg did in researching and really becoming one with Lincoln's life.

The book has a strange style: it's a little folksy, like Lincoln himself, in relating the anecdotes of Lincoln's way with people, always able to smooth a ruffled feather or talk to anyone or get done what he wanted done without ever strong-arming people or even sometimes letting them realize they were being persuaded to give Abe his way.

Of course, nowadays it's all the rage to reconsider Lincoln's greatness by comparing him to the evil, monstrous, tragic-joke-of-a-president Dubya, because both kind of tossed habeas corpus to the wind during their wars. It's an interesting comparison (I first studied it intensively in my Foreign Affairs and the Constitution class in law school, so it's no surprise to me) but I'm not sure it's exactly spot on.

At any rate, though, the Civil War sure was a bloody mess.

I really, really hate how inevitable so many people thought it was. There should have been some kind of human decency that rose above the sectional slavery struggle. Look, I understand the need to adhere to the Constitution. And I understand that Fillmore, Pierce, and Buchanan, aka presidents numbers 13, 14, and 15, basically did not solve the slavery issue because they disliked it but understood legally that they "couldn't" do anything about it under the Constitution.  And it was true, in its way, that the Constitution protected slavery in the South. But then, simply, the Constitution was flawed. OK? It was flawed. It needed to not protect slavery, just as countries and governments and constitutions and leaders today should not protect slavery (including human trafficking!) or oppression. And the idea that Lincoln (and Grant) knew they needed to open up wholesale slaughter of the Confederate soldiers (also, of course, leading to slaughter of hundreds of thousands of Union soldiers) in order to stop this evil from happening is just so tragic, of them.

WHEN will there ever be a generation that stands up and says war is murder, and war is wrong, and we are going to solve our problems in a different way?  WHEN will we have a leader do that?

It certainly isn't our Nobel Peace Prize winner, Obama.  And my god it was not that lunatic clown murderer from Texas before him.

I agree with the man who so eloquently stated in the documentary The Good Soldier that the generation that finds a way to solve problems peacefully will actually be the "greatest generation."

And then, at the end of the horrible war, after so many have suffered so much, the night of Lincoln's death makes for one of the most gripping episodes I have yet read in any president biography.Well done, Carl Sandburg.

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