Lincoln’s Sense of Humor (Concise Lincoln Library) by Richard Carwardine published by Southern Illinois University Press (2017). $24.95 Hardcover, $14.72 Kindle. 184 pages.
"Lincoln’s last conscious moments were filled with laughter. As everyone familiar with his history knows, he spent his last evening at Ford’s Theatre, watching Tom Taylor’s popular farce Our American Cousin," writes Richard Carwardine in this new book. John Wilkes Booth chose to murder the president at a moment when he knew that the president and everyone else in the theater would be laughing at an actress being called a "sockdologizing old mantrap.”
That Lincoln would spend the last Good Friday of the bloody Civil War laughing at a comedy would not have surprised his friends. He often sought release in humor. Americans could not have been surprised by the location of the assassination. His need for comic relief sometimes rose to the level of national scandal.
In this slim volume, Richard Carwardine traces Lincoln's engagement with humor from his childhood to the hour of his death. Lincoln certainly used humor as a political tool but it was more than an instrumentality. According to Carwardine "humor was core to Lincoln’s being, a “way of life” and a “habit of mind.” It expressed his essential humanity."
Lincoln's father Thomas had been a great storyteller in frontier communities where that talent was valued. Abraham's friends remembered the future president following in his father's footsteps in this one aspect of life. Young Lincoln was a joke teller, a mimic, and the source of funny stories, earning him popularity and acceptance and softening his melancholy.
Because of its length, this review will be posted in several parts.