This is the last post in the LincolnLink series. The blog started in November, 2010, as a way to increase awareness of my book ABE AND MOLLY: The Lincoln Courtship. The book dealt with about three years in the lives of Lincoln and Mary Todd, whom he called Molly. The blog, by contrast, looked at Lincoln’s entire life from birth to his marriage. The marriage signaled his arrival into full adulthood as it was perceived in the Springfield, Illinois, of the early 1840s.
LincolnLink.com will remain accessible. Viewers interested in consulting the more than 80 posts may do so by clicking onto the archive at the left edge of the blog’s home page. It’s likely that I will recycle the entire blog later in the year. But a blog is a heartless taskmaster, demanding that it be serviced at least weekly. I’m taking a vacation for a while, leaving readers with the following personal experience of finding Lincoln at my side.
It is the early 1970s. We are in South Africa, deep in the apartheid era. We have had a splendid dinner at the manorial home in Cape Province of Sir DeVilliers Graaf, leader of the United Party. I am the Africa Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor and this dinner meeting with Div, as he is known, has been arranged by a friend – a politician has many friends – who is a close friend of people I know in Cape Town.
This is both a social occasion and a professional one. After dinner we repair to the living room where I will interview Div in the presence of our two wives and the couple who arranged the meeting. Div is 60, tall, husky, broad-shouldered, sophisticated and extremely good-looking. His family is from the highest stratum of Afrikaner society. He is a skillful politician, the leader of a “centrist” party that keeps losing seats. Not easy to be centrist about apartheid. I am certain that he means to be a good man as well as a good politician.
As I begin to interview him, my left leg starts to tremble. Why is it doing that? I must be nervous. I try to stop the trembling. No, it won’t stop. I try to cover it and that seems to work. The trembling is a reaction to the awkwardness of trying to interview a politician while dinner guest friends sit around watching. Hard to pose tough questions in that atmosphere – and there are plenty to ask. About what? About apartheid, of course.
Div does not support apartheid. But he does not really want to entirely dismantle it because he believes in separation of the races. He wants to mitigate apartheid’s cruelties.
I regard apartheid as repugnant, cruel, unjust, racist, foolish from an economic standpoint and doomed to failure. I have written that it will be overturned by the end of the century. That’s still a long time off, but my prediction is considered “way out there.” (It turns out to be right by more than half a decade.) At the end of this trip – I’m based in Nairobi – I will write a long, three-article series that begins something like: “Slavery is not dead.” I start the interview with my damn leg trembling.
Some years later I realize that Abraham Lincoln was in the room with us. He was inside my head. He had shaped the way I think.
Lincoln came to the conclusion that as the United States expanded, there could be no extension of slavery. Yes, the Constitution permitted it. But it could not be allowed to expand beyond the states where it was then practiced.
That idea caused the southern states to secede. The Civil War resulted. Lincoln began his Presidency committed to holding the Union of states together. As the war progressed, he realized that it could not be won unless the slaves were emancipated. So he emancipated them. Not with the consent of the governed. He just did it.
As I sat interviewing Sir DeVilliers Graaf in the early ‘70s, the equal rights implicit in that emancipation had not yet been fully realized in the United States. Just as they have not been fully realized even today. But Lincoln was with me in that room. My views about race and the equal rights of men were different from Div’s – because of Abraham Lincoln. The impact of what he did is always with Americans. It’s in the way they live.
Frederic Hunter is author of ABE AND MOLLY The Lincoln Courtship, www.AbeandMolly.com. Available on Kindle and Nook.
Fred Hunter can be reached at FredericHunter@gmail.com.