National Press Club

McGovern's Take on Lincoln

February 16, 2009 | By Frank Kane

Despite more than 16,000 books having been published about Abraham Lincoln, former Sen. George McGovern’s short biography of the 16th president was a quick sell-out in his book-signing Feb.13 at the Club.

McGovern, who has a doctorate in history and government and has written several other books, said he told organizers of the American presidents series of books he would write one if it could be about Lincoln. “That’s too bad," he was told. "Bill Clinton says he wants to do that one.” But a year later, he was told to ahead because Clinton was just too busy.

Lincoln, the senator noted, often told humorous stories to mask his depression. A group of women chastised him for joking while so many were dying on battlefields. The president replied, “If I could not laugh a little with so many dying, my heart would break.”

And even though only Southern states were affected by his Emancipation Proclamation, Lincoln probably thought it his greatest achievement because it would encourage slaves to leave their masters and weaken the South, McGovern said.

Lincoln had to wait until Grant, Sherman, and Phil Sheridan came along to have generals capable of winning the war, McGovern said. And at one point he was so desperate, Lincoln seriously thought of taking one division of troops and leading it himself. But he realized that it was more important to remain president, McGovern said.