Today is Valentine’s Day. Two days ago was Lincoln’s Birthday. Two holidays close on the calendar that seemingly couldn’t be more different.
On Valentine’s Day, we pause to show our love to our dearest life-partners, be they spouses or significant others or boyfriends and girlfriends. There’ll typically be an exchange of gifts, perhaps an intimate dinner spiced with snuggles and nuzzles and, at the end of the evening, with any luck, the dirtiest, most degrading sex acts you can imagine.
On Lincoln’s Birthday Saturday, we honored perhaps our greatest president by running some chores and perhaps watching a basketball game. These have become the customary methods of observance, since a large majority of Americans probably didn’t even notice the occasion. “But I watched the Ohio State-Wisconsin game because basketball players are tall, as was Lincoln,” you might protest. You’d be lying, something Honest Abe wouldn’t stand for.
For me, there’s always been a strong connection between these two dates. I’m surely not alone among those Americans who’ve heard of him to count Lincoln as my favorite president. He overcame humble beginnings, marriage to a woman described in contemporary accounts as “bonkers,” and the death of four of his five children, and biographers count these among the good times. He presided over dissolution of the Union and a subsequent Civil War that killed over half a million of his countrymen. When victory was finally achieved and he got the rare opportunity to go out on the town — wouldn’t you know it — he was assassinated.
Yet every portrait, every statue you see of the man, he’s got a big grin on his face. Well, maybe not a grin as such, but as close to it as they came in those days of carnage-inspired stoicism. His eyes speak volumes about his vision of a nation reunited. His jaw is set in determination to do what must be done. His beard and eyebrows — true, they could stand a trim, but this was in the days before introduction of the Braun Series 7 shaver, with its 10,000 micro-vibrations for a quantum leap in thoroughness.
A gawky fashion victim rocking a stovepipe hat and a schnoz described in the kindest terms as ginormous, Lincoln wasn’t a handsome man. But he had an air about him, and it wasn’t because he rarely showered. There’s just something about our 16th president that reaches out to me from a century and a half in the past. Today, on Valentine’s Day, I think I’ve finally figured what it is.
I love Abraham Lincoln.
Let me be clear right up front that this man-love is in no way sexual. I don’t swing that way and I’m sure the Great Emancipator didn’t either. My feelings also aren’t to be mistaken for simple respect or admiration. I do think highly of his many fine qualities, and believe he’s almost single-handedly responsible for me not living in a Confederate Empire headed up by King Haley Barbour.
But I know it’s love because it comes from the heart. It’s an emotion, it’s not based on reason or judgment. It flows freely toward the man simply because of who he is, not what he does. The actions he took during his lifetime were just outward manifestations of an inner goodness you rarely find in commanders-in-chief anymore.
How can anybody resist the man after even the briefest study of his life?
It was absolutely precious how he worked a farm in Kentucky for his poor father throughout his childhood, even following the clan to Indiana and later Illinois. He didn’t leave home until he was 22 years old, because his family needed his strong rail-splitting back to work the fields. How darling is that?
When the dear man did leave home, he worked at a general store while trying to catch up on his education by attending school for a year. Despite what had to be merciless teasing from children half his age, he persevered and managed to learn how to read, write and do simple math. He failed in a business he started yet still stayed in town and worked off his debts. So cute!
He became a lawyer, though he can be forgiven that as a youthful indiscretion. His political career began in the Illinois General Assembly, the most beloved state legislature west of the original colonies, where he protested passage of a pro-slavery resolution and, in his spare time, represented a freed slave who was recaptured by her former owner. He won the case of Bailey v. Cromwell in a style that even the judge admitted was “absolutely adorable.”
He joined the Whig Party (the Whig Party! OMG!) in 1846 and was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. Eight years later he joined the newly formed Republican Party, the bad boy. Actually these Republicans were progressives opposed to slavery so the move was a lot more endearing than it would be in today’s political climate. He tried to run for the Senate in 1858 and, despite a series of famous encounters that became known as the Lincoln-Douglas debates in which his sweet demeanor wasn’t enough to head off his bullying opponent, he lost that election. Poor baby.
At the Republican convention of 1860, there were several older and more experienced candidates in the running for the presidential nomination, but all had enemies within the party. Delegates didn’t find him as pretty or as cool as the other candidates, but they were impressed by his perky, can-do personality and went on to nominate him. Only a few months later, he was elected 16th president.
Rebellious elements in the South became insanely jealous that the Northern states could find such an appealing leader, so they seceded from the Union and fired the first shots of the Civil War. Your heart would’ve broken to see Lincoln’s face when he heard the news but he decided to make the best of a bad situation and take the reins of war. Despite his lack of military experience, he was much involved in war strategy. Old-timers in Washington still tell stories they heard from their grandmothers about how cute he was, carrying his lunchbox and an armload of homework on his daily walk from the White House to the offices of the War Department.
Over the next four years, he not only won the war, but he issued the Emancipation Proclamation freeing the slaves (complete with the most darling collection of stars drawn in the margins and all three “i’s” in “Emancipation Proclamation” dotted with little hearts) and delivered the Gettysburg Address, perhaps the greatest speech ever given by a U.S. President. His cabinet stood by, bursting with as much pride as if he’d just won the regional spelling bee.
With the war’s end in sight following Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, the cherished Mr. Lincoln looked forward to happier times that didn’t involve so much bloodshed. He had about ten good days between the war’s end and his fateful appointment with John Wilkes Booth. The dashing actor was obviously jealous of Lincoln’s by-now rugged good looks, and shot him at close range shouting “sic semper tyrannis” which, loosely translated, means “I hate you because you’re beautiful.”
The poor baby clutched to life throughout the night but just couldn’t hang on. He died before he could see his dream of a reunited nation fully realized.
How could anybody not love a guy like this? His charming repeal of habeas corpus during the height of the war, his delightful firing of a series of inferior generals, and his beloved backing of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution permanently banning slavery, all served to create the cherished legend of Lincoln.
So on this Valentine’s Day, I’m proud to tell the world: I ♥ Abe!