—J.G. Nicolay and John Hay
(Secretarial nickname for President A. Lincoln)
In the foreword to Brother to Dragons , Robert Penn Warren writes "historical sense and poetic sense should not, in the end, be contradictory, for if poetry is the little myth we make, history is the big myth we live, and in our living, constantly remake." This statement seems particularly relevant to the persona of our 16th president. Whenever mainstream historians rate our greatest chief executives, Abraham Lincoln is usually ranked first—because he saved the union and freed the slaves. (Whether those objectives could have been accomplished by some measure short of a war that cost 600,000 lives is a question rarely asked by Lincoln hagiographers.) Often with little understanding of the historical figure and what he really believed, political opportunists from the far left to the neoconservative right claim the Lincoln legacy. When American Stalinists went to Spain to fight for its communist government in the 1930's, they formed the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. When Newt Gingrich wanted to launder money for his partisan purposes six decades later, he used a dummy foundation for underprivileged black children named after the Great Emancipator. It can be said of Lincoln what Orwell said of Dickens:...