Lincoln's Vulnerabilities Keep His Appeal Strong Even Today

Article excerpt

This is all you need to know about Abraham Lincoln: He's the only president who is known both as the Great Emancipator and a vampire hunter.

Just after his 200th birthday, the lanky self-reliant frontiersman who became the country's 16th president, savior and martyr retains his hold on our shared consciousness and national identity. He remains a seemingly inexhaustible subject of scholarly analysis, an American icon and a pop-culture brand.

He's the subject of two films so far this year: the gory and Gothic "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" and Steven Spielberg's historical drama "Lincoln," which stars Daniel Day-Lewis as America's 16th president. It opened last week to glowing reviews.

Spielberg's film is based, in part, on "Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln" by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Doris Kearns Goodwin. She served as a consultant on the film and conducted Day-Lewis on a tour of Lincoln sites. Goodwin's book has been re-released to coincide with the new movie.

Lincoln's towering achievements -- preserving the Union and helping to end slavery -- do not put him at an Olympian remove, Goodwin says. He remains eminently vulnerable and relatable by virtue of his early failures, the boyhood death of his mother and the loss of two young sons to illness.

"I think it has to do, in part, with the emotional connection people have with his life story, be it a young kid who also lost a parent when they were young or a kid who failed and saw that Lincoln failed, too," Goodwin says. "There's something approachable about him."

Through her research, Goodwin got to know the man behind the Lincoln myth. This is a guy you wouldn't mind having a drink with, she says.

"There's a real pleasure being in his company. Just that combination of the emotional intelligence that he had. You feel it even as a writer 200 years later. Despite all the sadness, despite his face, despite the burdens on the Civil War, there was a lifeforce in him. …