Happy 200th Abe

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader should take a moment to recognize the 200th anniversary of the birth of our 16th President Abraham Lincoln. If you haven’t heard that today is Lincoln’s 200th birthday you are ignorant or living under a rock somewhere.

Your Maximum Leader has at various times, for fun and mental exercise, rated the “greatest” presidents of our great republic. His first four don’t ever change. They are (in decending order) George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin D. Roosevelt and James Knox Polk. Beyond those four your Maximum Leader changes his mind.

For a great many thoughtful (and some not so thoughtful) people, Lincoln is number 1 on that list. Your Maximum Leader can see why one would rank Lincoln above Washington. Your Maximum Leader doesn’t agree with that assessment, but if that is your opinion it is a sound and thoughtful one.

Washington in the popular American mind is a legendary figure. More man-myth than real man. It takes effort in our times to better understand George Washington. But Lincoln is an accessible figure to so many. Your Maximum Leader believes that this actually starts with Lincoln’s photographs. We can see that face and connect with the man. Also, the problems of Lincoln’s time, in many ways are still the problems of our times. Race continues to be a central issue in American life. Lincoln’s role in defining that issue is still relevant daily. (Whereas Washington’s influence on American political life is not as easily seen day-to-day. Although it is there in everything surrounding the Office of the President.)

Last night your Maximum Leader watched about half of Henry Louis Gates Jr’s, “Looking for Lincoln” on PBS. He watched half because he didn’t know it was on and just stumbled upon it while surfing. If it comes on again your Maximum Leader will try to tivo it and watch the whole thing. It was good. Gates did a good job of describing his own inner conflict about Lincoln. On the one hand you have the Lincoln that was taught to Gates by is slave-decended relatives. This Lincoln was the Great Emancipator. The free-er of the negro. The new father of all Americans. Then you have the actual historical Lincoln that Gates grew to know through his study of history. This Lincoln was defined by political motives, expediency at times, and doubts about what he was doing. Watching Gates try to reconcile the two Lincolns was good (and informative) television.

Your Maximum Leader likes to think that he tries to these great men of history in their own time. He tries not to force his own knowledge of history and present values on men of different times. It is hard to do with figures like Lincoln and Washington. But certainly in the case of Lincoln, if you view him in his own time and try to put his actions in context and try to imagine a veil of uncertainty on how his actions would turn out you get a compelling narrative of a man to whom we all (as Americans) owe a great deal. You also get a moving story about human suffering and the trancendence of that suffering to create a greater good.

If you are in Illinois you might stop by the Lincoln Library. Or, if you are in the DC area (as is your Maximum Leader) you might want to stop in and see the Lincoln artifacts (including the Emancipation Proclamation) at the American History Museum of the Smithsonian. Or you might go by the refurbished and reopened Ford’s Theatre. Or go to the Peterson House across from Ford’s Theatre. The Peterson House is the house where Lincoln died. Your Maximum Leader remembers visiting the Peterson House many years ago (mid 70s perhaps) and looking at the bed where Lincoln died, which at the time had the blood-stained pillow resting on it (in a plexiglass box), and being a little overwhelmed.

Your Maximum Leader admires Abraham Lincoln very much. He thanks God (and Providence as the Founders might have said) for Abraham Lincoln.

Carry on.

Fear and Loathing in Georgetown said:

The FLGs were very disappointed with the newly refurbished American History museum. It’s only like a third re-opened.

Only a 1/3rd reopened! Damn. To read about it you’d think the whole thing was done. I’m saddened by this. Perhaps I’ll have to hold off a visit for a few more months.

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