Abraham Lincoln has transcended reality to mythological status.
Historically, can you imagine the absence of Lincoln at the time he lived? Where would we be as a nation if he had not been the person in the presidency to steer the Union through Civil War, to write the Emancipation Proclamation and to push for the passage of the 13th Amendment?
The latter accomplishment was the theme of “Lincoln,” Steven Spielberg's film about the last four months of Lincoln's life in 1865.
The best thing about the movie is that actor Daniel Day-Lewis, as one writer put it, “inhabits the role so well that we stop seeing the celebrity and, for the first time, we see our 16th president, living and breathing on the screen right in front of us.”
In one scene, Lincoln is dictating a telegram to his secretaries and pauses to ask, “Are we fitted to the times we're born into?”
“You, maybe,” one of them answered.
You, definitely, would be my answer.
There are critics even today who think “Honest Abe” was anything but the icon he has become in American lore. They see him as an American sacred cow propped up by fables. But his place in time helped form his legend. And his assassination and its timing cemented his position as historical superhero.
“It is often argued that Lincoln's abiding reputation is the result of his martyrdom,” wrote Philip B. Kunhardt III in Smithsonian magazine. “And certainly the assassination, occurring as it did on Good Friday, propelled him into reverential heights.”
Kunhardt wrote, “Lincoln will always remain the president who helped destroy slavery and preserved the Union. With stubbornness, caution and an exquisite sense of timing, he engaged almost physically with unfolding history. … Just for his work on behalf of the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery in the United States, he has earned a permanent place in the history of human freedom.”
The “Lincoln” film included a dream scene early on, a dramatization of one of his recurring dreams of being on a boat that is heading into the mist. When he tells his wife, Mary, about the dream, she responds after a pause that it's not just about coming events in the war, as Lincoln interpreted it. Rather, she concludes, it's about his determination to push Congress to pass the 13th Amendment, his final and most lasting achievement.
In the opening scene of the movie, Lincoln chats with a pair of black Union soldiers, one of whom boldly proclaims the inequities incumbent upon those of his race in uniform: “Maybe in a few years they (white people) can abide the idea of Negro lieutenants and captains,” he says. “Fifty years, maybe a Negro colonel. In a hundred years, the vote.”
And in 144 years the inauguration of our first black president.