Lincoln in a nutshell

Lincoln in a nutshell

"A house divided against itself cannot stand upright": on this phrase of Abraham Lincoln, inspired by the Gospel (Mark 3:25), the new United States stand, those born from the terrible war of secession and reunited under an identity shared by the statesman. Who is now commemorated by the United States on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of his death on April 15, 1865, a few days after the "inauguration" of the second presidency.

Among the many ongoing initiatives (in Washington an exhibition was organized at the Ford's Theater, the site of the fatal attack), the exhibition open until June 7 in New York at the Morgan Library & amp; Museum, entitled "Lincoln Speaks - Words that Transformed a Nation" and curated by Richard Carwardine, Declan Kiely and Sandra M. Trenholm. Lincoln's words, both read and spoken, are the best key to understanding his personality: the accurate readings of the Bible of King James and Shakespeare, and then of other authors (including the same age Edgar Allan Poe), they had given the taste of an eloquence never rhetorical and grandiloquent but clear, incisive and not alien to a touch of spirit.

Lincoln loved the rhythm of words and poetry, and had composed verses himself, such as those written in 1846, when he was already sitting in the House of Representatives, in which he makes fun of his own profession, that of a lawyer. The exhibition explains how his political career was opened to him thanks also to the sagacity with which he took the new bipartisan course of American politics, which motivated the candidates to seek popular support with a direct relationship, cemented also by the strength of the word; and here the future president proved unbeatable, thanks to his eloquence, expressly aimed at conquering humble people. An observer acknowledged that Lincoln's "seriousness of convictions, richness of images, power of argument" had no comparison between his opponents. Perhaps the most touching testimony of this first phase of Lincoln's political activity is a manuscript note, dating back to 1858, in which the first mention is made of the topic of the "divided house", which Lincoln elaborates by claiming he does not believe that the institutions of time they can survive "indefinitely, half slaves and half free". It will not be a casual hint, as evidenced by the notes of another election speech, in which he criticizes the democratic opponent for neglecting the ethical dimension of public debate and, in particular, of the issue of slavery.

After being elected president (and it is exciting to read here the emancipation proclamation signed by Lincoln on January 1, 1863), and having found himself in the vortex of the war, the president will speak in public at least a hundred times, often improvising. The only two exceptions will represent the masterpieces of his eloquence: the "Dedication Address" of Gettysburg and the second inaugural speech, short and effective as few others. The first (a quarter of the article you are reading) made the history of the United States: on the occasion of the inauguration of the cemetery dedicated to the victims of the battle that had killed 50 thousand victims, Lincoln managed, in three minutes and 275 words, to synthesize the tragic and noble sense of the civil war, inserting it in the universal process of emancipation towards freedom, self-government and equality. In the second, slightly longer, the President bequeaths a country reunified against the ambitions coming from its own party to rage against the defeated.

But the racial issue would have tormented the United States for a long time; Ava DuVernay's film Selma, on the epic march to the capital of Alabama, Montgomery, which took place between March 21 and 25, 1965, recently reminded us of it, ended with a historic speech by Martin Luther King and represented a decisive step in the process of emancipation of black Americans (a few weeks later President Lyndon Johnson would have promulgated the Voting Rights Act, to protect their electoral rights). Another New York exhibition, "Freedom Journey", running until October 25 at the New York Historical Society, presents photos taken on that historic day by the young reporter of a student magazine, Stephen Somerstein (who would later become physical), so far practically never exposed. Somerstein had managed to sneak among the various protagonists, starting with King, next to which we find a very young Joan Baez and the legendary activist Rose Parks. A much less hopeful movement is the one painted in the 1940s by Jacob Lawrence, perhaps the greatest African-American painter, who represented in 60 panels the biblical migration (which began a hundred years ago) of colored populations from the rural South to the industrialized North of the USA : presents the exhibition ("One-Way Ticket-Jacob's Lawrence Migration Series and Other Visions of the Great Movemente North", until September 7) of the entire collection, normally divided between the Phillips Collection and Moma, and organized by the latter . The cycle is certainly one of the highest and most touching works on the condition of blacks: not surprisingly, the title, which originally played brutally "The Migration of the Negro", has also been retouched. The circle still closes at the New York Historical Society where we find Lincoln (who welcomes us at the entrance) observing the path of the exhibition on Selma; in the same venue, it is the protagonist of another appointment, "Lincoln and the Jews" (until 7 June), which explores the commitment to free the country from the no less dramatic form of discrimination against Jews: against them Lincoln always showed the utmost respect, strengthened also by the deep religious roots and biblical readings that had made him cultivate the dream he could never fulfill, that of visiting Jerusalem.