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Robert J. Benz Headshot

One Reason Why Abraham Lincoln Gets So Depressed

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Last night I saw Lincoln. Not the Spielberg movie, I saw a vision of Abe Lincoln sitting at the foot of my bed. (I'm pretty sure this particular past president was made from a combination of seriously spicy salsa and caramel crunch ice cream.) However he may have gotten there, I was desperate to make a good impression by asking some clever questions. (Last thing you want is for Lincoln's ghost to think you're a dummy.)

I thought about asking Civil War strategy questions or what he might have done with Reconstruction after the Civil War had he lived. Then I considered a couple of existential-type questions to a get a perspective that only a dead guy could provide. As all these things were racing through my mind, Lincoln sat staring at me impatiently. Of course, I became nervous and out from my mouth came the silliest question anyone has ever asked Abe Lincoln, "Why so sad?" (D'oh!)

To my surprise, Lincoln responded with what sounded like an even sillier answer, "I just saw the Spielberg movie." Then he looked down and slowly shook his head. This is how I imagine him right after the Union army got crushed at the First Battle of Bull Run.

I couldn't understand it. I thought Spielberg had done a great job. The movie was such a beautiful tribute to Lincoln's uncompromising defense of freedom and justice for all, yet, it revealed flaws that made him, in my mind, an even greater model for American values and our most cherished ideals. How could Lincoln not like it?

"First of all, the voice was way off. The lead actor made me sound like a sissy."

"That's what made you sad? I thought the voice..."

"No, not that." Lincoln bowed his head again and appeared deep in thought. Then he began slowly. "There was once a kind man whose dim-witted uncle misplaced $8,000 from the small town savings and loan they operated together. After a frantic search the money was nowhere to be found. When the bank regulator came around the kind man took the blame for what his uncle had done and said that HE had lost the money. The kind man faced the horrible prospect of scandal and imprisonment."

Hmmm, this sounded familiar. "Isn't this from It's a Wonderful Life?" I asked.

Lincoln continued, "With all the weight of the world on his shoulders, the kind man became depressed and contemplated taking his own life. Can you see what I mean? Blame was heaped upon him undeservedly."

"Ummm, yeeeees." What I really meant was, NO! I wanted to understand, but I was totally confused. "I saw the movie with Jimmy Stewart, but what does that have to do with the Spielberg movie?"

"It's the opposite. I've grown weary of the praise heaped upon me undeservedly. My burden is just as great as that of the kind man. I'm ashamed that these constant demonstrations of Lincoln worship have only served to depose the truth -- a truth by which all of us can stand united. Not a word was spoken within this film, or in most of the schoolbooks that tell our so-called history, of those that helped enlighten my position on the rights of all men and the abolition of slavery. Young Americans, especially those of color, do not need another opportunity to celebrate Lincoln alone when the real heroes of freedom -- who, in truth, commanded their own liberation and that of their own race -- have been so thoroughly ignored. As a former Caucasian that believed in the glory and the inherent equality of every woman and every man, I need not the application of one more warm balm to sooth my conscience about the centuries-long crime committed by my race against another. I'm saddened, to answer your indelicate question, by public displays that repeatedly seek to canonize a handful of white men in an attempt to redeem the race from their misdeeds when, in fact, these displays only serve to perpetuate the social imbalance that spawned the misdeeds in the first place.

"After I was gone, a young man named, Booker T. Washington said, If you want to lift yourself up lift up someone else. It's time we begin lifting up some of the real heroes of abolition like: Richard Allen, Isabella Baumfree, James Forten, Prince Hall, Sarah Parker Remond, Absalom Jones, Maria W. Stewart, Nat Turner, Henry Highland Garnet and Samuel Cornish. These are just some of the Americans of African descent that helped determine their own destinies and those of their people. What a rich and diverse history we share and all too often disregard! If you don't know these heroes I mentioned, I encourage you to Google them now."

Wow, this was not the direction I expected my conversation with Abraham Lincoln to go. I had so many other questions to ask. I especially wanted to know how else we might use history to change the present, but then I noticed he was starting to fade away. I knew my last question had better be good. Lincoln's image was almost gone when I blurted out,

"Wait! You use Google?" (D'oh!!)

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