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Betsy's Trivia: Lincoln Edition

Answer: Carl Sandburg

In 1957, Meet the Press looked back at American history to analyze turbulent modern politics in a special episode live from Chicago, with that city’s famous son, poet Carl Sandburg. MTP Moderator Ned Brooks explained the unique presence of a poet on Meet the Press: “In a world of crises we have heard from politicians, scientists, businessmen; today we hear from a man who is called the poet of democracy.” Sandburg, as Brooks pointed out, was deeply interested in American government as well as poetry, and in fact first  reached a large audience with his early work as a historian. In 1926, Sandburg began his definitive biography of Abraham Lincoln, publishing “Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years.” He would go on to win the Pulitzer Prize in 1940 for his next four volumes of the history, “Abraham Lincoln: The War Years.”  

On Meet the Press, panelist Lawrence Spivak and Time Magazine journalist George Harris pressed Sandburg on Lincoln’s legacy, and how the country’s 16th president would respond to the challenges of the modern era, particularly the growing Civil Rights movement. Spivak began by asking if Lincoln really was America’s greatest president. Sandburg, typically, instead of answering yes or no, launched into a poetic description of Lincoln’s character: “I never have met a character in all history who has such a range of grief and laughter.” He praised Lincoln not by comparing him to great statesmen of the past, but to another poet: Shakespeare. Watch the clip from Meet the Press’ 1957 interview with poet Carl Sanburg below to see more of his discussion of Abraham Lincoln, and how the president would have tackled the major political issues of the 1950s. And Sandburg’s subject is of course back in the spotlight today with the new Steven Spielberg film “Lincoln,” based on the Doris Kearns Goodwin book “Team of Rivals.” On a recent PRESS Pass, Kearns Goodwin echoed Sandburg’s view of Lincoln as a mixture of grief and laughter: “Most important to me, was Lincoln's humor … He tells a story, his face comes alive, his sadness goes away. He said stories were his way of whistling off sadness, because he had a melancholy temperament.” You can watch her interview with David Gregory here.

Every Monday, Betsy Fischer Martin - the Executive Producer of Meet the Press - poses a trivia question on Twitter about the 64 years of history-making moments and guests on Meet The Press. Check back every week for answers and video clips!