Lincoln - Civil War President

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Abraham Lincoln: Civil War President

“I am naturally anti-slavery. If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong.” Abraham Lincoln

What seems to be very superficial about the nature and character of Abraham Lincoln proves to be quite profound after an extensive investigation of his life. Mystifying his contemporaries and modern historians alike, the numerous volumes of scholarly research over the past 150 years is evidence of the challenges incidental to unraveling the complexities of the man many refer to as the “great emancipator.” Richard Carwadine’s Lincoln: A Life of Purpose and Power and William Gienapp’s Abraham Lincoln and Civil War America present excellent biographical research that contrast and compliment their subject and describe the extenuating circumstances that only adds to Lincoln’s complexity. Carwadine’s research “covers familiar ground but sets itself apart by focusing closely on questions about Lincoln’s political ambition and agenda and his exercise of power.” [1] The American public is quick to judge their presidents while assessing their achievements critically and without reserve. Carwadine argues that Lincoln’s “great achievement was to set ambitious but realizable political goals; to fathom the thinking of ordinary citizens and to reach out to them with uncommon assurance; and to hone his impressive skills as a manager of the often unstable and fractious elements that made up the political parties to which he belonged.” [2] Gienapp’s “primary ambition is to show how the green, upstart president handled the four years of crisis…and how he became such an extraordinary war leader.” [3] The transformation from his humble origins as a rail-splitter to masterful politician and leader of the nation appears to simply defy explanation. However, Lincoln remains and enigma for many people. He is confusing, difficult to understand, and by many accounts, appears to be incapable of executing the simplest of tasks. Yet, this is the wonder of Lincoln’s character and what makes him appealing to so many. “His ambition—and particularly his hunger for public recognition—had been evident from his young manhood in the early 1830s.” [4] Obviously, in order to develop a greater understanding of who Abraham Lincoln was, one must take a brief look into his childhood. Modern psychologists might suggest that Lincoln’s family was very dysfunctional. His father’s constant relocation of the family and never seeming to be satisfied to become more than a simple farmer, only contributed to the strained relationship between Lincoln and his father. Most prominent people throughout history have often cited a parent, sibling, or other close relative or friend as having been a great influence on their life. Not so for Lincoln who upon losing his mother to milk sickness, went on to form a constructive and enduring bond with his stepmother. A remarkable woman, Sarah Bush Lincoln exerted an enormous influence on Abraham…who he called “Mama.” He later said that “she had been his best Friend in this world and that no Son could love a Mother more than he loved her.” [5]

The same cannot be said of Lincoln’s relationship with his father, which at best was superficial and distant. When Lincoln received word of his father’s failing health and was requested to return home at once, Lincoln declined to come to his father’s side. When his father passed on, Lincoln did not attend the funeral. It was a testament to his feelings toward his father. And, if Lincoln had ever harbored any ill will or inner hatred about his father, he never let it be known. Lincoln seldom discussed his relationship with his father, let alone his family, and his reticence was quite characteristic of the man who would someday maintain the same trait as president. I would argue that their troubled relationship was the primary reason that “throughout his life, Abraham Lincoln keenly regretted the lack of educational...
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