Can one really have a favorite American President? Yes, but the only people who can say it with legitimacy are history buffs who have studies all the presidents, even Rutherford B. Hayes, like guy who runs the Dead Presidents blog.
I went to public school so I only ever got as far as Franklin D. Roosevelt in our history classes. (I have no idea if that is the fault of going to public school or if every school decides that World War II is too bleak for high schoolers and after that American starts tying and losing wars, so FDR fixes the Great Depression and have a good summer break kids. Enjoy college!) However, I am enjoying the odd renaissance of former President Clinton because I am old enough to remember how much Republicans hated him in the 90s since I was tiptoeing out the door towards the middle of his second term. I also remember living in London and how strange all my European friends found our puritanism around his affair as other than his personal life, he seemed to be a great president. It only takes 10 years for America to catch up to the rest of the world.
But my favorite president is neither Hayes nor Clinton nor FDR nor some odd president to make me seem hip. Mine is obvious and loved by many but I don’t care. My favorites president is Abraham Lincoln even though I once tried to argue in a term paper for Professor Gordon Wood that Lincoln only freed the slaves as a political move to win the Civil War. Sometimes I like to pick the losing argument for the sake of hearing myself argue. I didn’t get an A on that paper because it’s difficult to defend a position that is not true. Just ask the Republican House leadership.
My favorite book on Lincoln — that my hipster self is going to say I READ WAY BEFORE IT BECAME A MOVIE — is Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Goodwin. It’s nonfiction, and I’m not going to say it doesn’t read like nonfiction because I like nonfiction so what does that even mean? Trust me, the book is amazing and worth the time none of us have.
What I love most about Abraham Lincoln is he was brave in a time where courage meant turning our backs on what we thought we knew and loved and choosing country over family and choosing the rights of people we did not often know and who in our very Constitution were only 3/5 of a person over the clamoring of friends, neighbors, and churches. I sometimes wonder what Reconstruction would’ve been like had Lincoln been around as an elder statesman. Would there have been so many civil rights to fight for 100 years later?
Here are a few of my favorite Lincoln quotes:
“Whatever you are, be a good one.” ―Abraham Lincoln
“Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?” ―Abraham Lincoln
“Those who look for the bad in people will surely find it.” ―Abraham Lincoln
“I don’t like that man. I must get to know him better.” ―Abraham Lincoln
“Be sure you put your feet in the right place, then stand firm.” ―Abraham Lincoln
“Tact: the ability to describe others as they see themselves.” ―Abraham Lincoln
“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” ―Abraham Lincoln
“I am not bound to win, but I am bound to be true. I am not bound to succeed, but I am bound to live by the light that I have. I must stand with anybody that stands right, and stand with him while he is right, and part with him when he goes wrong.” –Abraham Lincoln
“As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master. This expresses my idea of democracy.” –Abraham Lincoln
“How many legs does a dog have if you call the tail a leg? Four. Calling a tail a leg doesn’t make it a leg.” ―Abraham Lincoln
And now I have gone on longer than the Gettysburg Address.
Happy Presidents Day Weekend.