Monday, February 16, 2009

Abraham Lincoln

Today is President's Day, the day we honor our nation's Chief Executive. The modern American president is an odd combination of prime minister, preacher, and king. We don't like to admit the king part but, our president is treated more royally than any European PM.

One year ago, I devoted the President's Day post to George Washington. Today, since it is the celebration of the bicentennial of Abraham Lincoln's birth, I will say a few words about my second favorite President.

In passing, I should say that George Washington receives top honors on this day because his presence at the Constitutional Convention in 1787 was considered a tacit approval of the Convention's ambitious and revolutionary plans. His absence would have made the necessary perseverance to Union improbable, and the compromises necessary for a ratification impossible. And the unanimous support for his presidency raises him to a different level.

So much has been said about Abraham Lincoln that one wonders how to separate the truth from the fiction. A search on Amazon's books for "Abraham Lincoln" returns 62,000 results, exceeded only by George Washington with 90,000. But Lincoln's books are more polemic and less biographical, his every decision has been evaluated and interpreted by every imaginable scholastic discipline, including, theologians, historians and business consultants, and some not so scholarly, like psycho-therapists and astrologers. Everyone wants to claim him as one of their own.

Abe Lincoln was, as they say, a common man for uncommon times. His first childhood home, the log cabin, was barely big enough for the family to sleep in. He received little formal education, and worked as a rail splitter and store clerk before teaching himself the law by reading Blackstone's Commentary on Law. His favorite Bible to read was the Authorized Version or "King James" version from which he learned proper English and probably and his classic writing style. Not all presidents come from the privileged families, even today. Reagan certainly did not, and Hope, Arkansas isn't exactly the Hamptons. Our current President has as unlikely a childhood as can be imagined in Presidential preparation. Americans naturally like the scrapper, the outsider, and the untainted, which, if I may digress for a moment, is one of the hopeful American qualities, that is, the recognition of personal accomplishment as a virtue to be admired and rewarded.

But Abraham Lincoln had as physically difficult a childhood, as any before or after him.

Some of my friends are not as enthusiastic about Abraham Lincoln as I am, mostly because of his expansion of executive power and privilege during the Civil War, or as they like to say, the War Between the States. Maybe so. I am sympathetic to some of the ideals of the South, their sense of place, their distrust of the northern Unitarian, and Calvinist utilitarian -- but I am a Federalist and think it offers us the greatest hope of liberty for all. If the south had been victorious in the civil war, the despicable practice of slavery would have continued at least another 25 years, and the union would have been severed in at least into two parts, and probably 3 or 4.

One man had the courage to face and challenge slavery as an acceptable cultural norm and he was our 16th President. If he overstepped the authority granted him by the Constitution, so be it. The ends justified the means. It is easy to speak in purely philosophical terms when you are the owner, not the slave.

They say that Mr. Lincoln was not a happy man, at least in the modern sense, of the word. He possessed a melancholic temperament and suffered many personal trials including the death of his young son. He was criticized by all sides of the slavery debate, even within his own administration, he was mocked for gawky features, ignored for his lack of formal education, and he rose above all of it by excelling in a few virtues, like courage, patience, and long-suffering.

Maybe he was our first "modern" president who "opened the door" for the establishment of an ideal we all knew was right, that ALL men are created equal and possessed certain inalienable rights. Presidents, in times of crisis, do not need all the things that we think they need -- but they do need the Guiding Light of Truth, and the courage to follow it.

Read the Gettysburg address today.
Interesting Facts on Abraham Lincoln
  • Lincoln was born on February 12, 1809.
  • Lincoln had a dog named Fido.
  • Lincoln was 6’4”, the tallest president.
  • Lincoln was born in Kentucky.
  • Lincoln was the first President born outside of the thirteen colonies.
For more interesting facts:

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