Lincoln: The Greatest President of the Greatest Democracy

An early steroscopic photo of President Abraham Lincoln, ca. 1865

"The Conspirator," Robert Redford's new film about the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, opens today, on the 146th anniversary of the president's death. The conspiracy to kill Lincoln had unfolded on the preceding day, Good Friday, at Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C. The actor and Confederate sympathizer John Wilkes Booth, inflicted the mortal wound — a single shot to the head that would have killed most men instantly. Lincoln, however, held on for almost 10 hours, and died on April 15, 1865. He was 56 years old.

"The Conspirator," Robert Redford's new film about the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, opens today, on the 146th anniversary of the president's death. The conspiracy to kill Lincoln had unfolded on the preceding day, Good Friday, at Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C. The actor and Confederate sympathizer John Wilkes Booth, inflicted the mortal wound — a single shot to the head that would have killed most men instantly. Lincoln, however, held on for almost 10 hours, and died on April 15, 1865. He was 56 years old.

The film unveils some overlooked history of the conspiracy, with the trial of Mary Surratt, one of Booth's co-conspirators. That is quite an accomplishment, given the more than 14,000 books that have been written about his presidency and assassination. Why the fascination? Simply put, Lincoln was the greatest president of the world’s greatest democracy.

Here’s why: Lincoln freed the slaves, including my ancestors, which, of course, makes me a bit partial.

Lincoln, however, went beyond the Emancipation; the Civil War began 150 years ago this week; through the lens of history we can see how Lincoln pioneered modern race relations, welcoming black abolitionists like Frederick Douglass and Sojourner Truth to the White House at a time when African-Americans were still less than full people - as a matter of law.

Lincoln also represents the best of the American dream. Talk about bootstraps: Up from poverty all the way to the White House, a journey it would take most families generations to achieve, if ever they did. This extraordinary man managed it in a single lifetime.

Though Abe Lincoln received fewer than two years of formal education, he understood the power of the English language and used it change hearts and minds. He also knew when fewer words would serve better. The iconic Gettysburg address is just ten sentences long. At Gettysburg, Lincoln brilliantly summarized the Civil War in two to three minutes.

Lincoln’s character was constant through America’s most difficult hour. Simply put, had the president been nearly any other man, at that moment in our history, the “United States” would likely not be.

Lincoln died just days after the Civil War ended. But our greatest president laid the groundwork for this to become the greatest of nations.

Jami Floyd is an attorney, broadcast journalist and legal analyst for cable and network news, and is a frequent contributor to WNYC Radio. She is former advisor in the Clinton administration and served as a surrogate for the Obama campaign on legal and domestic policy issues. You can follow her on twitter.