It can be said, and justifiably so, that Abraham Lincoln is the chief executive that is closest to our hearts. His actions during his tenure as President of the United States have such a far reaching effect. Lincoln knew, in his own time, that passing a measure like the Thirteen Amendment would cement the future of this country for both blacks and whites.
Yet, we don’t know him, at least, not in the sense of seeing his human flaws. There is eye-witness testimony and photographs and written accounts but the physical act of viewing the very humanity, of how he spoke and how he walked is not available to us.
Abraham Lincoln’s tenure upon this earth ended just a few years before voices and images began to be captured by recording devices. His voice is lost to history and that, in effect, cements his legend because not knowing how he sounded or how he moved leaves us to interpret Lincoln any way we want. We idolize him because we cannot humanize his flaws with our senses.
We make of Lincoln, a monument, not just in marble but in our minds. He is flawless to us, we want him to be. Here is a man who pulled the country through a civil war and then tried to bring it to a close while freeing the slaves and pulling the south back into the union. This was done with an acute sense of timing. To miss one step would have meant prolonging the war, losing the union and placing black men and women in a state of bondage from which they would never emerge. In a sense, he was threading the needle of history.
These actions made his legacy, but lacking the technology of the time to record Lincoln’s voice created an American legend. The visual spectacle of Lincoln’s voice and movements are lost to history. We may never know how he spoke or how he got up from a chair, or his look of confusion or uncertainty. We know that he had them, but our minds tend to make him perfect. He is the American ideal, closer to our own origins than most regal and silver-spoon figures. He was born in a log cabin, self-educated, unbendingly honest, a deep thinker who was motivated by his faith in God and moral right. He was also as shrewd and crafty as any politician in American history. He had to be.
He was a man whose entire life was based on timing. As a lawyer and then as a politician, Lincoln understood that certain things must be achieved in a timely manner but that too much time drags things along into a place from which they can never be achieved. Too short and things could come apart. Even as a master orator, he had a sense of timing in which he could pull a speech together and delivering it before it had made its point or going on so long that it became tedious. Yet, the language and the substance of what he had to say stayed with you. In pulling the union together, ending the war and freeing the slaves, he used that sense of timing to cement the course of history to a place that would not pull the union apart. When he died, that sense of timing was so acute it the moment of his death cemented his place in history. The war ended, Lincoln was beloved, he was taken from this earth and his legacy was secured for all time.