DL Fowler's Blog

Why Write Another Book About Lincoln?

I’m often asked that question. With more than 20,000 books written about him, I suppose the question shouldn’t surprise anyone. But my answer might shock you.

My biographical novel Lincoln Raw    was written backwards. Most previous writers have started by looking at what Lincoln accomplished, and they let those achievements define who he was. I began by discovering who he was, then I wrote about that person doing what he did. From my vantage, Lincoln’s life takes on new meaning, and his example is more helpful to us.

For instance, Abraham Lincoln was chronically depressed and likely manifested symptoms of post-traumatic stress. He was a highly sensitive person and he wrote poetry. Below is one of his few surviving poems. It was written when he was in his middle twenties, published on the third anniversary of the death of a young woman whom he was very fond of. Her name was Ann Rutledge. They enjoyed a close relationship, the details of which are hotly debated by historians and Lincoln aficionados. The exact nature of their relationship is about as important as the question, how many angels can dance on the head of a pin? The poem tells us what we need to know.

Suicide Soliloquy

Here, where the lonely hooting owl
Sends forth his midnight moans,
Fierce wolves shall o’er my carcase growl,
Or buzzards pick my bones.

No fellow-man shall learn my fate,
Or where my ashes lie;
Unless by beasts drawn round their bait,
Or by the ravens’ cry.

Yes! I’ve resolved the deed to do,
And this the place to do it:
This heart I’ll rush a dagger through,
Though I in hell should rue it!

Hell! What is hell to one like me
Who pleasures never know;
By friends consigned to misery,
By hope deserted too?

To ease me of this power to think,
That through my bosom raves,
I’ll headlong leap from hell’s high brink,
And wallow in its waves.

Though devils yell, and burning chains
May waken long regret;
Their frightful screams, and piercing pains,
Will help me to forget.

Yes! I’m prepared, through endless night,
To take that fiery berth!
Think not with tales of hell to fright
Me, who am damn’d on earth!

Sweet steel! come forth from your sheath,
And glist’ning, speak your powers;
Rip up the organs of my breath,
And draw my blood in showers!

I strike! It quivers in that heart
Which drives me to this end;
I draw and kiss the bloody dart,
My last—my only friend!

After reading the poem, do you see the same Abraham Lincoln who sits on a marble throne in the Lincoln Memorial? I didn’t think so.

The Ann Rutledge question isn’t the only one Lincoln historians like to debate. The list also includes:

  • Did Lincoln fight the Civil War to preserve the Union or to end slavery (as if he fired the first shot)?
  • Wasn’t Lincoln a racist (after all he tried to ship the former slaves to offshore colonies)?
  • Was Lincoln a psychopath who was indifferent to the atrocities of war (he did approve General Sherman’s battle plans)?
  • Was Lincoln gay (he slept in the same bed with other men)?
  • Wasn’t Lincoln a Christian (he quoted the Bible, even though he didn’t believe in forgiveness, except that he eventually learned it was possible to forgive)?

I’m sure I left out dozens of questions that frequently get asked.

The answer to these questions is — it’s complicated.

Lincoln had a big problem holding onto relationships (as for the Union, seven states had already seceded — abandoned him — before he was inaugurated).  Most everyone he loved or wanted to love died when he was young (his mother, two siblings, Ann, several close friends and mentors), or their love was at best elusive (for example, his wife and father). His best friend abandoned him to take over the family’s hemp plantation with its 60 slaves (years earlier Lincoln had already laid out his staunch opposition to slavery).

Lincoln hated war, and the longer it lasted the more desperate he became to end it — as long as he didn’t have to sacrifice his core value: justice.

Lincoln was obsessed with justice (see the note above about forgiveness). Slavery was no different to him than cheating a freeman out of hard earned wages. Slavery cheated both the slave and the freeman. The collusion of northern bankers/merchants and southern planters cheated ordinary people out of their just due. In his often forgotten speech as a U.S. Congressman, Lincoln declared that labor is superior to capital and should be rewarded first. Banks were supposed to help ordinary guys get ahead in life, employers were supposed to pay fair wages.

I could go on forever  along this line, and apparently I have done that. Lincoln Raw covers Lincoln’s first 50 years in more than 400 pages. A sequel is underway covering his last 4 years, and it will be at least another 400. Let’s just leave it with this thought: we can’t know  someone by only looking at what’s on the outside — we’re all more complicated than we appear.

By the way, something I didn’t write about was all times Lincoln lost elections. That’s because he only lost two popular elections in his entire life, and one of those was the 1860 election when he was elected President of the United States.

I’d love to  hear your thoughts. Please leave a comment below.

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