The Resurgence of Abraham Lincoln
Almost 150 years after his death, Abraham Lincoln reemerges as a leading figure in politics and pop culture.
by Jennie Wood
Over the years, Abraham Lincoln has always been one of the most popular presidents in U.S. history. Several million people visit the Lincoln Memorial every year. In addition, around five hundred thousand tour the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Illinois. However, as the 150th anniversaries of such milestones as the Emancipation Proclamation and the Gettysburg Address pass, Abraham Lincoln seems to be more popular than ever.
Lincoln on the Silver Screen
Lincoln, president from 1861 until his assassination in 1865, was the title character in two feature films released in 2012. First came Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter in the summer of 2012. Directed by Tim Burton, the film featured Benjamin Walker as a vampire slaying Lincoln. The film merged moments in history with a fictional world of vampires.
In November 2012, the film Lincoln was released. Directed by Oscar-winning director Steven Spielberg, the movie focused on Lincoln’s later years. The film was based on the book Team of Rivals (2006) by Doris Kearns Goodwin. Spielberg’s Lincoln received 12 Academy Award nominations, including Best Actor (Daniel Day Lewis), Best Supporting Actress (Sally Field), Best Director, and Best Film. No film in 2012 received more Oscar nominations.
Lincoln in Literature
New books about Honest Abe were also released leading up to the 150th anniversary of his death. The Lincoln Conspiracy: A Novel by Timothy L. O’Brien was published in the fall of 2012. A historical thriller, the book asked the question: What if President Lincoln’s assassination was a bigger plot than anyone ever imagined? Meanwhile, conservative TV commentator Bill O’Reilly wrote Killing Lincoln (2011), a historical narrative focusing on the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.
There was also Lincoln, a biography, by David Herbert Donald (1996), which fifteen years after its publication was still a top seller on Amazon. Lincoln’s Melancholy (2005) by Joshua Wolf Shenk explored how Lincoln’s depression played a role in his accomplishments. Even Mary Todd Lincoln was revisited recently in books. The Madness of Mary Lincoln (2012), explored the first lady’s mental illness through lost letters. Also, The Mary Lincoln Enigma: Historians on America’s Most Controversial First Lady was published in 2012. There was even a book, Lincoln and Obama, published in 2012, which pointed out the several parallels between the two unlikely presidents from Illinois.
Lincoln and Obama
During his second inauguration, President Barack Obama paid tribute to Abraham Lincoln. One of the two Bibles used for Obama’s oath of office belonged to Lincoln. The other belonged to Martin Luther King, Jr.
Obama was also the first president since Lincoln to have the Emancipation Proclamation displayed in the Oval Office. Since the start of his first term, Obama has made frequent references to Lincoln. When asked in a January 2008 interview with Katie Couric what book besides the Bible he’d want most in the Oval Office, Obama said, “Team of Rivals,” the same book on which Spielberg’s Lincoln is based. In fact, Obama mirrored Lincoln’s team of rivals example when picking his first cabinet, surrounding himself with strong, experienced personalities who didn’t always see eye to eye with him.
With the obvious parallels to Obama, a popular president now in his second term, as well as the success of recent films and books, Lincoln’s resurgence as a leading figure in politics and pop culture may continue for years to come. His recent reemergence shows that even after 150 years, there are still lessons to be learned from Honest Abe.