So I was thinking as I went through piles of old magazines and newspaper sections that can’t all be save-worthy. Never say never, is that old lesson I have been taught once more.
For example, the Smithsonian magazine for February this year carried a story under the title Lincoln’s Boys that will make it impossible for me ever again to think the same about the great president’s assassination. The subtitle reads:
“The slain president’s two personal secretaries battled mudslingers for a quarter-century to shape his image.” Author Joshua Zeits calls Old Abe “The most skilled executive ever to have lived in the White House.”
Secretaries John Nicolay and John Hay had the job of transferring Lincoln’s popularity with the Northern public to similar high regard among the nation’s political and intellectual elites. How they did it makes a fascinating story.
IN THE TIME after Lincoln’s burial in Springfield, Ill., Nicolay and Hay spent several weeks arranging the late president’s papers to ship to Illinois. These comprised 18,000 documents on about 42,000 pieces of paper, which remained behind closed doors.
“The first substantive attempt at memorializing Lincoln fell to George Bancroft, the unofficial dean of the American historical enterprise, whom Congress invited to deliver a tribute early n 1866.
“A Democrat who had served in James Polk’s cabinet, Bancroft was an unusual choice to eulogize the first Republican president. The two men were not well acquainted. Bancroft cast a critical eye on Lincoln’s abilities. Speaking from the well of the House for more than two and a half hours, the gray-haired relic offered little background beyond a stock biographical sketch of the 16th president, though he managed to issue a cool, outwardly polite rebuke of Lincoln’s administrative skills and intellectual capacity for high office.
“John Hay later fumed that ‘Bancroft’s address was a disgraceful exhibition of ignorance and prejudice.’ The former secretary [Hay] was particularly offended that Bancroft seemed fundamentally to underestimate Lincoln’s native genius. It was an error Hay had seen committed time and again during the war, by better educated but lesser men who remained stubbornly ignorant of the president’s reserve of intelligence and strength.”
AND THAT wasn’t the only interesting historical tidbit I got from this one magazine. Looking back to 1964, Writer Sally Jenkins tells the story of how verbose, 23-year-old Cassius Clay talked and boxed his way to become the heavyweight champion of the world, “the rich rhyming savant, public militant and charismatic superstar.”