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May 2019
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Jump back February 9th, 2009 Go forward

I decided to buy a copy of Lincoln's Melancholy by Michael Wolf Shenk, this morning. The book only came out in 2005, and it seems to already be out of print, or something--it's listed as a bargain book on Amazon.

Lincoln's Health: I spent most of yesterday afternoon reading the Lincoln Portrait website, the one pegkerr directed me to, about the newly-discovered daguerreotype of Lincoln that was taken when he was 31 or 32. It is fascinating reading. Apparently, Lincoln suffered a head injury at age 10 when a horse he was driving around a circular mill kicked him in the forehead just above his left eye. This isn't noticeable in his photographs, but it is apparently quite distinct in his life-mask.

It is believed that this injury led to nerve and muscle damage to his left eye and to the left side of his face. His two eyes did not function well together to produce binocular vision; Lincoln had diplopia (double-vision) and frequently experienced eyestrain. He also had ptosis (droopy eyelids) in both eyes, which further hampered his vision, particularly in his left eye.

You can also see, in at least some of his photographs, that the right side of his face does look more animated than the left side, and Lincoln actually preferred to be photographed from his right side. This can be hard to see unless you're looking for it, though, because Lihcoln apparently didn't like smiling for the camera. Considering that old-fashioned photographs required several minutes to take, I don't blame him. I wouldn't want to sit still in a chair for several minutes with a stupid grin plastered on my face, either.

The record of Lincoln's weight loss is marked. He goes from looking like a hale and hearty 32 year-old in his 1841 photograph, to looking as if he had somewhat recovered from a stay in Auschwitz in his 1848 photograph.

Lincoln's Politics: During my Lincoln explorations yesterday, I came across a 2007 discussion in a Star Trek message forum in which someone was calling Lincoln the second-worst President we've ever had because he instituted some practices during his administration which flew in the face of the Constitution--suspending habeas corpus, arresting newspeople, etc. I agree that Lincoln did all of those things. However, he was fighting a war on the home soil. This is why we have such a thing as martial law. Martial law is not ever intended to be permanent, though there is the danger that, once in effect, an unscrupulous leader could choose not to lift it.

My feeling is that Lincoln knew the Constitution backward and forward, far better than I know it, and far better than most Americans living today know it. I would trust Lincoln to go against the Constitution and to restore it far more than I would trust a lot of today's politicians to. That is my take on the 'Lincoln was Evil' argument.

Jump back February 9th, 2009 Go forward