A Most Unusual President
by Eric Bergeson, February 24, 2011
On Monday, we celebrated President's Day. It caused me to reflect upon some of the characters we've elected to lead us over the years.
One character in particular was really over-the-top.
An enthusiastic fist-fighter, he took on all comers in bare-knuckles boxing matches, many of them staged by notorious gamblers. He won every match, sometimes defeating two opponents at a time.
His professional renown arose from his abilities as a bare-knuckled lawyer who could get cold-blooded murderers off scot-free, either on a technicality, or by asking the jury, “Well, he done it, but wouldn't you have done it, too?”
A non-churchgoing agnostic, he once ran against a preacher for political office. As a campaign gimmick, he attended one of the preacher's services and sat near the front.
The preacher, sensing an opening, addressed his opponent during the sermon with the question: “Sir, do you plan to go to heaven?”
The man responded, “No sir, but I do plan to go to Congress.”
While in the state legislature, a bill came up which required a yes or no vote. He wanted to vote neither way, as both options would hurt him in the upcoming election. But voting “present” wasn't an option. And the doors were locked.
So, he crawled out a window in the House chambers.
He didn't drink, but not out of conviction. He knew that alcohol would only exacerbate his considerable mental health problems. He avoided the bottle with iron-clad discipline, knowing he would gain a leg up on his more bibulous political opponents.
Often suicidal, friends took turns watching him through the night during his down moods to make sure he didn't hurt himself.
His marriage was a mess, and the mess sometimes spilled into public view.
Once, he showed up at work wearing a large bandage. His loony wife had clunked him over the head with chunk of firewood before breakfast.
While reviewing 15,000 troops in solemn silence, his wife rode up in a carriage and loudly accused him of having an affair with the wife of a general standing nearby.
Without embarrassment, he let her carry on until her venom was spent and casually resumed the review without explanation.
His wife loved to shop. Washington wasn't good enough for her, so she shopped in New York, running up bills which ran into the thousands of dollars.
Her husband let her shop and paid the bills with only a mumble of complaint, even though her shopping used up most of their fortune by the end of his tenure in office.
Perhaps he didn't mind that she was gone. After all, while she was away, he often shared a bed in the White House with his favorite bodyguard, whoever it was at the moment.
His peccadilloes were the subject of gossip among the socialites in Washington, but the press of the time never broke the story. Perhaps they didn't know how.
He told dirty jokes at the most inappropriate times, jokes so crude they would curl the hair of people even today.
He laughed his squeaky laugh at the wrong times, sometimes when surrounded by tragedy.
He was at times so hated by members of his own political party that they nicknamed him “the Baboon.” Indeed, he was ugly enough that the nickname sort of fit.
He was regarded as a social outcast, a hick with a thin, high-pitched voice who was prone to talking like a backwoods farmer when the situation seemed to require more finesse.
Although he relished the role of hick, if you put a pen in his hand he could write like no other president we have ever elected.
However, his elegant writing was usually designed to conceal more of his beliefs and intentions than it revealed.
Every speech he gave, every proclamation he issued was scoured by his allies, opponents and the press for lawyerly loopholes. They were everywhere, and he didn't hesitate to crawl through them when the situation changed.
Knowing how loath the press was to in-depth research, he became a master at issuing grand, sensational proclamations which contained fine print down the page that canceled out what the document seemed to say up top.
Despite it all, he was a genius, a towering intellect, a sensitive leader and a masterful grand strategist, the greatest but most complicated president we have ever elected.
His name was Abraham Lincoln, and in this day and age he would be laughed out of the presidential race long before the first primary.