Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter Politics
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It is the eternal struggle between these two principles—right and wrong—throughout the world. They are the two principles that have stood face to face from the beginning of time; and will ever continue to struggle. —Abraham Lincoln, debating Stephen A. Douglas October 15th, 1858 (3.1)
If politics is about right versus wrong (and, by extension, good versus evil), that probably means we have to fight against evil totally. No compromise necessary. Compare this to his 1848 speech (that starts out Chapter Eight), where he says "The true rule, in determining to embrace, or reject any thing, is not whether it have any evil in it; but whether it have more of evil, than of good" (8.1). Do those two positions make sense together?
Captain Lincoln! I will admit that tears filled my eyes. It was the first time I had felt such esteem. The first time that I had been elected to lead my fellow men, and their sacred trust gave me more satisfaction than any election I have won or any office I have held since. (6.31)
Let's be honest—this position doesn't seem to matter much. Abe's militia never goes to war, so he never gets to lead these men in a way that matters. But still, it feels good to Abe to be chosen by people for something that seems important at the time. Think of this as the American Idol of the 1800s.
In one of the few highlights of his congressional career, Abe introduced a bill to outlaw slavery in the District of Columbia. He'd been careful to write it in such a way that "it seemed neither severe to slave owners, nor feeble to abolitionists." But there was only so much a first-term Congressman could do, brilliant or not. The bill never came to a vote. (8.46)
If this is politics, then it doesn't seem that fun to us. Here's Abe, all excited over finally getting to the big leagues. (No offense to state legislatures, but no one likes you. No offense.) And he just wants to do a little good by banning slavery in D.C., which isn't that big of an area, but he can't even get this bill discussed in Congress. It's no wonder that Abe decides to go back to being just a country lawyer after this. At least in that line of work, people pay him some attention.
I wanted nothing more of vampires or politics. To think of all that I had missed whiling away the hours in Washington! How much of Eddy's brief, beautiful life had escaped my notice! No... never again. Simplicity! That was the oath I swore now. Family! That was my errand. (9.14)
This is a problem that Abe experiences both with vampires and with politics: doing politics (like killing vampires) takes a lot of time away from his family. Even today, when politicians lose elections or retire, they often say something about how they're now going to spend more time with their family. Well, they may not be telling the truth, but if Abe said that, it would be totally true. Come on, he's Honest Abe.
Senator Charles Sumner lay unconscious on the Senate floor, facedown in a pool of his own blood.
The abolitionist had been attacked by a thirty-seven-year-old congressman named Preston Smith Brooks, a proslavery South Carolinian who'd taken offense at the Massachusetts senator's mocking of his uncle in an antislavery speech two days earlier. On May 22nd, 1856, Brooks entered the Senate chamber accompanied by a fellow South Carolina congressman named Laurence Keitt and approached Sumner at his writing desk. "Mr. Sumner," said Brooks, "I have read your speech twice over carefully. It is a libel on South Carolina, and Mr. Butler, who is a relative of mine." Before Sumner had a chance to reply, Brooks began to beat his head with his gold-tipped cane, opening new gashes with each blow. Blinded by his own blood, Sumner staggered to his feet before collapsing. His victim now unconscious and bleeding, Brooks continued to strike until his cane broke in two. As horrified senators rushed to Sumner's aid, they were held back by Keitt, who brandished a pistol and yelled, "Let them be!"
The blows fractured Sumner's skull and vertebrae. He would live but wouldn't be able to return to his Senate duties for three years. When South Carolinians heard of the attack, they sent Brooks new canes by the dozen. (9.35-7)
This ridiculous scene takes place on the floor of the United States Senate, but this is not politics. (Do not do this if you are running for elected office.) This is all totally accurate historically and it's a pretty good example of how people stopped debating the issue of slavery in an appropriate fashion, lost their heads, and started whacking each other with gold canes. It's only a few steps from "Representative beating older Senator into unconsciousness" to "let's fight a war."
I am happy to make a speech or two; happy to lend my pen where it is needed. But I am happy. And happiness, I have decided, is a noble ambition. I have lost too much already, and have been a slave to vampires these thirty years. Let me now be free. Let me now seek the enjoyment of whatever time God may grant me. And if this peace be merely prelude to some peril or other, so be it. I shall enjoy the peace. (9.38)
Abe being happy is pretty rare in this book. So when he wants to be happy rather than work in politics, we can't blame him. What's weird is how Abe starts off by saying that he wants to be happy now, but at the end of that paragraph, he seems willing to accept that happiness won't last and he'll get back into politics. Is that what destiny is—a willingness to be dragged back? Goodness, we hope not.
I have failed the oppressed... the helpless faces crying out for justice. I have failed to meet the expectations of freedom-loving people everywhere. Is this the "purpose" which Henry so often speaks of? To fail?
His melancholy wouldn't last long. Three days after his defeat, Abe received a letter from Henry consisting of three short sentences.
We are pleased to hear of your loss. Our plans continue unabated. Await further instructions. (10.21-3)
Politics is no place for a depressed person, especially because it can be so complex. Here's Abe, moping after his loss, feeling that he's not living up to his fate, failing to stop slavery (okay, okay, we get it, dude, you didn't get your way). And then he gets a letter from Henry, noting that this was always the plan. Really Henry? You couldn't let him in on that little secret?
I admit it came as little surprise, for I believed that the Union would see to my victory—whether earned or not. [Footnote:] There was no cause for the Union to intervene—Abe comfortably won the election on his own merits. (10.158)
Here's a seriously weird moment for us. The Union really wants Abe to win, and they've worked hard to fight the South. So it makes sense for Abe to think the Union would manipulate the election in order to make sure he wins. And yet the narrator gives us this footnote to assure us that Abe won by himself. Wait, what? Maybe one of the people he interviewed told him this, but does that make sense: "we really really really want X, but we're not going to get involved"?
There are some who have sworn that I shall never live to see the White House. (10.171)
Well, we've already seen what happened with Preston Smith Brooks (and also with John Brown leading a raid against slave-owners [9.39]), so some people have clearly decided that politics isn't going to get things done. So, instead of fighting Abe politically, the Southern vampires have decided to fight him with violence. To be fair, Abe has been chopping off vampire heads and staking them in the heart since he was 11, so it's not like he's a stranger to the violence game, either.
The sound of my boys at play is (too often, I confess) the only joy between sunrise and sleep. I am therefore too happy to wrestle and chase them about whenever the opportunity presents itself— and regardless of who looks on. […] Mary thinks it beneath the dignity of a president to gambol so, but were it not for these moments—these tender little pieces of life—I should go mad in a month's time. (11.58)
Once again, Abe makes a connection between politics and being happy—well, actually a disconnection. Being happy is almost opposite being involved in politics. (Now politicians are sad because they're always being recorded saying silly things.) So it may be Abe's destiny to be involved in politics, but it's not a happy one. He has to find other, non-destiny-related ways to keep his mood up.
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