I began reading I Am Abraham with a bit of suspicion and trepidation. I thought, how does this author presume to know the innermost thoughts and emotions of the (my) revered Abraham Lincoln? I have my own version of the inner life of Abraham Lincoln. I want my Lincoln to be less tortured and to have found some periods of satisfaction. I want him to really know that he was beloved by many during his own lifetime and that history would consider him to be one of our greatest Presidents, perhaps even the greatest.
But as I became engrossed in this book, I began to care deeply about Mr. Charyn’s Abe. I felt really sad about his frequent bouts of deep depression and doubt, his wife Mary’s mental illness, his feelings of responsibility for every soldier killed or wounded, the treachery of many people around him, and his own personal losses, and I was moved by his courage and determination and humanity.
As a lifelong activist I was very interested in this Abraham Lincoln as a campaigner for political office. When he was running for Senator and then for President, he seemed a completely reluctant candidate who detested the entire process and was
miserable and humiliated. That surprised me. Did he agree to run for President just because Mary and others wanted him to? Did he believe he was needed to lead the country, and could? In this book Lincoln felt defeated in his seven debates with Douglas about slavery, while the historic Lincoln did edit them afterwards and publish them in a book, which led to his nomination for President by the Republican Party. I’d like to ask the author how he understands that dichotomy between Lincoln’s emotions and his brilliance as a writer and his extraordinary leadership.
In the end I really appreciated this risky book that defied the stereotypes of the iconic Abraham Lincoln and gave us the turmoil and chaos of the era in which Lincoln lived and the unimaginably difficult challenges of his life and Presidency. Mr. Charyn’s Abe remained kind and caring and continued to lead despite those terrible circumstances and own torment and loss. I was thrilled with this portrayal of both him and Mary as determined opponents of slavery who defied convention and took risks to support individuals like Elizabeth and other former slaves and soldiers in need. I loved the chapter where he insisted that the former slaves and free Blacks were needed to help the North win the Civil War and further, that they had the right to fight.
I decided to put aside all those questions of what did or did not happen in “real life.” Did the real Abe Lincoln really sneak away and wander around Washington by himself? Doesn’t matter. Reading about his escapades in this book was wonderful and we don’t need to know the truth.
Harriet Hoffman is a consultant specializing in grant writing and helping people maximize their Medicare and social security benefits. She is the volunteer coordinator for the NYC Independence Clubs.