We have made Lincoln into the hero that he is with the help of his words and a bullet from John Wilkes Booth. At the time, Lincoln was just like Obama: an Illinois politicians shoved into one hell of a mess."Wilson's remark can be found in one of the most delightful books commemorating Lincoln this season, the Library of America's Lincoln Anthology: Great Writers on His Life and Legacy From 1860 to Now. Intelligently and enthusiastically edited by Lincoln scholar Harold Holzer, who not coincidentally serves as co-chair of the United States Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission, the anthology contains a smart historical introduction followed by informed headnotes to the 900 subsequent pages of Lincolniana, all arranged chronologically: reminiscences of and responses to the sixteenth president by novelists, biographers, poets, playwrights and politicians who range from William Cullen Bryant to Langston Hughes, from Henrik Ibsen to W.E.B. Du Bois, from Julia Ward Howe to Gore Vidal, and from Ralph Waldo Emerson to Barack Obama, who ends the volume."
As Mark Twain would say of Huck Finn, Lincoln was a man of sound heart and deformed conscience, if, that is, we take "conscience" to mean the political will of the nation, which Lincoln defined as "a universal feeling, whether well or ill-founded, [that] can not be safely disregarded." Universal sentiment in antebellum America did not list toward abolition, as even the Emancipation Proclamation makes clear, and Lincoln's conscience, as Frederick Douglass declared, was, from that standpoint, lily-livered: "Viewed from the genuine abolition ground, Mr. Lincoln seemed tardy, cold, dull, and indifferent."
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