Lincoln’s melancholy

“To remain as I am is impossible; I must die or be better, it appears to me.”

This exploration of Lincoln’s depression shows a man who, instead of trying to destroy or avoid his mental pain, integrated it and drew the strength to do great and difficult things.

In his mid-forties the dark soil of Lincoln’s melancholy began to yield fruit. When he threw himself into the fight against the extension of slavery, the same qualities that had long brought him so much trouble played a defining role. The suffering he had endured lent him clarity and conviction, creative skills in the face of adversity, and a faithful humility that helped him guide the nation through its greatest peril…

Lincoln then took a small Bible from a stand near the sofa and began to read. “A quarter of an hour passed,” Keckley remembered, “and on glancing at the sofa the face of the president seemed more cheerful. The dejected look was gone; in fact, the countenance was lighted up with new resolution and hope. Wanting to see what he was reading, Keckley pretended she had dropped something and went behind where Lincoln was sitting so that she could look over his shoulder. It was the Book of Job…”

Viewing Lincoln through the lens of his melancholy, we see one cogent explanation: he was always inclined to look at the full truth of a situation, assessing both what could be known and what remained in doubt. When faced with uncertainty he had the patience, endurance, and vigor to stay in that place of tension, and the courage to be alone.