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Obama is inspired by Lincoln's writings


During his first news conference as president-elect, Barack Obama answered many important questions -- about filling Cabinet positions, about jobs and the economy, about tax cuts. And about books.

The Chicago Sun Times' Lynn Sweet asked a four-part question, ending with a query for "what books you might be reading?" Obama's answer: "I have reread some of Lincoln's writings, who's always an extraordinary inspiration."

Lincoln was "the most successful of all presidential scribblers," Jack Lynch writes in his review of "Lincoln: The Biography of a Writer" by Fred Kaplan (online now, it'll appear in Sunday's paper). This new biography focuses on the literary aspects of Lincoln's life.

Honest Abe also found reading to be an inspiration. What inspired the inspirer? The Bible, "Pilgrim's Progress"  and the poets Thomas Gray, Alexander Pope, Robert Burns and Lord Byron. Edgar Allan Poe was a favorite. So was Shakespeare.

Lincoln also turned to the histories of the founding fathers Benjamin Franklin's "Autobiography" and Mason Weems' "Life of Washington." He read Hugh Blair, David Hume, Edward Gibbon, Samuel Johnson and Laurence Sterne.

In the review, Lynch writes:

Kaplan's page-one summary captures the spirit of the book as a whole: "For Lincoln, words mattered immensely. His increasing skill in their use during his lifetime, and his high valuation of their power, mark him as the one president who was both a national leader and a genius with language at a time when its power and integrity mattered more than it does today."

No matter what happens during the next four years, it's clear that Obama has begun his reading list in the right place.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: platinum print by George B. Ayres from 1860 Alexander Hesler glass negative, courtesy of Smithsonian Institution Portrait Gallery.

Comments () | Archives (18)

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Glad to see that our new President is inspired by a Republican. Perhaps it's a reflection of how far Republicans have strayed since their founding as the anti-slavery party.

Hopefully Obama will retain the best of Lincoln's humanism and drop the Marxist baggage and the partisan political hatchet men he's currently travelling with today.

Retribution has a limited shelf life. Hopefully he learned that lesson today with the Nancy Reagan snipe.

Obama is an extraordinary man. His mettle has yet to be forged, and the world awaits the outcome. No doubt it will soon be tested.

Lincoln might indeed be the right inspiration.

Could you worship Barack Obama any more at the L.A. Times?
Why don't you just change your name to The Obama Times?

This love-fest for a friggin' politician is dangerous and embarrassing.

You are in for a big let down when Barack Obama proves to be the 47 year old who has never had a job other than promoting himself.

K2...im assuming thats your level of education...i guess i have nothing else to say to you obama haters....

I remember when George Bush's father became president, he came out a door and a bunch of reporters yelled questions at him. He stopped and gave some cogent answers. Wow, I thought after eight years of the much beloved President Reagan, a president who can answer a question!!! Now, once again, we are renewed. After eight years of a well meaning but not smart enough leader, we have one with real brains and with the knowledge that comes from using them for the past 45 years.

K2, Let's see now, what have we before us...The President Elect's resume...graduate of Columbia University, graduate of Harvard University Law School, President of The Harvard Law Review, extensive work as a community organizer and practicing civil rights attorney, three times elected to the Illinois Senate, ten years as a constitutional Law professor at the University of Chicago, one of the nation's premier seats of higher learning and, most recently, a term in the United States Senate. This is not exactly a thin resume. Care to stack that up against your accomplishments?

More of us should read Lincoln's writings. He led the country through its roughest patch and left a legacy of remarkable writings. Everyone should read the Gettysberg Address and the Second Inaugural.

Please stop mentioning that Lincoln was a republican in the context of today's Republican party. Lincoln opposed the Mexican war, just as democrats opposed the Iraq war. Lincoln was an abolitionist, much as the democrats ushered in the civil rights legislation in the 1960s. And most importantly, Lincoln was a proponent of big government.

So PLEASE, Republicans, stop claiming Lincoln as part of what remains of your party.

In Response to John Mayberry's comment: When will today's Republicans realize that what was the Republican party in Lincoln's time is now the Democratic party and what is today's Republican party is what is left of the Southern Democratic Party that wanted to secede from the Union? Less Government sound familiar?

I didnt vote for Obama or McCain (I wrote in Hillary Clinton on my ballot) but I must say that it is refreshing to have a president (elect) who actually reads. I bet when Bush found out Obama is reading Lincolns writings, Bush said "What? you mean Lincoln could write?"

To K2, and re: Obama's age and experience. George Washington was 43 when he assumed command of the Continental Army. Had no prior experience leading such a huge endeavor. Jefferson was 33 when he wrote the Declaration.
So to you, sir, and all those like you: your ignorance is frightening.

Ronald, I will go one further: When Bush found out Obama was reading works by Lincoln, he probably said something like "Oh, that guy who invented the little wooden logs that kids play with?"

And, I rather have someone with no experience and exceptional degrees than someone with a failed track record, like Bush was with his oil company that he would never have had without Daddy's help, which also includes his ownership of the Rangers. And his Yale degree. Heck, if it wasnt for Daddy what would Bush be doing today? "Fill 'er up, George", my guess, would be his only involvement in the oil industry.

And, I am a moderate Republican!

Why does everyone think that Lincoln was great?

Lincoln on Racial Equality:

I am not now, nor ever have been in favor of bringing about in any way the social or political equality of the white and black races. I am not now nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of Negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor of intermarriages with white people. There is a physical difference between the white and the black races which will forever forbid the two races living together on social or political equality. There must be a position of superior and inferior, and I am in favor of assigning the superior position to the white man.

Lincoln in his speech to Charleston, Illinois, 1858

Charles, the excerpt you quote is immediately followed by this: but I hold that, notwithstanding all this, there is no reason in the world why the negro is not entitled to all the rights enumerated in the Declaration of Independence,—the right of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I hold that he is as much entitled to these as the white man. I agree with Judge Douglas that he is not my equal in many respects, certainly not in color, perhaps not in intellectual and moral endowments; but in the right to eat the bread without the leave of anybody else, which his own hand earns, he is my equal, and the equal of Judge Douglas, and the equal of every other man.

More context is here: http://www.bartleby.com/251/61.html.

I think you must have heard elsewhere that Lincoln was considered a thoughtful politician who moved our country in the right direction.

K2....I'd like to see your resume and your accomplishments. It's usually those who are not burdened with intelligence who come up with opinions like yours.

February 12, 2009 is the 200th anniversary of Lincoln's birth, and a host of excellent writers are publishing new biographies from a wide spectrum of views.

I just finished Harold Holzer's Lincoln: President-Elect,
which I recommend without reservation. Holzer shows how Lincoln kept silent publicly until he was inaugurated in March 1861, while pressing privately against any compromise which would legalize slavery in the territories. During this time Lincoln was writing his magnificent First Inaugural Address, which traced the history of the Union, and his duty to support and defend the Constitution of the United States, which he did through four years of brutal civil war. In this address Lincoln became the first American President to express openly the fact that the North believed slavery to be wrong, while the South believed the opposite.

Holzer points out convincingly that Lincoln was not only an excellent writer but an even greater editor.
The last paragraph of the First Inaugural came from Senator William Seward, but Lincoln transformed into his own kind of personal magic.

Another fascinating part of the story is Lincoln's journey from Springfield, Illinois to Washington, D.C., which took him and his family to state capitols and large cities across the North. This was the first time that most Americans had ever seen or heard a President, and the crowds were as large and enthusiastic as Obama's, except in New York City which put commerce with the South ahead of political or moral principles.

On the topic of race, Lincoln grew up at a time and place where blacks were wrongly regarded as inferior
and where free white laborers felt threatened by black workers. Jefferson said some similar things. The important point is that Lincoln and Jefferson both inspired millions with their bold and revolutionary language, and that Lincoln transcended his background to become the Great Liberator.

The current Republican Party is a creature of Goldwater, Nixon and Reagan, and is based on a solid bloc of Southern whites who are culturally very
conservative. It has nothing to do with Abraham Lincoln.

With all due respect to President Lincoln, he was not the most successful "presidential scribblers." If you look at the combined works of President Theodore Roosevelt you shall see he produced the most works.

Jeff, the current Republican Party keeps nearly everything Lincoln felt dear. The only place where it falls down is on the issue of immigration, a subject about which Lincoln explained his views quite forcefully when he turned down an endorsement for President by the Know Nothings. With respect to the rest, Lincoln's philosophy was that of individual endeavor, individual rights, and individual responsibility, a position near and dear to the Republicans, and alien to the Democratic ideal of group rights and responsibilities. When Obama attacks the rich (at $250K, $220K, $150K, or even $70K [as he felt in 2004]), he's saying that a "rich" person does NOT have the rights to the fruit of their labor, but MUST yield them up to others. That, Jeff, is a form of slavery, which Mr. Lincoln inalterably opposed. The Republican Party was instrumental in getting the Civil Rights Acts passed -- are you aware that the first attempt at a Civil Rights Act since Reconstruction (1957) was block-voted down by the Democratic House, including Obama's hero John F. Kennedy? If you compare Republican votes for the various civil rights acts which followed (1964, 1968, 1991), you'll find that the Republican vote was on the order of 90% in favor, with the Democrats bringing up the rear with 75%.

We Republicans are first in line when it comes to the guarantee of individual liberties for the individual citizen; we strike the correct balance between the libertarian (individual rights with no individual responsibility) and communistic (group rights and group responsibility) viewpoints. We do take to heart the story of the Ant and the Grasshopper, and all of the various lessons that story entails.

Jeff, in case you haven't already guessed, I am a Republican. I live right here in California, have only visited the South twice, and am quite happy that the North won the Civil War (although I do have a copy of the Encyclopedia of the Confederacy to remind myself of what sadness might have resulted had things gone otherwise). You need to rethink why people are Republicans.

It was my ancestor Hannibal Hamlin who was the strong abolitionist and was given vice-president because of it. Lincoln was more concerned with holding the Union together when the Civil War began. He came around.
It is disappointing to my family that he missed out on the presidency and that nobody seems to know who he was. He was replaced with Andrew Johnson the second term in a vote getting bid for re-election, a bad choice.


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