As readers know, the Czar and his family spent part of this week in Springfield, Illinois, which serves as our states capital. While there, we took in the reknowned Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. This facility is simply incredible.
There are plenty of reviews of how stunning this museum is, as well as the numerous interactive exhibits thereclick on the link in the previous paragraph. Let it be said, there are few things in history that were cooler than this. Mind-blowing special effects. The Czar will not reveal the surprise, either.
But as much as the Czar knows about Lincolncomparatively substantialthere were two realizations for him that linger. Neither is particularly earth-shattering, but they radically shifted the way he viewed his understanding of Lincolns world.
First, Mary Todd Lincoln. How do you view her? Everyone the Czar asked responded more or less the same way: a dour, depressed, often bitter or angry woman who seemed to be the complete opposite of the President. In fact, she was rather unattractive with her perpetual scowl and penchant for snubbing those around her. One (then as now) would be inclined to ask What does he see in her?
Yet, the Czar discovered that she was a very different woman in real life based on the photographs and details of her life that are never included in accounts of her. In actuality, Mrs. Lincoln was a warm, funny, engaging, and powerfully intelligent woman with a superb grasp of politics and timing. She certainly suffered from clinical depression, exacerbated by the death of two boys and her husband in short order, as well as the alienation of her oldest son, but overall, if you had met her, you would conclude within minutes I totally get it. She would win you over with an engaging charisma.
Unfortunately for her, she was vastly smarter than the people who surrounded the President. Indeed, he may have believed her to be the only one in his life capable of keeping up with him: this no doubt terrified his staff and hangers on, who felt her influence was overwhelming and intimidating. They knew she was smarter than they were, so they demonized her. If you were incompetent, you found her dismissive. If you were shallow, you found her cold and snotty. If you were currying favor, you found her angry and bitter. She was, in effect, demonized by friends and opponents alike. With odds like that, no wonder she is remembered differently than she was.
The Czars second epiphany occurred in the Lying in State exhibit, wherein the museum recreates the look and feel of the Presidents pre-funeral display. It was here, amid the black and purple bunting, cold atmosphere, and dramatic lighting that the Czar finally understood a critical piece of American history.
In 1865, Americans were convincedeither openly or secretivelythat the United States was over and done. She was a grand experiment, but ultimately this was a failure. If the South won, the world that Americans knew was over. If the North won, there was no way to repair the South. America was likely ruined either way. The future was powerfully uncertain, to a level that pales the worries many of us have for the Obama administration, or had on the other side for the Bush years. America was in total chaos on a good day, when Americans were openly killing each other on the streets in a battle of Federal versus State governments. The idea that the country would recover and be stronger was ludicrous to Americans.
The only guy, as seen from any side, who seemed to have an undeniable conviction that the country could survive was Lincoln. No matter how bad the situation, no matter how deep the blood or how loud the panic, Lincoln was the sole calming source. Democrats and Southerners alikemost of whom had a deep hatred of Lincolnwould admit that at least he thinks well be all right. There was the slightest possibility that Abraham Lincoln could be right, and that by walking a narrow, breathless course, we might actually survive even this horror. He was the only chance we had.
And then he was gone. Shot and killedjust like that, the single bright hope that Americans could have was gone. The Czar began to appreciate the yawning terror that must have swept through the country. Imagine you are a passenger on a badly damaged aircraft with no logical reason why it still fliesand one surviving pilot somehow seems to be keeping it all together, and is just beginning, against all probability, to line up the injured plane for a landingwhen some random nut you never heard of shoots him at the controls before dying himself. You know what nauseating feeling you would have when you realized your slim hope was gone? Something like that would describe what the average American would have felt the day after Fords Theater.
The Czar cannot imagine what would have been Johnsons first few thoughts. But they would not have been nice.
That all said, the Czar must also admit that, while he has been impressed with museums and exhibitions before, he has never experienced one let alone two epiphanies like this before. This museum warrants a visit. Any possibility you may have to see this place is worth it. Simply incredible.
Божію Поспѣшествующею Милостію Мы, Дима Грозный Императоръ и Самодержецъ Всероссiйскiй, цѣсарь Московскiй. The Czar was born in the steppes of Russia in 1267, and was cheated out of total control of all Russia upon the death of Boris Mikhailovich, who replaced Alexander Yaroslav Nevsky in 1263. However, in 1283, our Czar was passed over due to a clerical error and the rule of all Russia went to his second cousin Daniil (Даниил Александрович), whom Czar still resents. As a half-hearted apology, the Czar was awarded control over Muscovy, inconveniently located 5,000 miles away just outside Chicago. He now spends his time seething about this and writing about other stuff that bothers him.