Michael Burlingame’s “Lincoln: A Life,” particularly in its coverage of Mr. Lincoln’s years as president, is a tale about how incredibly hard it is to do the right thing in the world.
While Shelby Foote’s “The Civil War: A Narrative” shows the war in overview, Burlingame shows the war from the political perspective.
Abraham Lincoln makes incredibly hard choices to balance the demands of those in the South, those in the border states and those in the north, leading the country through loss and slowly towards the understanding that the war was a mighty cause, not something to take shortcuts on.
Lincoln was attacked from every corner, for not being fast enough, for not being conciliatory enough, for not being smart enough, for being a dictator, everything.
Leadership, real leadership, is the hardest thing we can do. It is so much easier to not do the hard, wonky work of keeping balance and forming change.
What would he have done if his work product was torn open and picked apart in a twenty-four hour news cycle? How could he have lead if his image was picked apart on-screens in every moment?
Reactionary choices are reactionary, even if they demand change from the hard path of thoughtful leadership.
And as for someone who identifies as smart, as a woman, as diverse, and who saw the traps long ago, my heart is easily broken.
It would hearten me if leaders took more lessons from the hard war of President Lincoln, but I doubt that will happen for a long time now.
That leaves me quite broken up.