Monday, December 17, 2007

Psychic Lincoln?

The Chicago Sun Times ran an article this morning about a curious new book called, The Psychic Life of Abraham Lincoln.

Surprisingly, the author claims that Lincoln “was a pretty psychic guy.” I’ve not read the book, nor do I know how to quantify one’s psychic ability; nonetheless, I want to take issue with one of the author's statements.

According to the author of the book, Lincoln scholars discredit Lincoln’s interest in spiritualism “because they believe it’s goofy.”

I disagree. If spiritualism has been downplayed or even ridiculed by some Lincoln scholars, I don’t think that is evidence of their bias. I think they are merely reflecting Lincoln’s bias.

Lincoln was not a spiritualist. Like thousands of nineteenth century Americans, his wife was intrigued by spiritualism. Upon her invitation, several séances were held in the White House. On at least one occasion, the president attended one of these sessions, but he left before it was even finished. He was confident that the medium was a fraud.

The article contains a nice quote from a very fine author, Sarah Vowell, who summarizes the problem with many Lincoln theories:

Lincoln is like one of those novelty mirrors with a beard painted on the glass. Americans tend to see themselves in him. If you’re a gay Republican, you think he’s a gay Republican. If you’re mopey, you get relatively excited that he was depressed, too.

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