"It's very eloquent but it's fruitless," said Leo Ribuffo, a history professor at George Washington University. "Lincoln always exaggerated the degree to which the white South felt these bonds to stay in the union."
Fruitless then, exalted now.
When Lincoln gave his second inaugural at the close of the war, he appealed for healing "with malice toward none, with charity for all," in rhetoric that again became iconic.
But elements of the partisan press in the North were hardly blown away, never mind the South.
The Utica (N.Y.) Telegraph said Lincoln "labors and stumbles and soon flounders into a sea of twaddle, in which he is lost not only to sight but to every one of the senses (common sense not excepted)."
And that claimed to be a politically allied publication.
The Syracuse (N.Y.) Daily Courier and Union chimed in that Lincoln was a "small-potato politician," "an obscure village lawyer, elevated from the dregs of society to a position far beyond his just deserts."
The future sees what they could not. Now Obama, a student of Lincoln, speaks today from the memorial to the 16th president. Two days later he makes his own history — as the first black president, and perhaps in ways the present can't comprehend.