Lincoln Before the Legend

Mike Cosper | November 21, 2014

In most cases, historical icons do not develop before our eyes; the simply appear, fully formed, carrying their mythology with them. We do not meet George Washington as a struggling general; we meet him as America’s first President, as a war hero, as a man who could not, from boyhood, tell a lie, and who might have been king had he not chosen a different path for the greater good of the nation.

Like Washington, Lincoln appears as an icon. He’s enshrined in one of our capital's great monuments, appears on two forms of our currency, and occupies a central space in our national sense of identity: Honest Abe, who freed the slaves and held together a fraying Union, all while speaking in a steady stream of folk wisdom.

Many films have attempted to give us a picture of Abe Lincoln, most recently, Steven Spielberg’s epic Lincoln, starring Daniel Day-Lewis as Lincoln and Sally Field as Mary Todd Lincoln. Lincoln, in Spielberg’s hands, was as most of us have come to know him, navigating wisely between the nation’s tensions, the interests of abolitionists and industrialists, and the pressures and needs of his family. We saw Lincoln making hard decisions…

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