Thursday, February 11, 2010

For Lincoln's Birthday

Tomorrow is the birthday of Abraham Lincoln. Self-educated, with "a passion to right wrong, a courage to translate that feeling into action, a resolution that carried him through any opposition, a belief and trust in God... A tragic intensity strangely coupled with a saving sense of humor marked all his days... he never lost... his human compassion..." (from a Dictionary of Names, published by Rodale in The Phrase Finder).

I thoroughly enjoyed a three-volume, shortened biography of him written by Carl Sandburg. Not sure if I'll ever read the original six-volume (!) set, but I love Sandburg, and he loved Lincoln, so who knows? David Herbert Donald's Lincoln was a best-seller, and is wonderful. Seriously. It blew me away.

But it, too, is rather long. So I want to recommend Lincoln: A Photobiography, by Russell Freedman.

Freedman's photobiography is a little over a hundred pages. The many pictures include a photo of a replica of the log cabin where he was born, and the interior of the general store he ran for a while, in New Salem, Illinois.

Lincoln worked as a farmhand, a postmaster, a surveyor, was elected to the Illinois House of Representatives, and became a lawyer. After losing a race for the U.S. Senate in 1858, he won the presidency in 1860. Before he had taken office, South Carolina seceded from the Union. April 12, 1860 rebel cannons fired on Fort Sumter, starting the war that cost the nation more than six hundred thousand lives.

Author Russell Freedman describes the fight to end slavery, the progress of the war, and the tragic assassination that followed. He does a very good job. If you read it, but want more, either of the two biographies I mentioned earlier are well worth your time.

My fifth grade teacher had a poster on the wall with a saying attributed to Abraham Lincoln: "It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak up and remove all doubt." I still like that advice.

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