Feb. 12 marks the 205th anniversary of the birth of our 16th president. Yes, I could write a lot of dry, pompous stuff about the life and legacy of Abraham Lincoln; but whereas Lincoln had only 18 months of formal education, I was exposed to the warped perspective of history teacher Jerry Holt at Marshall County High School (Lewisburg, Tenn.) for three years, so what you’re going to get is The Lincoln You Never Knew.
Lincoln, of course, is famous for witticisms such as “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt,” “Most folks are about as happy as they want to be,” and “Dyn-o-mite!”
When Lincoln was managing a country store, on more than one occasion he inadvertently cheated a customer by a few cents and walked for miles to rectify the mistake. His presidential campaign (headed by Joe The Outhouse Mechanic) exploited this “Honest Abe” theme. It certainly beat the initial nickname: Goober the Math Wizard.
Lincoln was the first Republican president, the first president born outside the original 13 colonies and the first president to wear a beard in the White House. He grew his beard after Grace Bedell, an 11-year-old from Westfield, N. Y., wrote him a letter urging him to do so. That opened the floodgates. The easily-influenced Lincoln soon found his valuable time consumed by children’s letters urging him to stop his running refrigerator, let Prince Albert out of the can before he suffocated, etc.
Lincoln stood 6 feet and 4 inches tall, so he cut quite a figure at sporting events. More than once, he embarrassed wife Mary Todd Lincoln by waving his big foam finger and chanting, “We’re Number Fourscore and Seven, We’re Number Fourscore and Seven!”
Lincoln had the unenviable task of being president at one of the most trying times in U.S. history. It was more than just preparing war strategy or agonizing over “brother against brother.” There was the problem of knowing what to call the conflict. (”Okay, it’s the Civil War. I mean, The War Between The States. No, the War of Northern Aggression. Uh, the Thrilla In Manila...”)
Assassin John Wilkes Booth shouted “Sic semper tyrannis” after shooting Lincoln during a performance of “Our American Cousin” at Ford’s Theater. The phrase translates roughly as “This oughta impress my old Latin teacher, but I’ll probably flunk the ‘plays well with others’ part.”
The official history records no final words for Lincoln, but one observer swore that he gasped, “All in all, I’m still glad we didn’t go see ‘Cats’ instead.”
The Lincoln legacy lives on. Good will generated by Lincoln helped make Lincoln Logs toys a durable success, although the Rock’em Sock’em Rail Splitters spin-off nearly bankrupted the company.
And visitors to Washington, D.C., can stand in awe of the Lincoln Memorial, with the Great Emancipator sitting majestically on a throne-like seat. He looks like he could come to life and utter the words, “Those bureaucrats promised me a rocking chair at Cracker Barrel!”
*Sigh* You can amuse all the people part of the time, and part of the people all of the time, but you can’t stop your editor from cutting you off and going on to the sports section.