In case you hadn’t noticed, it’s a US election year. You could be forgiven for some confusion as the incumbent has been running a vigorous re-election campaign for more than three years.
Let’s face it, the choice on offer to the American electorate is less than inspiring. It doesn’t quite compare with Kennedy v Nixon, or even Reagan v Carter. US voters are currently being asked to choose between three septuagenarian white men. They might just as well be voting for Pope.
You may recall one of the great election put downs of recent years when, in the 1988 Vice Presidential debate the Republican contender, Dan Quayle, made a dubious comparison between himself and John F. Kennedy. This drew the stinging rebuke from his opponent Lloyd Bentsen, ‘ Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy.’ You could hear the intake of breath in the room and the communal ‘Ouch’ all over the world. Sadly, it can safely be said of all the continuing candidates in the 2020 US Presidential election, ‘You’re no James Buchanan Jr.’
Never heard of James Buchanan Jr.? Precisely. But he was the fifteenth President of the United States and reckoned to have been by far the worst. At least until 2016.
All of which should make us think more fondly of Abraham Lincoln, probably the greatest US President, and ask what they did with the mould after they buried him. Maybe they didn’t break it and it’s still around somewhere.
If it can be said in support of the current incumbent of the White House, that at least he isn’t bland, the same was true of Lincoln. He had, for example, a number of unusual, or even bizarre, hobbies and accomplishments. One of his many occupations, before he entered politics, was rail splitting. In case you’re unfamiliar with this profession, that’s probably because it’s died out a bit. There’s not much call these days for men with axes who split logs to create wooden sleepers on which metal rails can be placed. When he entered politics he gave up rail splitting for hair splitting.
His youthful party piece, already discussed on this programme, was to recite, from memory, Robert Emmet’s 1803 speech from the dock. Lincoln, however, was under far less pressure than the Irish patriot whenever he intoned the address. He knew he wasn’t going to be hanged and beheaded the following day.
But one of the of the sixteenth President’s most unusual pursuits was wrestling. He is reputed to have fought over three hundred bouts and to have suffered only one defeat. There is no doubt that his height and reach would have given him a tremendous advantage in that sport. He stood six foot four inches tall, at a time when the average American male would have been nearly a foot shorter. He used both height and reach to great effect in 1842 in a duel with an Irish-born Illinois politician James Shields. Lincoln had been challenged by Shields and so had choice of weapons. Because he was a large and easy target for a bullet it was a no-brainer to opt for broadswords. As the two men squared up to each other Lincoln casually reached over the head of Shields and chopped the branch of tree far above them. Shields, conscious of what his opponent could do to him, was persuaded to abandon his challenge.
But let’s get back to the wrestling. The activity, as practised in rural America was more ‘wrastling’ than the elegant, rules-based Greco-Roman variety. Neither was it an organised sport, although it was far more real and dangerous than anything dreamed up by the pumped up faux belligerents of the WWE. And there’s no doubt that Lincoln was a proficient wrestler who liked to show off his prowess. That fact is mentioned in a number of biographies.
But as to the question of whether he was ever inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame, it would be a fun fact, if it was true. And, believe it or not it almost is. In 1992 he was given that organisation’s ‘Outstanding American’ award and a mural of one of his legendary bouts appears on a wall in the Wrestling Hall of Fame museum.
But, technically, he is not an inductee – we’re not talking about The Rock here. Dwayne Johnson has nothing to worry about. That’s fake history.