- (1809–1865)The president of the United States during the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln played a key role in the ending of the war and the beginning of westward settlement, a role that is an understood subtext of many Westerns. Although during the classic historical period of the Western moment several presidents significantly impacted the West—especially presidents such as Ulysses S. Grant and Rutherford B. Hayes—only Lincoln matters much for understanding Westerns. He appears in many cinema Westerns, such as The Plainsman (1936) and They Died with Their Boots On (1941), and always as a symbolic figure, sometimes in the background rather than as a real character. The things that are understood about Abraham Lincoln, though not necessarily historically accurate, are that he was responsible for freeing the slaves; that he agonized over how to restore the South to the Union as the Civil War was winding down; that he was assassinated in Ford Theater by John Wilkes Booth, a Southern sympathizer, just weeks after the war ended; that had he lived, peace and unity would have been achieved much more quickly than it was. He is nearly always played as a father figure who promised hope for a new West but whose untimely death caused great hardship for an ailing country.
Historical Dictionary of Westerns in Cinema. Paul Varner. 2012.
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