Saturday, October 22, 2005
I was fascinated to read recently the cover article in this month's "Atlantic Monthly" on Abraham Lincoln called "Lincoln's Great Depression". According to the article, Lincoln suffered most of his life from an almost crippling case of severe depression. The article goes so far as to say that Lincoln's depressesion was so severe that it would have prevented him from seeking and holding office today.
I've always been a fan of Lincoln's having grown up in only two states Lincoln called home: Illinois and Kentucky. My elementary school classes made the pilgramage to Lincoln's home in Springfield, Illinois seemingy every other year (tiny furniture), and I made the trip to New Salem, Illinois, the town where Lincoln began his career as a young lawyer more than once with my family. Fortunately, I was a willing participant in these trips and always found Lincoln and his wife, Mary Todd (a Louisville gal), fascinating subjects of study. Back then, I even checked out and read a couple of school library books on Lincoln's life. Nowhere in any of my studies either in school or independent, was there any mention that Lincoln's mental state may have been less than normal.
I was amazed to learn, from the article, that Lincoln even contemplated suicide. It reads: "As a young man he talked more than once of suicide, and as he grew older he said he saw the world as hard and grim, full of misery, made that way by fate and the forces of God. "No element of Mr. Lincoln's character", declared his colleague Henry Whitney, "was so marked, obvious and ingrained as his mysterious and profound melancholy." His law partner William Herndon said, "His melancholy dripped from him as he walked.""
Eventually, Lincoln learned to at least manage his sadness, by telling and listening to jokes and clever stories and reciting poetry. Also, prophetically, Lincoln felt he had a destiny to fulfill. But mostly, Lincoln developed the ability to grimly hold on to his equilibrium while the internal storm raged on inside him. It was this ability, the article theorizes, that made him capable of sustaining the vision of a united country when so often during his presidency, it all seemed hopeless.
My point is that this information caused me to completely rethink what I have always considered to be one of the great tragedies of human history: Lincoln's assassination at the Ford Theater. Considering all the mental anguish Lincoln endured throughout his life which could only have been compounded by the deaths of two out of three of his children and the subsequent insanity of his already unstable wife...maybe, just maybe, the assassination was destiny's way of letting Lincoln off the hook. Maybe Lincoln had fully realized his considerable potential, been of great service to his fellow man, and his suffering needed to end. Right then.
You never know.