I’ve always found it easier to have a boyfriend from the past than in messy real life.
Historical boyfriends never let you down. They never leave. You don’t have to worry about whether they’ll call or text. They are always in your heart.
Let me explain.
For a long time, Abraham Lincoln was my leading man. He just had his 209th birthday. I’ve given a few Lincoln’s Birthday Valentine’s Day parties to show how much I care. I usually ask the tallest man there to recite the saddest speech our 16th president ever gave, on a February morning, saying goodbye to 1,000 townspeople at a train station. Tears and rain mixed as Lincoln gave his “Farewell Address to Springfield.” He was about to become the Civil War president in Washington, and knew he would never return. That speech kills me every time.
The roots of my crush go back to my Wisconsin girlhood. Lincoln was the president next door. One spring we went to Springfield, Ill., to see his house on Eighth and Jackson, and to rub the nose on his bust at Lincoln’s Tomb. I even remember his bedroom. All this set me up for living in Washington, D.C., during the Civil War centennial years, 2011 to 2015.
Wherever I went, Lincoln was near. Pennsylvania Avenue was the street where he lived. I’ve often pictured him meeting with Frederick Douglass, “my friend Douglass,” or his carriage riding by. I imagine he would have told me what he really thought of Thomas Jefferson (a brilliant hypocrite) and Robert E. Lee (a traitor who deserved to lose his Arlington house). But my fondest thoughts of Abraham are of him telling a story, any story, then slapping his knee and throwing his head back to laugh as if he were still a boy on the prairie. The pictures we see are brooding and melancholy, but that man dearly loved to laugh. The first president to brandish a wit.
Abraham told me Shakespeare taught him everything, but for the law. His favorite play: “Macbeth.” You know how that goes.
Another of my favorite historical boyfriends is Aaron Burr, the vice president who killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel. The bad boy of American history comes from the best of blue-blooded families; in his 40s he was considered a natural for president, as he tied Thomas Jefferson in the 1800 election. Aaron was a polished Princeton man who had a way with words. He left men weeping at his Senate farewell.
Alexander Hamilton, a notorious cheat in his marriage to Elizabeth, or “Betsy,” was a man’s man. But Burr was the one true lover of women. He actually enjoyed our company, conversation, charms, entre nous. You could tell him anything and he had no end of intriguing war stories. He led me to believe the duel was over me.
One time, Burr stayed up all night to read Mary Wollstonecraft’s “A Vindication of the Rights of Woman.” A “work of genius,” he told me. That’s how the velvet-voiced man won my heart forever, as the lone early champion of our rights. The 1790s, heady and revolutionary, were a wonderful time to be alive and in love. Did I mention he had all of Greenwich Village to call his own?
Burr’s wife, Theodosia, was 10 years older. He wrote her long, flowing letters every day they were apart. They named their daughter Theodosia. His wife died in 1794, when Burr was in his 30s. Like Lincoln, Burr truly loved his wife, a fine trait in a historical boyfriend’s character.
What a bad rap Burr gets. Orphaned young, Burr and Hamilton were each dashing, about the same age and height, young Revolutionary War officers. As New York lawyers, they were co-counsels on a murder trial. With much in common, they had friendly moments, making the end even more tragic.
The bittersweet outcome: President Thomas Jefferson hated his talented younger rivals, so everything worked out well for him, as usual. Burr got lost in the cracks of every history book.
Were there a poet in my pantheon, it would be the Romantic who cut a swath around town and country, Lord Byron. Dreamy: “Yet we’ll go no more a roving/by the light of the moon.” Brokenhearted: “When we two parted/in silence and tears.” But a shameless rover himself. Once, when his wife, Lady Byron, found him in bed with another woman, he laughed wickedly, “When shall we three meet again?” He, too, knew “Macbeth.”
No, I’m too smart to be seduced by a very bad historical boyfriend like that.