Thursday, February 12, 2009

Abraham Lincoln's 200th

Following the day after the birthday of the one for whom I am most thankful, my lovely wife, who was born on the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, a day that also marks the fall of the Shah of Iran from power and the ascendency of the ayatollahs, comes the birthday of Charles Darwin and Abraham Lincoln, who were born on the same day in the same year. Without a doubt, along with Washington, Lincoln remains the greatest president of these United States. Arguably, there would be no United States had this great man not arisen among our people. It is easily forgotten that during his presidency he was very unpopular, not just in the states that seceded, but in what then remained of the United States. This is really what makes him great, proving, somewhat ironically, Thoreau's dictum, as set forth in Resistance to Civil Government, written in 1849, that "any man more right than his neighbors constitutes a majority of one already". For most of his presidency, Lincoln was a majority of one, a majority sufficient to preserve our nation "brought forth" by "our fathers," a nation "conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal."

It seems to me that Abraham Lincoln, who clearly arose within and was nurtured by the best tradition of U.S. Protestantism, a venerable and healthy Christian tradition, if one that is currently in deep crisis, is someone who bore something of an apostolic commission. I make this connection because just prior to composing this, I read another excellent post by Fred over on la nouvelle, I'm Like Paul, and You're Like Timothy. Like St. Paul, Lincoln fought hard against the all-too human tendency to split apart.

Abraham Lincoln, by Jean Louis Gerome, 1908


Given the centrality that current events are giving to the federal government, not to mention all the promises of hope made during the last election by our current president, it seems appropriate to look at one of President Lincoln's earliest published speeches, a speech he gave in Springfield, Illinois when he was twenty-eight years old, known as The Lyceum Address. Subsequent events proved this address to be predictive, as Lincoln preserved our union against great odds and was a martyr for the cause of the United States of America:

"I do not mean to say, that the scenes of the [American] revolution are now or ever will be entirely forgotten; but that like every thing else, they must fade upon the memory of the world, and grow more and more dim by the lapse of time. In history, we hope, they will be read of, and recounted, so long as the bible shall be read;-- but even granting that they will, their influence cannot be what it heretofore has been. Even then, they cannot be so universally known, nor so vividly felt, as they were by the generation just gone to rest. At the close of that struggle, nearly every adult male had been a participator in some of its scenes. The consequence was, that of those scenes, in the form of a husband, a father, a son or brother, a living history was to be found in every family-- a history bearing the indubitable testimonies of its own authenticity, in the limbs mangled, in the scars of wounds received, in the midst of the very scenes related--a history, too, that could be read and understood alike by all, the wise and the ignorant, the learned and the unlearned.--But those histories are gone. They can be read no more forever. They were a fortress of strength; but, what invading foeman could never do, the silent artillery of time has done; the leveling of its walls. They are gone.--They were a forest of giant oaks; but the all-resistless hurricane has swept over them, and left only, here and there, a lonely trunk, despoiled of its verdure, shorn of its foliage; unshading and unshaded, to murmur in a few gentle breezes, and to combat with its mutilated limbs, a few more ruder storms, then to sink, and be no more.

"They were the pillars of the temple of liberty; and now, that they have crumbled away, that temple must fall, unless we, their descendants, supply their places with other pillars, hewn from the solid quarry of sober reason. Passion has helped us; but can do so no more. It will in future be our enemy. Reason, cold, calculating, unimpassioned reason, must furnish all the materials for our future support and defence.--Let those materials be moulded into general intelligence, sound morality, and in particular, a reverence for the constitution and laws: and, that we improved to the last; that we remained free to the last; that we revered his name to the last; that, during his long sleep, we permitted no hostile foot to pass over or desecrate his resting place; shall be that which to learn the last trump shall awaken our WASHINGTON.

"Upon these let the proud fabric of freedom rest, as the rock of its basis; and as truly as has been said of the only greater institution, 'the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.'"

2 comments:

  1. Thank you for sharing these pieces of Lincoln's speech -- what an amazing writer and man! I'm going to the East Coast GS Winter vacation tomorrow! Pray for all of us, please.

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  2. Be assured of my prayers for you all

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