Wednesday, October 1, 2014

O Captain! My Captain!

An Open Letter to Doris Kearns Goodwin:

I cannot trace the origin of the open letter strategy, but since Salmon Chase used it, I suppose I can. Thank goodness he isn't alive to correct my grammar or admonish me for my sense of humor. By the way, did you sprain any eye muscles from over-rolling when you sketched Mr. Chase in words. Wow. Arrogance, thy name is Salmon.

I digress.

My gratitude is yours for creating such a profound book as Team of Rivals. After two renewals at the library and a delicious airplane ride of uninterrupted reading, I finally finished--moist eyed and truly grateful that such a man as Abraham Lincoln walked the earth. The passenger next to me on the plane asked me about the behemoth book on my lap and I gushed far more than I should have to a complete stranger. He quipped it would take him a year to read such a book. I replied that it would be worth it.

Why did it affect me so much? I grew up in North Carolina--the Civil War ain't new to me. Of course, I heard a different version of how it all went down, but Abe was by no means demonized in my education. I had read other books about Lincoln as our last great hope, as an honest man, and a political genius. But this one, this was something more.

Lincoln burnt no bridges and carried no grudges. That, I believe, is the salient point. Seward, Chase, and Bates had all cultivated some shoulder chips going into the Republican Convention. Only Lincoln bore no enemies. Combining his clean record with a dogged work ethic, he won the nomination humbly and intelligently. His pattern was established.

Your skill is stunning. I cannot imagine the long hours and days you spend researching enough material to tie together such a seamless narrative. How do you do that?!? It was amazing. Did you find yourself longing to write more letters? I did. I felt such a lack in our current leaders speechmaking skills and a serious dearth in our own personal communication habits. The letters between friends and lovers were powerful and prolific, weren't they? Our quick emails and txts (why DO people leave out the e in that word? Is it really that much harder to write?) perpetuate shallow interactions themselves. I aim to write more letters and thoughts because of this book.

I am wondering how writing this book so many years after Lincoln affected your views of our modern government. The artful movements of Lincoln with his whining cabinet and egotistical generals (McClellan! Wow. Just Wow.) were awe-inspiring. I've listened to C-SPAN rather extensively and though Phil Graham's voice has a lovely lilt, I don't know that it soothes ruffled feathers. What can we learn?

Your book should be required reading for every person running for Congress and Senate. They should have to write a paper on it before swearing in, and paragraphs should be read on the floor before every debate.

It's that good.

Thank you for writing such a brilliant piece of work. Thank you for taking the time to explore a man such as Lincoln--a flawed man with a brilliant mind, a warm heart, and a fantastic sense of humor and stories. Though he might not believe in life after this death, I do, and I look forward to the day when I can meet him, watch him unfold his legs in front of some heavenly fireplace, and listen to him tell his stories of humor, sorrow, courage, and fortitude.

And, then, I think he'll say: "You know that Doris, she got it just about right didn't she. I think I'll send her a letter."