Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln

Goodwin, Doris Kearns

Simon & Schuster, 2005

pp. 747 - 748

Ulysses S. Grant called Lincoln “incontestably the greatest man I ever knew.” Walt Whitman regarded Lincoln “the grandest figure yet on all the crowded canvas of the Nineteenth Century.” But the most impressive account of Lincoln’s fame came from Russia’s Leo Tolstoy who, in 1908, was the guest of a tribal chief who lived far from civilization in a remote part of the North Caucasas. The chief had gathered family and friends to meet Russia’s most important writer, and he wanted Tolstoy to tell stories of the greatest men in history. So Tolstoy told stories of Alexander the Great, of Julius Caesar, of Frederick the Great, and of Napoleon. When he was finishing, the chief said, “But you have not told us a syllable about the greatest ruler of the world. He was a hero. He spoke with a voice of thunder; he laughed like the sunrise and his deeds were strong as rock. . . . His name was Lincoln and the country in which he lived is called America . . . .” Tolstoy reports that that the chief and all the others in the group had faces that were glowing and eyes that were burning.” Tolstoy later mused that it was Lincoln’s moral power that made him legendary, it was his character. “Washington was a typical American, Napoleon was a typical Frenchman, but Lincoln was a humanitarian as broad as the world.” His letters and speeches, especially his Second Inaugural Address, established that he was also a poet.