A popular scholarly book and a recent movie have made Lincoln’s profile as prominent today as in it was in 1865 when John Wilkes Booth assassinated him in Ford’s Theater – soon after the nation’s greatest crisis, the Civil War, had ended with the Union saved.
This year, Steven Spielberg’s movie, “Lincoln” has been nominated for virtually every major Academy Award, with the international broadcast of the Oscars scheduled Feb. 24.
Spielberg is nominated for best director, Daniel Day-Lewis is for best actor in the title role, and the film for best picture – three of the four top awards.
The widely popular movie that shows Lincoln as a skilled political operative willing to forge coalitions of often-opposing camps has generated much discussion of its lessons in today’s highly partisan and often stalemated political climate.
Of course, fascination with Lincoln and serious consideration of his impact has long been shared by lay people, historians, political scientists and journalists, many of whom see in him special gifts for working with sworn political enemies.
U.S. Rep. Alan Nunnelee, R-Miss., said in a recent interview that Lincoln’s greatest legacy may be his drawing together “A Team of Rivals,” the title historian Doris Kearns Goodwin gave her 2005 book about Lincoln’s Cabinet. Three in his Cabinet had previously run against Lincoln in the 1860 election – Attorney General Edward Bates, Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase and Secretary of State William H. Seward. Their ability to work through sharp past differences provided the leadership to win the war and sustain the abolition of slavery.
Nunnelee said while he would not necessarily rate Lincoln the greatest president, his ability to break past political divides is a powerful lesson for today’s political climate. He also cited Goodwin’s book as an influence on the way he views his role as a member of the U.S. House.
Curtis Wilkie, a University of Mississippi journalism professor who formerly covered presidential campaigns and the White House as a reporter, agreed with Nunnelee.
“Lincoln was so good at calling on people who had opposed him. He was a healing leader even in times of greatest conflict,” Wilkie, a native of Corinth, noted.
Wilkie, who also is a friend of Doris Kearns Goodwin, said American politics would be better in the 21st century if leaders practiced Lincoln’s view that hiring the most capable people is more important than partisan identity.
U.S. District Judge Glen Davidson of Tupelo, a passionate reader and student of American history, said Lincoln makes his list of the most important presidents, which also includes George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Davidson said Lincoln had a broader view, a less punitive view of what should happen to the Southern states after the Civil War.
“Lincoln’s death was the worst thing that could have happened to the South following the Civil War,” Davidson commented. “Of course, we always need to say, ‘We have the Union,’ and that is because of Lincoln.”