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WISDOM OF OUR ANCESTORS- II: ABRAHAM LINCOLN BIRTHDAY SPECIAL

Updated on February 22, 2013

WISDOM OF OUR ANCESTORS II- ABRAHAM LINCOLN BIRTHDAY SPECIAL

February 12th being the 204th anniversary of the birth of our greatest president, I thought it might be appropriate to share some of his musings on the imperative issue of his day-slavery, as well as the nature of free government then and in the future, and how to be a leader. President Obama delivered his State of the Union this year on Abe’s birthday. This annual address has become a pulpit for the president to press his agenda, while in Lincoln’s time, it was what it purported to be- a summary of what the government had done for the last year. Honest Abe’s 1862 message contained some of the most eloquent and moving passages (on the end of human bondage through the Emancipation Proclamation) ever written by a president. Ironically, the Congress did not hear Lincoln speak the words personally. Different from today, the Chief Executive did not appear at the Capital to deliver his speech, but sent a copy from the White House for a clerk to read to the assembled legislators. A tradition started by Thomas Jefferson in 1801, because he did not like to speak in public. In 1913, Woodrow Wilson began the modern precedent of the president going in person to give his address. I have never seen it mentioned anyway whether the clerk who read Lincoln’s 1862 message changed the inflection of his voice when reading the majestic words or just stayed in the monotone he used while listing the dry facts of most of the report. Another great mystery of history. The segment from the 1862 State of the Union is so noted.

A GREAT AND CRYING INJUSTICE:

“I am naturally anti-slavery. If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong. I cannot remember when I did not so think, and feel.”

“Give to him that is needy is the Christian rule of charity, but take from him that is needy is the rule of slavery.”

“Slavery is a great and crying injustice, an enormous national crime that we cannot expect to escape punishment for.”

ALL ARE CREATED EQUAL:

“I have never had a feeling politically that did not spring from the sentiments embodied in the Declaration of Independence.”

“The men who signed the Declaration of Independence meant to set-up a standard maxim for a free society which should be familiar to all, and revered by all, constantly looked to, constantly labored for, and even though not perfectly attained, constantly approximated, and thereby constantly spreading and deepening its influence and augmenting the happiness and value of life to all people of all colors everywhere.”

THE TASK BEFORE US:

“The dogmas of the quiet past, are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country.

Fellow-citizens, we cannot escape history. We of this Congress and this administration, will be remembered in spite of ourselves… The fiery trial through which pass, will light us down, in honor or dishonor, to the latest generation… In giving freedom to the slave, we assure freedom to the free- honorable alike in what we give, and what we preserve. We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best, hope of earth.”- 1862 State of the Union

FATHER ABRAHAM:

“They don’t want much, they get but little, and I must see them.”- Answer to why he opened the White House to the public.

“I call these receptions my public opinion baths, and though they may not be pleasant in all particulars, the effect as a whole is renovating and invigorating to my perceptions of responsibility and duty.”

OF, BY, FOR THE PEOPLE:

“This is essentially a people’s contest. On the side of the Union, it is a struggle for maintaining the form of government whose leading object is to elevate the condition of men.”

“The struggle of today is not altogether for today- it is for a vast future also.”

As an admittedly huge admirer of Abraham Lincoln, I eagerly anticipated and thoroughly enjoyed Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln.” I can overlook the exaggerated angst Hollywood felt it needed to add concerning some of his family relationships. While such excess reinforced Honest Abe’s innate patience and compassion, it unfairly portrayed his wife, Mary, and oldest son, Robert. I do wish the film had included a scene of Lincoln entering the Rebel capital of Richmond, after its surrender. He did not come as a conquering hero at the head of a triumphal procession, but walked the streets quietly, with just a small detachment of Marines as escort. The only words he spoke while sitting at the desk of his vanquished adversary, Jefferson Davis, was to ask for a glass of water. This display of magnanimity in victory is something our recent presidents could have learned from: G.W. Bush with his silly “Mission Accomplished” nonsense aboard the aircraft carrier during the Iraq war; Barack Obama repeatedly telling the American people that Osama bin Laden is dead.

If nothing else, the movie, “Lincoln”, allows us to spend 2 hours with one of our truly great men, a leader whose words and deeds will continue to echo down the ages-

“With malice toward none, with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan- to do all which may achieve and cherish a just, and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.”

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