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Abraham Lincoln: "Big enough to be inconsistent."
09-11-2012, 07:49 PM
Post: #1
Abraham Lincoln: "Big enough to be inconsistent."
I particularly like the following description of Abraham Lincoln as given in May 1922 by W.E.B. Du Bois. He expresses thoughts that are both positive and negative about Lincoln-yet he was willing to embrace him even so. See what you think:

"Abraham Lincoln was a Southern poor white, of illegitimate birth, poorly educated and unusually ugly, awkward, ill-dressed. He liked smutty stories and was a politician down to his toes. Aristocrats-Jeff Davis, Seward and their ilk-despised him, and indeed he had little outwardly that compelled respect. But in that curious human way he was big inside. He had reserves and depths and when habit and convention were torn away there was something left to Lincoln-nothing to most of his contemners.There was Something left, so that at the crisis he was big enough to be inconsistent-cruel, merciful; peace-loving, a fighter; despising Negros and letting them fight and vote; protecting slavery and freeing slaves. He was a man-a big, inconsistent, brave man."

Mr. Du Bois was one of the NAACP founders in 1910.

Bill Nash
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09-12-2012, 11:10 AM (This post was last modified: 09-12-2012 03:07 PM by LincolnMan.)
Post: #2
RE: Abraham Lincoln: "Big enough to be inconsistent."
I meant to mention it when I posted this thread that the opinion of Lincoln by Mr. Du Bois is revealing as it came from an important African-American of that day (early 20th Century). It may tell us that African-Americans were struggling even then with what to think about Lincoln. He admitted that Lincoln was not "ideal" in very critical respects-yet accepted him overall. I think the "seeds of discontent" regarding Lincoln were probably always present-and those seeds would grow in the late 1960's and in the 1970's up to the present time. As I've mentioned in another post or two, there has seemed to be more acceptance today of Lincoln in the African-American community following the election of Obama-and his stated admiration of Lincoln. If nothing else, the statement by Du Bois reflects an attitude to "keep Lincoln real" by not making a "saint" out of him.

Bill Nash
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09-12-2012, 01:22 PM
Post: #3
RE: Abraham Lincoln: "Big enough to be inconsistent."
What a poetic description of Lincoln. It makes me want to read more by DuBois.

I am a screenwriter and my movie "Saving Lincoln" will be out soon. It is about Lincoln leading the Union to victory in the Civil War, from the perspective of Lincoln's close friend and bodyguard, Ward Hill Lamon.

Like DuBois, I am drawn to Lincoln by his contradictions. He was uneducated yet brilliant, awkward yet charismatic, humble yet ambitious, funny yet depressed. The biggest contradiction of all is that a man who couldn't wring the neck of a chicken was ultimately responsible - felt himself to be - for the deaths of 600,000 boys. Lincoln's struggle with feelings of guilt and desperation is an important theme of "Saving Lincoln."
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09-12-2012, 03:09 PM
Post: #4
RE: Abraham Lincoln: "Big enough to be inconsistent."
Very well stated! We are looking very much forward to the movie.

Bill Nash
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09-12-2012, 08:14 PM
Post: #5
RE: Abraham Lincoln: "Big enough to be inconsistent."
More from W.E.B. Du Bois on Lincoln:

"The scars and foibles and contradictions of the Great do not diminish but enhance the worth and meaning of their upward struggle: it was the bloody sweat that proved the human Christ divine; it was his true history and antecedents that proved Abraham Lincoln a Prince of Men."

Du Bois wrote this in 1922.

Bill Nash
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12-24-2012, 09:19 AM
Post: #6
RE: Abraham Lincoln: "Big enough to be inconsistent."
There is a thought provoking article in the most recent issue of History Magazine (January/February 2013) by Edna Greene Medford, PhD. entitled: Evolution of the Great Emancipator. She is a professor at Howard University. The article briefly looks at how Lincoln has been viewed by African-Americans since his day to the present time. She uses the Du Bois quote (same as the title of this thread) to conclude that Lincoln isn't perceived as he once was-he is no longer considered the sole reason for the ending of slavery-it was from the efforts of many sources (Lincoln among them). She also notes that Lincoln isn't seen as a god-like saint anymore. While I don't agree with everything she says, it still is an interesting read. I'm surprised that she didn't mention President Obama. Because of his esteem of Lincoln, I have noted a change in the attitudes of some African-Americans about Lincoln. She didn't go there at all.

Bill Nash
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12-24-2012, 09:32 AM
Post: #7
RE: Abraham Lincoln: "Big enough to be inconsistent."
Bill,

There's a school of thought now that slaves were not the passive recipients of the white man's largesse, but instead did much to free themselves. While that certainly is true to a point, what's often forgotten is that for such action to take place en masse, it was necessary for the war to be fought and for Lincoln to get the ball rolling with the Emancipation Proclamation.

Best
Rob

Abraham Lincoln in the only man, dead or alive, with whom I could have spent five years without one hour of boredom.
--Ida M. Tarbell
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12-24-2012, 12:38 PM
Post: #8
RE: Abraham Lincoln: "Big enough to be inconsistent."
Rob: what you said in your post was exactly the point that I was thinking about when I stated that I didn't agree with everything the author wrote. You stated my thoughts on it better than I could. Well done, Rob!

Bill Nash
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12-25-2012, 01:24 PM
Post: #9
RE: Abraham Lincoln: "Big enough to be inconsistent."
This may be a strange way to make my debut on this Forum, but I have one nit to pick with WEB DuBois, and that is that he called Lincoln "unusually ugly." I really think DuBois went way overboard with that description. In general, in the many things I've read about Lincoln, I've been puzzled by the harsh descriptions - almost always by men - of his physical appearance. The worst I can say about his physical appearance is that he was, perhaps, odd-looking. That doesn't have to be a negative, either. But I'd prefer to think of his looks as striking. He certainly stood out in a crowd, and that couldn't have been a bad thing in his line of work! Smile

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12-25-2012, 01:45 PM (This post was last modified: 12-26-2012 08:46 AM by LincolnMan.)
Post: #10
RE: Abraham Lincoln: "Big enough to be inconsistent."
It is certainly great that you have joined the Forum. Welcome! Actually, as you probably know, Lincoln was also critical of his own looks. I will agree with you that he was "odd-looking" for sure. I hope that Lincoln looked better than as portrayed by the great Hal Holbrook in Sandburg's Lincoln-his appearance was downright scary.

I see you have written about Elton John. I met him once in a very personal way. I have a terminally ill daughter who requested through the Make-A-Wish Foundation to meet him. The wish was granted. My daughter and my wife-and myself- met with him. He was most charming and gracious. Long-time fan of his music. Again, welcome!

Bill Nash
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12-25-2012, 02:10 PM
Post: #11
RE: Abraham Lincoln: "Big enough to be inconsistent."
I agree with Liz. Everyone's eyes see things differently, but only in those last photos by Henry F. Warren do I see Lincoln in a way where maybe I can understand a really harsh description of his looks.
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12-25-2012, 02:29 PM (This post was last modified: 12-25-2012 02:30 PM by Rob Wick.)
Post: #12
RE: Abraham Lincoln: "Big enough to be inconsistent."
(12-25-2012 01:24 PM)Nancy Sparrow Wrote:  This may be a strange way to make my debut on this Forum, but I have one nit to pick with WEB DuBois, and that is that he called Lincoln "unusually ugly." I really think DuBois went way overboard with that description. In general, in the many things I've read about Lincoln, I've been puzzled by the harsh descriptions - almost always by men - of his physical appearance. The worst I can say about his physical appearance is that he was, perhaps, odd-looking. That doesn't have to be a negative, either. But I'd prefer to think of his looks as striking. He certainly stood out in a crowd, and that couldn't have been a bad thing in his line of work! Smile

Welcome Elizabeth.

As inured as we are to photos of Lincoln, it's hard to fathom that when McClure's ran the earliest known photo of Lincoln for the very first time, it turned the Lincoln world upside down, because it showed a Lincoln, although not handsome by some standards, that resembled a "normal" person. As Ida Tarbell later wrote, the photo of Lincoln "was a Lincoln which shattered the widely accepted tradition of his early shabbiness, rudeness, ungainliness." She added that it took her "by storm."

I also think that's one reason why Robert Todd Lincoln severely disparaged George Grey Barnard's statue of Lincoln (which Tarbell liked and defended in print) because it showed him in a more homely light.

Best
Rob

Abraham Lincoln in the only man, dead or alive, with whom I could have spent five years without one hour of boredom.
--Ida M. Tarbell
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12-26-2012, 08:50 AM
Post: #13
RE: Abraham Lincoln: "Big enough to be inconsistent."
I think that part of the reason people don't give Lincoln's "odd-looking" features any thoughts is because they are used to the way he is depicted. We all have seen his image countless times to the point that his face has become "Lincoln."

Bill Nash
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12-26-2012, 04:34 PM
Post: #14
RE: Abraham Lincoln: "Big enough to be inconsistent."
Lincoln also had a way of walking that caught William Herndon's attention. Herndon described Lincoln's walk as follows: "When he walked he moved cautiously but firmly; his long arms and giant hands swung down by his side. He walked with even tread, the inner sides of his feet being parallel. He put the whole foot flat down on the ground at once, not landing on the heel. He likewise lifted his foot all at once, not rising from the toe, and hence he had no spring to his walk. His walk was undulatory-catching and pocketing tire, weariness, and pain, all up and down his person, and thus preventing them from locating. The first impression of a stranger, or a man who did not observe closely, was that his walk implied shrewdness and cunning-that he was a tricky man; but, in reality, it was the walk of caution and firmness."
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12-26-2012, 05:10 PM
Post: #15
RE: Abraham Lincoln: "Big enough to be inconsistent."
Call me weird, but I have stared at various photos of Lincoln for years now; and I do not find him ugly! He is certainly no Sean Connery (40 years ago), but he is fairly ordinary looking to me -- solemn, pensive, whatever, but not what I would consider displeasing to the eye.
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