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Monday, August 28, 2006

A Book Review - The Humorous Mr. Lincoln

The Humorous Mr. Lincoln by Keith W. Jennison

I actually started reading this book a couple of years ago and finished it last night. It is 143 pages long. I know you think I am a slow reader. Actually the book laid on my night stand for a couple of years. I had read the first couple of chapters and a couple of weeks ago I picked it up again and started reading and my interest revived.

The title of the book it self is interesting and appropriate. Coming in at 143 pages it is a light-weight as far as biographical material is concerned. You would likely need to search somewhere else for an in depth biography of President Lincoln.

This book is built around his propensity to tell a "yarn". It is really amazing when you realize that he had a story to tell about almost everything. He was a most interesting character, no doubt a man for the times. I have seen one play about Lincoln and read a book on his second inaugural address. One thing about Lincoln he always had a story to tell. This has left the impression with some that he was lighthearted and guilty of buffoonery. According to Mr. Jennison and the contemporary sources he quotes nothing could be further from the truth. Most all of the stories he told had purpose and meaning for the issue/circumstances at hand.

One of the interesting things I learned about Lincoln in this book is that he was notorious for pardoning soldiers who were guilty of cowardice in the face of the enemy. He granted so many pardons that his secretary of war and high military command were often disappointed by the message he was sending to the troops by issuing pardons for these crimes. Nevertheless he continued to do it.

Another interesting story had to do with the north capturing two of Robert E. Lee's sons. The south was going to execute two Union military officers it had captured. The north was threatening to execute both of Robert Lee's sons if they did so. General Lee immediately went to see President Davis (President of the Confederacy) and asked him to write letter to seek a reprieve for his sons. President Davis told General Lee that as long as Lincoln was President he had nothing to worry about. Lee said, Yes but Stanton will have the work done before Lincoln is even aware of it. President Davis wrote President Lincoln. President Lincoln called Stanton to his office and told him that he was not to execute the Lee boys. Stanton argued that the two Union officers the south was going to execute meant just as much to their families as the Lee boys did to General Lee. Mr Lincoln responded by saying, yes this is true, but I have no control over what happens in the south. But to do this act would mark my conscience as a murderer from now on. We cannot not do it, we cannot do it. Mr. Lincoln wrote a note to the commander where the Lee boys were being held and ordered them released and returned to their Father.

The book made me laugh several times. It is an easy, short read and reveals a side of Lincoln that is interesting.

As a side note, I firmly believe the South would have had an advocate in President Lincoln. He was elected to his second term just before the war ended and I believe he would have been gracious in his treatment of the South, unlike the northern Senators and Congressmen who desired to humiliate and punish the South. I know that at the time the South hated Lincoln but he probably would have been their best advocate in the aftermath of the war. Had he lived the time known as Reconstruction would probably have been handled much differently.

If you can find the book I would recommend it for some light reading that is interesting and informative.

An example of Lincoln's humor,

"In December 1862, under the command of General Ambrose E. Burnside, the Army of the Potomac again advanced on Richmond. For two days he sent wave after wave of his crack troops against an impregnable position, and the Burnside withdrew, having slaughtered thirteen thousand of his men.

Among the throng who called daily upon the President was a man who requested that the President issue him a pass to go to Richmond.

Well, said the President, I would be happy to oblige, sir, but my passes are not respected. In the last year and a half I have given passes to two hundred and fifty thousand men to go to Richmond, and not one has got there yet."
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