|Review||“In 1908, in a wild and remote area of the North Caucasus, Leo Tolstoy, the greatest writer of the age, was the guest of a tribal chief “living far away from civilized life in the mountains.” Gathering his family and neighbors, the chief asked Tolstoy to tell stories about the famous men of history. Tolstoy told how he entertained the eager crowd for hours with tales of Alexander, Caesar, Frederick the Great, and Napoleon. When he was winding to a close, the chief stood and said, “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….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.”
The above quote is taken from Doris Kearns Goodwin’s, “Team of Rivals:The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln.” In my opinion one of the greatest biographies on the Sixteen President of the United States. It is telling tale of how famous President Lincoln had become, but unlike the other men Tolstoy told the chief about, Lincoln’s “deeds were strong as the rock.”
Jon Meacham’s “And There Was Light: Abraham Lincoln and the American Struggle,” is more like a memoir, a diary, written by this flawed but greatest of all presidents. It is so personal, that it left me shaken and next to tears. The research that went into this book is a testimony to Mr. Meacham’s love and awe of this one of a kind president, leader, and commander. 260 pages of this book are simply reference and index notes.
Unlike any book I have read on Lincoln, this book explores the inner workings and beliefs of Lincoln. He possessed a moral compass that might sway occasionally, but in the end it always landed on the righteous and virtuous nature of the man… righteous and virtuous nature we wish in all our leaders and find in so, so few. That is not to say that Lincoln was not an acute politician and depending on the audience swayed from some of his profound beliefs. He understood politics as well as anyone.
He was a man profoundly influenced by the Bible and Christianity, and often quoted from the Bible when making speeches, yet one could not for a fact say that he believed in a God, yet it was passages from the Bible and the Declaration of Independence that formed the foundation of his humanity: That all men are created equal, and in the eyes of a all forgiven God that all men regardless of race, religion, and education deserved to be treated the same and should never to be shackled and involuntarily detained as property.
When greeting the famous, once enslaved, Frederick Douglass at the White House, Mr Douglass said, “That President Lincoln stood up and shook my hand as an equal.”
While reading this great biography, I seriously wondered if any presidents of the United States even came close to the moral convictions of President Lincoln, or was he simply one of a kind like Babe Ruth. The only presidents that I could think of that even came close to Mr. Lincoln, were Presidents Washington, Teddy Roosevelt, Jimmy Carter, and Joe Biden. Sadly, nearly 160 years after the death of President Lincoln, President Biden is facing a nation divided and like President Lincoln he believes that our country is strongest as a ‘united country’ not as a ‘divided one.’