The time I spent working at Ford’s Theatre and President Lincoln’s Cottage exposed me to research that left me with one common-sense conclusion: there were many different Abraham Lincolns. Just like we are one person with old friends from college and another person with our students, people are complex. One of my favorite catch phrases in my classroom is how our goal is to bring these people and events to life and make them “jump off the page and not lay flat like our paper.” I do not want anyone to think “Lincoln was such a giant and so iconic, that he must be different than all of us.” On the contrary, Lincoln was very much like us: multi-faceted. Here lies the question: Which Lincoln is your Lincoln? As we set to enter the year 2015 and begin planning commemorative activities for President Lincoln’s assassination I wonder, what do you remember most about his legacy as a person?
Could it be Lincoln the Great Emancipator or Lincoln the Lawyer? Better yet, what about Lincoln the Commander in Chief? Two of my personal favorites: Lincoln the Family Man and Lincoln the Theatre Lover. The list is as endless as the depth of research on the 16th President. My Lincoln is the Humble Riser. A young man who wanted a life different from his father and far away from where he grew up. The story of his rise intrigued and inspired people not just in America, but around the world. One of Lincoln’s visitors at the Cottage in Washington D.C. included an Englishman named George Borrett. Borrett and his party crashed the Lincoln’s peaceful country home in the tiring months leading the the 1864 election. Borrett commented he felt “‘it was a treat’” to hear Lincoln the Storyteller recount his childhood. Lincoln spoke of his pre-political life “‘with a certain quiet pride in his rise from the bottom of the ladder.’” Lincoln has become the poster boy for what triumphs await those who work hard in America. The fact that Lincoln continued his conversation with Borrett pointing out the marked difference between British and American government and law proves Lincoln knew his story was all-American.
The concept of multiple sides of Lincoln helped inspire a fantastic online project at Ford’s Theatre. Using Lincoln’s words, visitors to the website can create their own video housed on their website. Ford’s Theatre has created a platform to create a lasting archive of the public’s perception of Lincoln and the impact of his legacy. Stop by Ford’s Theatre’s website to create your video. I guess the only thing left is to decide...which Lincoln is your Lincoln?
Sources and Further Reading:
Pinsker, Matthew. Lincoln’s Sanctuary: Abraham Lincoln and the Soldier’s Home. (New York: Oxford UP, 2003).