A Lincoln Unbound Dozen

by Kathryn Jean Lopez

Ok, so I may not be on BuzzFeed (though I have been known to dabble in Roman imitations), but I’ve got my own list of favorite things about Rich’s new book, Lincoln Unbound:

Its sober optimism. “America will exist as a great nation for a long time to come,” Rich writes. “It has a vast store of economic and military capital that it will take time to spend down even in the worst of circumstances and even under the worst policies. But it risks losing the fluidity and dynamism that have made it so admirable and the best place in human history for the pursuit of happiness.” Later on in the book, Rich issues a rallying cry, admonishing us against “losing what it means to be American, and losing touch with the wellsprings of human accomplishment.”

Its reminder to get up already and work. Lincoln’s characteristic advice to aspiring lawyers, to discouraged friends, and to penurious relatives came down to exhortations to work, and then to work some more.

It’s uplifting. Rich describes how Lincoln succeeded through “self-discipline and perseverance, through cultural uplift and education, through a relentless ethic of self-improvement central to his worldview all his life. Lincoln’s political character wasn’t formed by where he came from so much as by where he went and how he got there.”

It exposes our stewardship failures.If he were writing today, Horatio Alger might set his stories in Finland,” Rich writes.

He has the last word on Mario Cuomo’s version of Lincoln. “Cuomo’s Lincoln is John Kerry with a beard. As an interpreter of Lincoln, Cuomo is a great former governor of New York.”

Discovering my purse/desk/other-computer-device problem was his hat problem. “Disorganization ruled the day. Lincoln apologized to Richard Thomas in 1850 for not replying to a letter from him in a timely manner, but “when I received the letter I put it in my old hat, and buying a new one the next day, the old one was set aside, and so, the letter lost sight of for a time.”

Rich is honest about Lincoln. Even in his admiration for him. A memorable line: “The adverb bunglingly is pregnant with contempt.” (The adverb was used by son Abraham about father Thomas.)

Government can be local, too. Rich writes, “when Lincoln talked of government, he didn’t necessarily mean the federal government.”

Rich’s Lincoln – not unlike Rich himself – is a commercial for reading books! “He practiced writing letters on whatever surface happened to be at hand. Above all, he read. Into spare moments as a boy and young adult he poured his appetite for books. He read aloud walking to and from school. He read during lunch breaks while working. He read during meals. He read during his free time on Sundays. He read, by one account, at the end of each plow furrow while allowing his horse to ‘breathe’.”

“Lincoln labored under a sense of injustice.”

He understood the law as teacher. “Let reverence for the laws . . . be breathed by every American mother, to the lisping babe, that prattles on her lap—let it be taught in schools, in seminaries, and in colleges; let it be written in Primmers, spelling books, and in Almanacs; let it be preached from the pulpit, proclaimed in legislative halls, and enforced in courts of justice. And, in short, let it become the political religion of the nation.”

The timelessness. “Lincoln believed that if we acted on sound economic principles, and stayed true to the philosophical foundations of America, the prospects for the country’s growth were boundless.”

Get your Lincoln Unbound here.