Yesterday marked the 150th anniversary of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Ford’s Theater in Washington, DC is hosting scores of special events and tributes this month, including a special exhibit called Silent Witness: Artifacts of the Lincoln Assassination. That exhibit includes artifacts carried by Lincoln on the night of the assassination — his top hat, his great coat, and the contents of Lincoln’s pockets (two pairs of glasses, a handkerchief, a pocketknife, a watch fob, nine newspaper clippings, a wallet, and — get this — a Confederate five dollar bill). Now that the Cherry Blossom Festival (aka the National Traffic Jamboree) is over, I may brave a trip downtown to check out the exhibit myself.
What does this have to do with wine?
Our 16th President wasn’t much of a drinker. In fact, most scholars assert he was pretty much a teetotaler. Lincoln said alcohol made him feel “flabby and undone” (it makes me feel flabby and undone, too, but in a good way 😉). Lincoln gave several lectures on temperance, but he wasn’t morally smug about his abstinence. Lincoln’s idea of temperance wasn’t strict abstinence, but moderation. “I am an apostle of temperance only to the extent of coercing moderate indulgence and prohibiting excesses”.1 I can get behind that. Everything in moderation, including moderation.
Lincoln’s law partner, friend, and bodyguard, Ward Hill Lamon, once observed an interesting exchange between Lincoln and the wife of a law associate, Dr. Scott. Lincoln had just delivered an impromptu temperance lecture (reportedly, he did that a lot, the man was a gifted orator). After the lecture, Lincoln, Lamon, and a bunch of law buddies attended a reception at the home of Dr. Scott. Mrs. Scott handed Lincoln a glass of wine and quipped, “I hope you are not a teetotaler, Mr. Lincoln, if you are a temperance lecturer.”2
Mr. Lincoln’s response?
And on that note, I’ll raise my glass to Abraham Lincoln, and the habitual drinking of wine.
All quotes are attributed to:
Lamon, Ward Hill, and Dorothy Teillard. Recollections of Abraham Lincoln, 1847-1865. Chicago: A.C. McClurg, 1895.