Home
In this issue
April 9, 2014

Jonathan Tobin: Why Did Kerry Lie About Israeli Blame?

Samuel G. Freedman: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Jessica Ivins: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Kim Giles: Asking for help is not weakness

Kathy Kristof and Barbara Hoch Marcus: 7 Great Growth Israeli Stocks

Matthew Mientka: How Beans, Peas, And Chickpeas Cleanse Bad Cholesterol and Lowers Risk of Heart Disease

Sabrina Bachai: 5 At-Home Treatments For Headaches

The Kosher Gourmet by Daniel Neman Have yourself a matzo ball: The secrets bubby never told you and recipes she could have never imagined

April 8, 2014

Lori Nawyn: At Your Wit's End and Back: Finding Peace

Susan B. Garland and Rachel L. Sheedy: Strategies Married Couples Can Use to Boost Benefits

David Muhlbaum: Smart Tax Deductions Non-Itemizers Can Claim

Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.E : Before You Lose Your Mental Edge

Dana Dovey: Coffee Drinkers Rejoice! Your Cup Of Joe Can Prevent Death From Liver Disease

Chris Weller: Electric 'Thinking Cap' Puts Your Brain Power Into High Gear

The Kosher Gourmet by Marlene Parrish A gift of hazelnuts keeps giving --- for a variety of nutty recipes: Entree, side, soup, dessert

April 4, 2014

Rabbi David Gutterman: The Word for Nothing Means Everything

Charles Krauthammer: Kerry's folly, Chapter 3

Amy Peterson: A life of love: How to build lasting relationships with your children

John Ericson: Older Women: Save Your Heart, Prevent Stroke Don't Drink Diet

John Ericson: Why 50 million Americans will still have spring allergies after taking meds

Cameron Huddleston: Best and Worst Buys of April 2014

Stacy Rapacon: Great Mutual Funds for Young Investors

Sarah Boesveld: Teacher keeps promise to mail thousands of former students letters written by their past selves

The Kosher Gourmet by Sharon Thompson Anyone can make a salad, you say. But can they make a great salad? (SECRETS, TESTED TECHNIQUES + 4 RECIPES, INCLUDING DRESSINGS)

April 2, 2014

Paul Greenberg: Death and joy in the spring

Dan Barry: Should South Carolina Jews be forced to maintain this chimney built by Germans serving the Nazis?

Mayra Bitsko: Save me! An alien took over my child's personality

Frank Clayton: Get happy: 20 scientifically proven happiness activities

Susan Scutti: It's Genetic! Obesity and the 'Carb Breakdown' Gene

Lecia Bushak: Why Hand Sanitizer May Actually Harm Your Health

Stacy Rapacon: Great Funds You Can Own for $500 or Less

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Ways to Save on Home Decor

The Kosher Gourmet by Steve Petusevsky Exploring ingredients as edible-stuffed containers (TWO RECIPES + TIPS & TECHINQUES)

Jewish World Review Feb. 12, 2008 / 6 Adar I 5768

He is in our dreams

By Paul Greenberg


Printer Friendly Version
Email this article

http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | It is portentous, and a thing of state
That here at midnight, in our little town
A mourning figure walks, and will not rest,
Near the old court-house pacing up and down . . . .


He cannot sleep upon his hillside now.
He is among us:—as in times before!
And we who toss and lie awake for long,
Breathe deep, and start, to see him pass the door.


—Vachel Lindsay,
"Abraham Lincoln Walks at Midnight
(In Springfield, Illinois)"


National heroes are national touchstones. Martin Luther King Jr., George Washington, Abraham Lincoln. They are more than history; they have entered into myth. They have come to figure in our rituals, rhetoric, folklore, song, literature even our dreams. And how each generation depicts a hero may say more about us than about him.


What an unprepossessing figure he must have been when he first appeared upon the national stage, this elongated stick figure with his high-pitched voice, speaking in the accents of his native Kentucky with a vocabulary drawn from Shakespeare, the King James Bible and his country people.


Just when he was most needed by a nation that was still far from knowing it was one nation, this circuit lawyer, this half-comic, half-tragic apparition materialized out of what was then the American West. This prairie thinker, dreamer and schemer, this rustic storyteller, would turn out to be both the simplest and most sophisticated of American political philosophers.


At what point did this tall, lanky, some would say grotesque, figure first impinge on the national consciousness? In 1858 he was just a worn-out old Whig, a one-term congressman whose opposition to the Slave Power and therefore the Mexican War was supposed to have ended his political career. That was the year he became a national figure by debating the great Stephen A. Douglas in a race for the U.S. Senate in Illinois, which he would win in all but the technical sense.


The singular truth Mr. Lincoln asserted that pivotal year was that this government could not survive half-slave, half-free — that it was bound to become all one thing or all the other. All men are created equal, and all the excuses for moral neutrality, all the empty hopes that somehow we might forever avoid facing that truth, would prove in vain — as Mr. Lincoln foresaw. And he would not let his truth go. To quote a line from "John Brown's Body," the man was Hell on a cold scent. He might maneuver, and he did, in the great struggle of his time. But he would not give up.


The rest is history and, beyond history, myth. In the treasure trove called the Federal Writers Project in Washington, one section is devoted to the recollections of former slaves who were interviewed during the 1930s. Again and again, a similar legend surfaces. Here is how it was told by Fanny Burdock of Valdosta, Georgia, aged 91 at the time the interview was conducted:


"We been picking in the field when my brother he point to the road and then we see Marse Abe coming all dusty and on foot. We run right to the fence and had the oak bucket and the dipper. When he draw up to us, he so tall, black eyes so sad. Didn't say not one word, just looked hard at all us, every one us crying. We give him nice cool water from the dipper. Then he nodded and set off and we just stood there till he get to being dust then nothing. After, didn't our owner or nobody credit it, but me and all my kin, we knowed, I still got the dipper to prove it."


The power of the story lies precisely in that it could not have happened in any realm save that of the spirit. The proof that Abe Lincoln came walking down some dusty road in Georgia, or Alabama, or Louisiana is right there in the dipper, all right — as in the Great Dipper, the Drinkin' Gourd that slaves followed to the North Star and freedom. Symbol upon symbol.


In this story is the very definition of myth: a truth greater than fact. Fanny Burdock's tale still moves and holds us. It rings true, exciting an involuntary cry of affirmation: Ye-es!


In his new book, "Land of Lincoln," Andrew Ferguson follows the old Lincoln Heritage Trail through Illinois, Kentucky and Indiana. In keeping with the spirit of the trivialized times, he records the Disneyfication of Lincoln's image. The writer describes a convention of Lincoln impersonators; he writes of "historians" who recast Lincoln in their own ideological image; he gives example after example of the general debasement and exploitation of Lincoln's highly malleable image. And yet, and yet, even among the trivializers there is an almost sacred respect for the enduring Lincoln they exploit.


Nor does the myth shape only Americans. At Lincoln's tomb in Springfield, where Vachel Lindsay once envisioned Lincoln walking at midnight, the author encounters one Henri Dubin, aged survivor of a European concentration camp, who is laying a wreath on Lincoln's grave. In broken English, the old man explains that, at the hardest, the most demeaning, time of his life, he was visited in the camp by President Lincoln, who told him not to lose hope, that all men are created equal.


It is not only Americans who dream of Abraham Lincoln. It is not only Americans who yet dream of freedom.

Every weekday JewishWorldReview.com publishes what many in in the media and Washington consider "must-reading". Sign up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.

JWR contributor Paul Greenberg, editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, has won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing. Send your comments by clicking here.

Paul Greenberg Archives

© 2006 Tribune Media Services, Inc.

Columnists

Toons

Lifestyles