Abraham Lincoln does not understand why people believe he is honest all the time. He is not an honest man. He falls short when people meet him in person. They may believe he is honest through his speeches, but his words are revised by men who are better at revising than him. They may believe he is honest in his opinions, but those are often fabricated by groups of men who are his advisors, those he seeks the counsel of and values highly in their viewpoints about a divided United States of America. They may believe he is a good man, perhaps even a great man, but he does not feel that way when he lies.
Even though he is meant to be a shining example for America’s future, everybody lies.
He sits in the Oval Office. It is the night of Independence Day, festivities occurring outside of the White House; he is expected to make a Presidential appearance, but he is preoccupied. The dust had just settled in Gettysburg, and he parses out what to do as the death toll is counted. He is in the middle of writing a letter to his wife, Mary Todd, who is currently travelling by wagon to the West.
He lies by writing that he will visit Gettysburg straightaway and with immense haste. He is lying because he has not even made an effort to pack up his essential belongings and book a public train ticket. He figures that, since Mary will be gone for months, she will not know the difference.
Guilt burns at him, burns as much as the crackling fireplace. It is the only light besides the waxing and waning candle at his desk, causing layers of sweat to stick and permeate his beard. His hat, so infamous and gaudy, rests on his slicked-down hair, causing sweat to percolate in beads on his forehead. His body burns with dishonesty as he studies his poor penmanship.
He cannot lie to his wife, no matter how hard he tries. He can lie about anything else, about his genuineness when placed on a public stage, on a pedestal to be admired by millions, but he cannot lie to his wife.
He rises to his feet, his formalwear sticking to his skin as the fire swirls around the Oval Office in invisible heat waves. He trudges numbly over to the fireplace, letter in hand, and drops it. He is transfixed as the paper curls up into the flames and fizzles into ash.
Paper is a commodity, what with the Civil War raging across the country, but he cannot bring himself to care. The offending letter fades from his memory. He walks back to his official Presidential desk.
He sits, wooden chair creaking, and unlatches the drawer. He pulls out another leaflet of paper, unfastening a sheet from its thin stringy binding. He sets the sheet of paper where the previous letter laid, hands curving over the feather in his quill. The metal sitting in a fresh-smelling ink pot is removed by his careful hand. He brings the ink to paper and starts on a new letter to his wife.
He may not be the most honest man, but he will be honest to Mary.
Sara Tausendfreund is an Honors College student at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. She will receive her English undergraduate degree in Fall 2020 and enter the Master of Arts Advanced Track Program to pursue a Linguistics graduate degree the following year. She is a summer intern for Witness Magazine and her contributions to the textbook Analyzing Grammar in Context will be available in Spring 2021.