From The Pen Of Frank Jackman
February is Black History Month
Lincoln Memorial: Washington
Let's go see Old Abe
Sitting in the marble and the moonlight,
Sitting lonely in the marble and the moonlight,
Quiet for ten thousand centuries, old Abe.
Quiet for a million, million years.
And yet a voice forever
…he, Father Abraham he, pug-ugly he that no monument chiseled stone could render beautiful (damn, that age of photography, that Mathew Brady and his merry band, that damn warts and all pre-digital photography, when a painterly touch, say Winslow Homer’s, might have made him, well, just plain). Yes, warts and all, sitting arched in stone in judgment, eternity self-judgment (did he do this or that right to further furrow his brow first of all, overall, preliminary assessment right on union and abolition). He, furrowed and pug-ugly, thus no catch for gentile Kentucky bourbon belle daughters, or so it seemed, all Kentuck born and Illini-bred (where the best they could do was say nigra when talking about the slave problem. And later, much later the sons and grandsons of poor as dirt Kentuck hills and hollows mountain boys, Harlan County roughs, picked that up nigra expression too, and went to their graves with that on their lips, Jesus.). He meant to keep all the races split, let them, the blacks, (nigras, remember) go back to Canaan land, go back to Africa, go to some not American union place but keep them out of Chi town (sounds familiar) had a conversion, maybe not a conversion so much as a lining up of his beliefs with his “walk the walk” talk.
So he ran for president, President of the United States, not as a son of William Lloyd Garrison, all Newburyport prissy and hell- bent on damning the Constitution, his Abe well-thumbed, well-read constitution, or some reformed wild boy Liberty man barely contained in the Fremont Republican dust but a busted out Whig when whiggery went to ground, (hell, no, on that tack, otherwise he would still be stuck in Springfield or maybe practicing law in bell-weather podunk Peoria, although he would note what that burg had to say and move slowly). Nor was he some righteous son, Thoreau or Emerson-etched son, of fiery-maned Calvinist sword-in-hand black avenging angel Captain John Brown, late of Kansas blood wars and Harpers Ferry liberation fight (he had no desire to share the Captain’s blood-soaked fate, mocked his bloody efforts in fact, as if only immense bloods would render the national hurts harmless when later the hills, hollows and blue-green valleys reeked of blood and other stenches).
His goal, simple goal (in the abstract), was to hold the union together, and to curb that damn land hunger slavery, that national abyss. And since they ran politics differently in those days (no women, latinos, nigras to fuss over) and were able to touch up a picture or two (and stretch his biographic facts a bit when the “wide awakes” awoke) he won, barely won but won. And then all hell broke loose, and from day one, from some stormy March day one, he had to bend that big long boney pug-ugly body to the winds, his winds.
And he did, not unequivocally, not John Brown prophet proud, fearlessly facing his gallows and his maker, to erase the dripping blood and canker sore from his homeland, but in a revolutionary way nevertheless, broke down slavery’s house divided, broke it down, no quarter given when the deal went down. So more like some latter day Oliver Cromwell (another warts and all man) pushing providence forward with a little kick. More like old Robespierre flaming the masses with the new dispensation, the new word slave freedom. Kept freeing slaves as he went along, kept pushing that freedom envelope, kept pushing his generals south and west and east and tightening , anaconda tightening, the noose on the old ways until Johnny Reb cried uncle, cried his fill when righteous Sherman and his cutthroat bummers got to work too. Yes, old Father Abraham, the last of the revolutionary democrats, the last of the serious ones, who couldn’t say black better that nigra, and never could, but knew the old enlightenment freedom word, knew it good.
…and now he belongs to the ages, and rightfully so, warts and all.