We’ve heard plenty about evil stepmothers, so let’s hear the flip side – the good stepmother who helped shape the man who preserved the Union.
That’s one of the stories in “Lincoln: Divided We Stand,” which is part of an excellent documentary duo Sundays on CNN, starting Feb. 14: “Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy” is 9 p.m. and midnightET, offering a warm survey of food and people; the Lincoln story is at 10 p.m. and 1 a.m. ET.
Abe Lincoln (shown here) had a hard-scrabble childhood in Kentucky and then Indiana, hitting bottom when he was 9. His mother died and his father decided he couldn’t raise the kids alone. Leaving Abe and his sister in their cold cabin, he rode back to Kentucky and asked a family friend to marry him.
Sarah Bush Johnson – whose husband, a jailer, had died – said yes. She arrived with three children, some cookware … and a collection of books, which Lincoln promptly gravitated to.
Yes, he would grow to be 6-foot-4 and muscular, known for his brief time as a rail-splitter. But Lincoln actually hated farmwork; he wanted to read, write and tell stories.
With a father who disapproved of reading; Abe totaled about one year of education. But he became a self-taught lawyer who also gave strong speeches opposing slavery.
This was not yet “the Great Emancipator”; his idea was to ship slaves back to Africa. But he was a skilled speaker who mixed passion and humor: When one heckler accused him of being two-faced, Lincoln asked, approximately: “If I had another face, do you think I would wear this one?”
He managed to fail upwards. After one term in Congress, he was passed over for a presidential appointment and went home to Illinois. He ran for U.S. Senate against Stephen Douglas and lost … but drew national attention from accounts of the famed Lincoln-Douglas debates. Two years later, in 1860, he would run for president … again facing Douglas.
That happens in the first two hours of an excellent documentary, narrated by Sterling K. Brown. There are four more hours ahead, with a Union to preserve.