Abe Lincoln, one of my favorite Presidents, is famous for numerous things. He came from the back of the pack through "hard work, self-education and honesty." He saved the Union and ended slavery. He died soon after accomplishing the impossible at the hands of John Wilkes Booth. It is expected that people will rewrite Lincoln's biography. A man of this magnitude of greatness should be given a dignified biography. Myths surround Abraham Lincoln, no doubt a direct result of his notoriety. Here are some myths that have been debunked. Hope you enjoy.
2. Lincoln was gay.
Gay rights activist Larry Kramer has long speculated that Lincoln was gay, claiming in 1999 that he'd discovered Lincoln's love letters to onetime roommate Joshua Speed. The claim is reportedly featured in Kramer's forthcoming history of homosexuality, "The American People," but historian Gabor Boritt called Kramer's assertion "almost certainly . . . a hoax."
Four generations of biographers attest that Lincoln was often morose, but Washington College's Joshua Wolf Shenk made the case in his recent book, "Lincoln's Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled his Greatness," that the 16th president was clinically depressed. Lincoln certainly had moments of what he called the "hypo," most notably when his first serious crush, Ann Rutledge, died in 1835, and again when he broke up with fiancÃ©e Mary Todd on the eve of their nuptials in 1841. (They reconciled the next year.)
Though I co-edited a collection of Lincoln papers with Shenk, we disagree on this point. Genuine depression was untreatable in the 19th century, and its victims often descended into madness or took their own lives. It is impossible to reconcile this debilitating disease with the Lincoln who labored tirelessly and effectively during his demanding presidency. Clinically depressed people often can't get out of bed, let alone command an army.
The recent scandal over an altered National Archives pardon - a document allegedly changed by historian Thomas P. Lowry in 1998 to make it appear that Lincoln spent his final hours pardoning a soldier for desertion - gives us the opportunity to reconsider the chronic oversimplification of Lincoln's soft touch. In light of the Archives melee, historians should re-examine the thousands of pardons Lincoln issued to weigh their authenticity and balance them against the death sentences he did allow.
5. Lincoln was mortally ill.