When Fort Sumter was fired upon in April 1861, formally starting a Civil War, Abraham Lincoln was 52 years and 2 months old. I am now 52 years and 2 months old. Though I am not president, perhaps some perspective on the many questions about his physical and mental health during the exigent days of his presidency can be gained by a comparison.
He loved his wife, though men and women become gradually less compatible as they age. I love my wife, and yes, that gap in activities and cares is felt in our home, too. Despite the occasional yelling, he and Mary were fine; so are my wife and I. Thanks for asking.
He worked too hard. He lost weight as a result. He did not sleep all that much. Ditto.
He did not drink, and his stories were much admired by friend and even foe alike, and these traits undoubtedly kept him youthful. I fail to meet his standard on both counts.
His feet bothered him a fair bit, and he did not own a pair of boots that fit him comfortably until the last year of his life. We are luckier today: our shoes fit fine, and very few of us suffer from saddle sores. No mercury in our pills, either.
His beard was thinning, and graying just a bit, like the hair at his temples. Mary used a little hair dye to stay ‘young,’ and some have wondered if Abraham borrowed it, but we have no real evidence to support that view. I am not growing a beard or using that stuff.
His two living children by spring 1862 marched to the beat of very different drums. Same choreography in my house. Both of our olders: hard-working, popular, destined for greatness of some sort. Our youngers: rambunctious, not that interested in l’arnin’ or settin’ still – just spunky to beat the band. As they age, they need less parental minding, and that phenomenon suited the presidential schedule.
No one is interested in my DNA. Lincoln’s is sought by people in a half-dozen professions. We probably would learn nothing by sequencing his 150-year-old protein strands. From mine, well, we already know that color-blindness is heritable. This mad pursuit for Lincoln’s DNA is probably fruitless. He did not have Marfan’s Syndrome, and any other maladies he might have had evidently did not lead him to or prevent him from saving the Union or freeing the slaves. Or visiting Gettysburg, as depicted in the artwork here.
The matter far larger than molecules was his daily effort to save the great institutions around him and rectify the ills. Me too, but without his power and grace. Advancing his Presidential Library within so parlous a budgetary environment may kill me yet, and both of us can get ‘voted’ out by our peers. But we fight on with the help of most around us, as would most people in our chairs, “for a vast future also.” There was nothing wrong with Lincoln that an hour with Burns’s poems or a stroll across the park couldn’t cure. Mary forced him to take carriage rides with her to calm him down and keep them close. It worked. It’s the outlook that keeps you healthy.
No, Lincoln’s health as a question should fade to nothingness under the glaring July 4th sun of a separate question: the health of the “republican example” he wished the United States to set for the world. He would not “abandon that position,” as he told Congress on July 4, 1861 (150 years ago today). And his health did not abandon him. Lincoln was ever the doctor, and never the patient in his own lifetime.