John Avlon finds transformative power in the kindness of Abraham Lincoln | Arts and events

The inspiration for John Avlon’s latest book first wavered when he came across a quote from Lucius Clay. The Georgian-born general led the occupation of Germany after World War II – “the good occupation”, according to some historians.

When asked what helped guide his decisions, Clay said he “tried to think of what Abraham Lincoln would have done for the south if he had lived.”

That flicker morphed into Avlon’s “Lincoln and the Fight for Peace,” which investigates the revered president’s plans for national reconciliation near the end of the Civil War, as well as the end of his life.

Chapter One Bookstore will host a book signing with a political analyst and author at Despo’s in Ketchum on Wednesday, March 16 from 4-6 p.m.

While finishing a book can be daunting, Avlon breaks it down into three accessible steps: researching, writing, and editing.


Avlon researched this book for four years.

“It created an opportunity to spend the Trump administration looking for a book on Abraham Lincoln as a counterpoint to my daily journalism,” Avlon said. “[It] was a great pleasure.

On closer inspection, Lincoln did not disappoint Avlon.

“He’s never mean or petty,” Avlon said. “He never tears others apart to get ahead. He is a good, honest and kind man. »

Avlon started digging to see if anyone had written about this very specific time in history. To his surprise, he could not find any books on Lincoln’s plan to win the peace after winning the war, in part because the president was never able to implement those plans.

Although Avlon already knows a lot about Lincoln, much of the research still surprised it.

Lincoln, who cuts such a serious picture today, was known in his day to tell stories at inappropriate times and joke around. He read his favorite comedian as medicine when he was depressed.

Avlon says Lincoln’s parables often had a strategy behind them.

“It opened up a whole new way of understanding his character and his leadership secrets,” Avlon said.

Ultimately, Avlon learned the transformative effect of Lincoln’s kindness. He saluted wounded Confederate soldiers the same as Union soldiers.

“If kindness, wisdom, empathy and honesty drive decisions, it will ultimately be justified in the eyes of history,” Avlon said.

However, Lincoln combined his mercy with strength.

“If you’re not determined to win the war and win the election, it’s all academic,” Avlon said. “But, after winning, you have to be magnanimous and rebuild your opponents.”

Lincoln was careful not to go too far too fast, his goal was to create lasting change.

“It’s a lesson that I think is especially urgent for us today,” Avlon said.


Avlon began his career as a speechwriter and columnist. The right word, he said, can make or break the point he is trying to communicate.

“In your mind, you just want the music to be right,” Avlon said.

Sometimes sentences come to him in the middle of the night, opening and closing paragraphs.

“Each book has some underground continuity, because it comes from your subconscious,” Avlon said. “It’s from you. Two people can’t write the same book.

Through his books, Avlon likes to bring down legendary figures – Abraham Lincoln, George Washington – from their pedestals, seeing them in the eyes as contemporaries understood them.

“It’s more interesting to see them as inherently flawed humans who nevertheless achieved great things because they met the challenges of their time without compromising their character,” Avlon said.

He is interested in applied history: learning from the past, using it in the present, and charting a course for a better future. Taking up old stories, he renews them.

“History is not names and dates,” Avlon said. “I think at best it’s a search for useful wisdom.

In the end, he only writes books he would like to read.

“I hope it’s a book that people will love because it’s a book that I loved writing,” Avlon said. “You put your heart and soul into something and you hope people react that way.”


Crafting a narrative is the most fun part of the process for Avlon. An unexpected pivot occurs in “Lincoln and the Fight for Peace”.

“Synthesizing disparate elements is always something that interests me,” Avlon said.

What begins as a contemplation of the last six weeks of Lincoln’s life then moves on to reconstruction and the failure of peacekeeping, then to the gains made by General Ulysses S. Grant in repelling the first incarnation of the Ku Klux. Klan, then to the negotiations at the Treaty of Versailles and the occupations of Germany and Japan after the First World War.

“It’s not a typical motif for a book primarily about Abraham Lincoln,” Avlon said. “But that’s part of what makes it fun and interesting is pushing the idea forward.”

When asked if someone as genuine as Lincoln would survive in the current political climate, Avlon pointed out that Lincoln did not survive the times.

“You can’t take on big political challenges and split a time…and not meet huge resistance,” Avlon said.

Avlon came across a quote from Grant a decade after serving as president. During a speech in Iowa, he said, “If we’re going to have a second Civil War, I don’t believe the dividing line will be Mason and Dixon. It will be between patriotism and intelligence on the one hand, and superstition, ambition and ignorance on the other.

Avlon checked the quote several times because it seemed too on the nose. In recent years, many have claimed that we are more divided as a nation today than at any time in the last century.

“The study of the civil war reminds us that we have been through much worse times in the country,” Avlon said. “We’ll get through this too.”