WASHINGTON -- I begin most days in the library of my northern Virginia home a couple of blocks from a Confederate war memorial. From atop a stone pedestal, a young soldier, hands clasped on the muzzle of his rifle, peers forever south toward Richmond, once the capital of the Confederacy. Two blocks from the brooding soldier I sit, taking my coffee and reading the morning newspapers under an enormous picture of Abraham Lincoln. It is my first irreverent act of the day, but on a good day it is not my last.
The library is known in my family as "The Lincoln Library," because of this old picture of the savior of the Union. Given by the president's son to my great-great-grandfather, its thick mahogany frame bears a bronze plaque, which reads: "Presented To P.D. Tyrrell, U.S.S.S. By Robert T. Lincoln April 14, 1887 For Loyalty And Service To His Father Abraham Lincoln." April 14 was the date on which the president had been shot 12 years earlier on Good Friday. That Easter Sunday, it would have been a rare church that did not echo with comparisons between the assassinated president and Christ. I assume it was not coincidental that Robert Lincoln made his gift to my ancestor on April 14.
In a fine new book, "Land of Lincoln," my friend, Andy Ferguson, describes how the eponym of my library has been reinterpreted through the years, usually through evolving contemporary values. Recently, you will recall, Lincoln was reintroduced to the reading public as gay. Soon he will doubtless be presented as an opponent of global warming. Former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo has served up the resolute conqueror of Confederate armies as a likely opponent of the war in Iraq. "Lincoln hasn't been forgotten," Ferguson writes, "but he's shrunk" to conform to our "wised-up world." It is only a matter of time before Bill Clinton announces that the 16th president is endorsing Hillary and, perhaps, making a small donation to the Clinton Library, possibly through a Swiss bank account.