This all began on a very long plane ride, East Coast to West, when I was reading Doris Kearns Goodwin’s “Team of Rivals,” her book about Abraham Lincoln and his political competitors, and how, in the course of the Civil War, he turned them into a collegial Cabinet. It is a well-told, many-sided story, which attempts to give context to Lincoln without diminishing him, to place him among his peers and place him above them, too.
Coming to the end of the book, to the night of April 14, 1865, and Lincoln’s assassination, I reached the words that were once engraved in every American mind. At 7:22 A.M., as Lincoln drew his last breath, all the worthies who had crowded into a little back bedroom in a boarding house across the street from Ford’s Theatre turned to Edwin Stanton, Lincoln’s formidable Secretary of War, for a final word. Stanton is the one with the long comic beard and the spinster’s spectacles, who in the photographs looks a bit like Mr. Pickwick but was actually the iron man in the Cabinet, and who, after a difficult beginning, had come to revere Lincoln as a man and a writer and a politician—had even played something like watchful Horatio to his tragic Hamlet. Stanton stood still, sobbing, and then said, simply, “Now he belongs to the ages.”
more from The New Yorker here.