“He has a face like a hoosier Michael Angelo,” said Walt Whitman, “so awful ugly it becomes beautiful.”
This is the story of Lincoln’s physical body—how he looked, what he and everyone else said about his looks, and how he placed his physical being at the heart of his politics. A life-long republican, he went beyond preaching the equality of all men. He dramatized it by mixing freely with the people. When he spoke of the equality of all men, he meant that all deserved a fair chance in “the race of life.” He also meant that leaders must strive to show they shared a common life with those they led.
With his assassination in April 1865, Lincoln’s well-known republican body—approachable, plain, drained by public service, and now given up for the nation— swiftly morphed into a religious body, that of the saintly martyred hero. Americans would battle amongst themselves into the 21st century over the meanings of his sacrifice. In 2012, Stephen Spielberg’s “Lincoln” tied his body to the campaign for more equality, while Disneyland’s “Mr. Lincoln” was joining it to the defense of long established liberties.