Friday, May 21, 2010

A Self-Fulfilled Prophecy?

Since I read Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, I was on a Lincoln kick for a little while. I finally started reading another Lincoln book, a biography this time, by David Herbert Donald. Written in 1995, Lincoln, the book, is described on the Amazon site as, “Winner of two Pulitzer Prizes, most recently for Homeward: A Life of Thomas Wolfe, Donald proves himself the superb biographer of Lincoln, though two recent biographies, Michael Burlingame's The Inner World of Abraham Lincoln and Merrill Peterson's Lincoln in American Memory, are both important studies. Donald's profile of the 16th president focuses entirely on Lincoln, seldom straying from the subject. It looks primarily at what Lincoln knew, when he knew it, and why he made his decisions. Donald's Lincoln emerges as ambitious, often defeated, tormented by his married life, but with a remarkable capacity for growth and the nation's greatest president. What really stands out in a lively narrative are Lincoln's abilities to hold together a nation of vastly diverse regional interests during the turmoil and tragedy of the Civil War. Donald's biography will appeal to all readers and will undoubtedly corral its share of book awards.”

I’m on page 85 of 599, not including the index and footnotes that follow the text. It’s a little slow going. I feel like its describing Lincoln’s political and work lives in exhausting detail. I wanted to know a little more about Lincoln as a man, not as a politician. I think Seth Grahame-Smith spoiled me with this book, which was 352 pages and a great mix of fictional and non-fictional aspects of Lincoln’s life. It had a good pace, was interesting and a real page turner. But this biography….phew…I’m doing a lot of skimming, it seems.

However, on page 85, Donald describes the meeting and early courtship of Abraham and Mary Todd. They had met at a party held by Ninian and Elizabeth Edwards in their Springfield, IL home. Mary Todd was Elizabeth’s sister. A former Kentuckian, like Abraham, Mary was staying with Ninian and Elizabeth after not being able to get along with her stepmother.

There at the dance, Abraham said he wanted to dance with her, “in the worst way” (page 85). It’s cute and endearing. But slide down the page to this passage and tell me if it doesn’t make you take notice.

“Like him [Abraham], she was a Whig. At a time when women were not supposed to profess an interest in politics (this meeting takes place in 1837 or 1839), she openly supported Harrison for president in 1840, though, like Lincoln, she would have preferred Henry Clay, a friend of her family and a neighbor in Lexington. She was pleased by Lincoln’s ambition: in Kentucky she had often said jokingly that she intended to marry a man who could some day become president of the United States.”

Wow. Girlie had a thing for power! It makes me wonder now, as I continue to read: was Lincoln responsible for his own political and professional gains, or could Mary Todd claim part of the glory?

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