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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 162

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No regular grave will do for Halloween. Thus, this is the tomb of Abraham Lincoln.

There is no reason to go over Lincoln’s biography. Just a few general points and then everyone can go for it.

1) I really hate Mt. Rushmore. I hate it for a lot of reasons, but among them is how it attempts to deify our national leaders. I think that’s an enormous mistake because it makes them bigger than people when in fact all four of those presidents blasted into the side of a South Dakota mountain were deeply flawed individuals, as are we all. Lincoln was above anything else a man trying to do what was right, often failing in that but often succeeding too. He was a man deeply of his own time, with all the problems for modern people that leads too, including his racism, but also worked very hard to get past some of these issues. He was just a very complex individual and all the greater for that.

2) Lincoln’s greatest error was his sincere belief that most southern whites wanted to be part of the Union. They did not. He never gave up this belief, not to the day he died. Some of this came from being born in Kentucky and marrying into a Kentucky family that largely committed treason in defense of slavery. But his constant efforts to lure southern whites back into the Union only delayed what had to happen to win the war. Lincoln eventually got the latter part of that, but this continued to bother him and I often wonder how hard he would have come down on southern whites during Reconstruction.

3) Lincoln was a politician above all. And that’s easy to forget. I read the entirety of the Lincoln-Douglas debates once. Toward the end of them, Douglas routinely made the point that Lincoln was saying one thing to audiences about slavery in northern Illinois and another in southern Illinois. And he was right! Lincoln told audiences what they wanted to hear. To me, that’s just natural politician behavior. To a lot of people, at least in the present, they care about what’s in a politician’s heart. I couldn’t care less about this. I only care what they will do in office. In some ways, I actually like Lincoln more for being a bog-standard politician on a lot of politician things that people claim to hate.

4) Lincoln had a pretty tough hand dealt to him as president, not only because of the Civil War, which duh, but because of his generals. Although something like 40% of Southern officers did not commit treason in defense of slavery, those that did included the best. That Lincoln was left with George McClellan and then his incompetent chief officers after that egomanic was finally gotten rid of really put the Union in a tough situation. Much to Lincoln’s credit, he stuck with Grant, even when the latter was heavily criticized for his bloodbaths.

5) Lincoln getting assassinated may be the greatest tragedy to ever befall the United States. Again, we don’t know what would have happened in Reconstruction. Lincoln did not have the power to stop many of the problems of the Gilded Age, including the rampant corruption. But he sure as hell would have been better than Andrew Johnson. Would that have led to something different than a century of Jim Crow? Who can tell.

6) Lincoln is without question the greatest president that this nation has had, not only for all he did to win the Civil War, but in how he was able to step up as a leader in a way that neither the presidents before nor after him were even close to being able to do. To be such a giant in a time of weak presidents is more impressive than being a good president in an era of powerful presidents.

Unfortunately, the tomb was not open when I visited and I could not see the actual grave.

Abraham Lincoln is buried in Oak Ridge Cemetery, Springfield, Illinois.

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