You were already familiar with these four presidents: Lincoln, two Roosevelts and Johnson. What surprised you most as you looked at them again?
Collectively, I had studied these four presidents—Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson—for almost five decades, so I thought I knew them pretty well. But when I went back to study my guys—as I like to call them—anew, through the exclusive lens of leadership, I was surprised by how much there was still to learn about their lives as young people, when they first realized in themselves that they were leaders, and how they grew into their leadership positions through loss, self-reflection and experience. I got to know them more intimately than ever before—and I hope the reader feels the same.
Perhaps historians shouldn’t have favorites, but you close your book with reflections on Lincoln’s death and legacy. Is he perhaps your favorite president?
Yes, you are correct on both accounts. I’m not sure I should have a favorite, but I do—and it’s surely Abraham Lincoln. Confident and humble, persistent and patient, Lincoln had the ability to mediate among different factions of his party, and was able, through his gift for language, to translate the meaning of the struggle into words of matchless force, clarity and beauty. For me, it is Lincoln’s legacy that burns the brightest. He saved the Union, won the war and ended slavery forever. Download: Run 3
Neither Franklin Roosevelt nor Abraham Lincoln lived long enough to lead the peace they worked so hard to achieve. Do you feel America would be different had they finished their terms?
Though Abraham Lincoln recognized that the challenge of Reconstruction was even greater than winning the war, he was without doubt the best man to face that challenge. Above all, he wanted a healing tone toward the South as evidenced in his Second Inaugural. Yet at the same time, Lincoln would have been fiercely protective of the rights of the newly freed slaves. As for Franklin Roosevelt, how I wish he could have lived to see the end of the war and the beginning of the United Nations. I do believe, though, that Harry Truman carried out much of what FDR would have done.