Remembering Lincoln’s legacy

Thursday, April 11, 2019

This and That

On April 15, 1865, President Abraham Lincoln was killed by an assassin’s bullet and our history, at the end of the Civil War, was re-written for generations to come. What would the United States have been like if Lincoln had served out his second term in office? Like the man’s words, would we have been a kinder, gentler race answering to “the angels of our better nature”?

If you have read anything about the Civil War other then the survey that is given in most high school U.S. history classes, you will know it was a terrible and bloody war. Many nations go through civil war at various times in their history: the Russian Revolution in the early 1900s, the English Civil War, the bloody war in Cambodia when the communists slaughtered millions of people, tribal wars in African nations. Depending on your definition of civil war, it is a battle between two factions within a nation, often to protect a certain way of life one side feels is threatened.

Ken Burns has done a marvelous television retelling of the Civil War in the words of the people of the time. You can view the Civil War from the side of of the black slaves, or the side of the South fighting to maintain their economy of tobacco and cotton by spreading West into the new lands and taking their slaves with them, or the side of the North with their industrial might smashing a rural society with more money and more people.

But which ever way you read the histories, brooding over it all is Abraham Lincoln. Recently reading through a TIME magazine special issue from July 4, 2005, Lincoln was highlighted with a new look at some of the aspects of his life that have been missed. His struggles with depression and despair were deep, but each time he was attacked by these conditions he managed to overcome them. Doris Kearns Goodwin is the author of A TEAM OF RIVALS. She writes about the cabinet Lincoln assembled in those early days that was peopled by his rivals in politics. He wanted the best people to serve the country and was not so wrapped up in ego or threatened that he could not see the men of ability around him. In TIME magazine, Goodwin writes how Lincoln was able to deal with these men and help them all work together for the common good. She describes Lincoln’s empathy — his gift of putting himself in the place of others; his remarkable sense of humor and a gift for storytelling that allowed him to defuse tensions and relax his colleagues at difficult moments; magnanimity — Lincoln refused to bear grudges or pay people back for previous hurts. He argued that “no man resolved to make the most of himself has time to waste on personal contention.” Generosity of Spirit and the ability to admit when he was in error were more of his gifts and perspective, that is seeing the bigger picture. Goodwin continues speaking about Lincoln’s self-control, sense of balance and social conscience.

The magazine also detailed Lincoln’s friendship with the great Negro emancipator Frederick Douglass, their many similarities and how they were able to work together, respect each other and make great things happen in this country. When Douglass spoke about Lincoln he said, “In his company I was never. . .reminded of my humble origin, or of my unpopular color.” Lincoln said of Douglass, “He is one of the most meritorious men…in the United States.”

There is also an article on Lincoln’s wife, first lady Mary Todd and the long, unhappy life she lived in Washington and after the death of her husband. It seemed Mary could never do the right thing to find some status in the country. Having grown up in Kentucky, a border state of the South, her loyalty was always questioned. Re-decorating the White House or buying gowns that seemed too extravagant, things other First Ladies have been criticized for, she was always doing the wrong thing at the wrong time. But Lincoln was compassionate and understanding as they shared the grief at the death of two of their three sons.

There are volumes written about Lincoln and his presidency. To Lincoln it seems was given the task of holding the Union together at a time when our nation could have been destroyed and ended up two separate nations in a divided continent or perhaps a loosely held together confederacy. But Lincoln’s words that this nation would not perish from the earth held true. We were blessed to have a man like him stand for all that is right in our people. We are still fighting the Civil War in some ways. That is what Civil Wars do to a nation, but the healing words of Lincoln still ring true if we will but listen to them.

Avis R. Anderson is a retired member of the Glendive community. Her online blog can be found at

We are still fighting the Civil War in some ways. That is what Civil Wars do to a nation, but the healing words of Lincoln still ring true if we will but listen to them.