The Toll of Office

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Since President Obama’s State of the Union address last week, I’ve seen a number of images floating around the web and on social media highlighting how the job of president has aged him over the last eight years. It’s not the first time that the media and the public have noticed this phenomena. The role of Commander-in-chief also took its toll on President George W. Bush and President Bill Clinton.

Not to make it a competition, but whenever I see these types of comparisons my mind automatically turns to President Abraham Lincoln.

Two Photos of Abraham Lincoln, one from 1860 and the other from 1865.

The photo on the left was taken in June of 1860, when Lincoln was a candidate for president. The photo of Lincoln on the right was taken in February of 1865, after four long years of Civil War and only two months before his death on April 15, 1865.

For me, the most striking thing about this comparison is not the added wrinkles but the look in President Lincoln’s eyes.

Closeup of Pres. Lincoln's Eyes

They’re the eyes of a man who has been through some serious things. The eyes of a man who during his four years in the White House endured the death of his son and led the country through a war in which 2.5% of the entire American population was killed. The eyes of a man who seems tired and exhausted from carrying that burden.

For me at least, this image humanizes Lincoln in a way almost nothing else does. It’s a good reminder of the extreme toll the office of president can have on an individual. It’s also a good reminder that Lincoln was more than a granite statue on a pedestal – he was a man.

 

Photos from the Library of Congress.


Shane JohnsonShane Johnson is a producer for WSKG’s History & Heritage team. Before arriving at WSKG, Shane earned his Bachelor’s Degree in Cinema and History, Master’s Degree in History, as well as his Master’s of Arts in Teaching in Social Studies Adolescence Education from Binghamton University. He has a personal interest in 19th Century American history, especially the Civil War, and as a young lad, he dreamed of becoming a railroad engineer.

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