They picked the right man when the picked George McGovern to write the biography of Abraham Lincoln for the American Presidents series.
The former South Dakota senator, who died on Sunday at the age of 90, was a decorated bomber pilot in World War II, but he was also an anti-war presidential candidate in 1972 during the Vietnam War.
In 2009 he spoke to Here & Now about Abraham Lincoln’s leadership during the Civil War.
- George McGovern On Why Lincoln Matters (Interview starts at five-minute mark.)
He said President Lincoln’s decision to turn the conflict into total war surprised him.
“Lincoln applauded Sherman’s march to the sea, which tore up the countryside across the deep south, destroyed homes, destroyed roads and bridges and railways and civilians in large numbers. Knowing that Lincoln was a humanitarian, he effectively told Sherman and Grant to win the victory no matter what they had to do. And that’s what they did.”
George McGovern was also able to tap into Lincoln’s well documented melancholy, because he had his own bout with depression after a personal tragedy. His daughter Teresa, who suffered from alcoholism and her own depression, froze to death in a snow bank after a night of drinking in Wisconsin in 1994.
George McGovern said of Lincoln’s struggle with depression: “He won the respect of his associates and maybe of people in the country as a whole, in that he handled that affliction by himself. He never overcame it. It was always waiting there to pounce on him. But he did bring it under control. And he did get to work in the morning. He did do his job and I think that’s admirable.”
McGovern sought help for his depression and later wrote a book about his daughter called “Terry: My Daughter’s-Life-And-Death Struggle With Alcoholism.”
Earlier this year he lost another child to that disease. His son Steven McGovern died on July 27, his 60th birthday.