Next Tuesday will be the 210th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birth. He was with us for only 56 years, but his contributions and influence have had enormous effects on our country for all the years since.
He came from the humblest of beginnings; born in a one-room log cabin, he rose to 6’4” tall and through his career as a lawyer, debater and activist to abolish slavery, he became the 16th president of the United States.
Work colleagues and friends noted that Lincoln had a capacity to defuse tense and argumentative situations, though the use of humor and his capacity to take an optimistic view of human nature. He loved to tell stories to illustrate a serious point through the use of humor and parables, he said of himself.
“If I were two-faced, would I be wearing this one?”
His political career appeared to suffer after one term in the House of Representatives. He returned to working as a lawyer in Illinois. The slavery question re-emerged as a prominent divisive national issue.
He gave influential speeches, which drew on the Declaration of Independence to prove the Founding Fathers had intended to stop the spread of slavery. In particular, Lincoln used a novel argument that although society was a long way from equality, America should aspire towards the lofty statement in the Declaration of Independence.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident: That all men are creative equal.”
In 1858, Lincoln was nominated as Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate. He undertook a series of high-profile debates with the Democratic incumbent Stephen Douglass. Douglass was in favor of allowing the expansion of slavery—Lincoln was opposed. During this campaign, he gave one of his best-remembered speeches, which reflected on the divisive nature of America.
“A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure, permanently, half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved—I do not expect the house to fall—but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other.”
Although he lost his Senate election, his debating skills and oratory helped him to become well known within the Republican party.
After a hard-fought, divisive campaign in 1860, Lincoln was elected the first Republican President of the United States. Lincoln’s support came entirely from the North and West of the country. The south strongly disagreed with Lincoln’s position on slavery.
The election of Lincoln as President sparked the South to secede from the Union. Southern independence sentiment had been growing for many years, and the election of a president opposed to slavery was the final straw. Lincoln resolutely opposed the breakaway of the South, and this led to the American civil war with Lincoln committed to preserving the Union.
Lincoln surprised many by including in his cabinet the main rivals from the 1860 Republican campaign. It demonstrated Lincoln’s willingness and ability to work with people of different political and personal approaches. This helped to keep the Republican party together.
The Civil War was much more costly than many people anticipated. Lincoln’s patient leadership, and willingness to work with unionist Democrats held the country together.
Initially, the war was primarily about the secession of southern states and the survival of the Union, but as the war progressed, Lincoln increasingly made the issue of ending slavery paramount.
In September 1862, Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation that declared the freedom of slaves within the Confederacy.
Celebrating the victory ceremony at Gettysburg in November 1863, Lincoln declared:
“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceive in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
“That we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
After four years, the Federal forces secured the surrender of the defeated South. The union had been saved and the issue of slavery had been brought to a head.
In the aftermath of the civil war, Lincoln sought to reunited the country—offering a generous settlement to the South.
Five days after the surrender of the Confederate Army, Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth while visiting Ford’s Theater. Lincoln’s death was widely mourned across the country.
Lincoln is widely regarded as one of America’s most influential and important presidents. As well as saving the Union and promoting Republican values, Lincoln was viewed as embodying the ideals of honesty and integrity.
You Must Visit the Lincoln Memorial
I believe it is the most impressive of all monuments in Washington, D.C. It stands beside the Potomac River in Washington, D.C. It is not only one of the nation’s most beloved monuments but also one of its most widely publicized, by virtue of the fact that it appears on the back of every penny and every five-dollar bill. The cornerstone of the majestic temple, built of white Colorado marble in the style of a flat-roofed Greek temple.
The thirty-six Doric columns surrounding the monument symbolize the thirty-six states in the Union at the time of Lincoln’s death. Inside, a colossal statue of a seated Lincoln, carved from blocks of white Georgia marble, looks east toward the Washington monument and Capitol Building. The statue by Daniel Chester French is nineteen feet high, weighing 175 tons, is the second most famous sculpture in America, after the Statue of Liberty. (Look at a penny with a magnifying glass, and you can see a tiny representation of the statue engraved.
Two of Lincoln’s most famous speeches, the Gettysburg Address and his second inaugural address, are inscribed on the memorial’s walls.
It’s a moving site.