Posts Tagged ‘Abraham Lincoln’

“I am loath to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battle-field and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

 Abraham Lincoln. 1st Inaugural Address, March 4, 1861


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There are two momentous occasions that are being commemorated  this month in the United States. Just a few calendar days from each other, they occurred 100 years apart. The first occasion, yesterday, was the 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s  Gettysburg Address. The second commemoration, November 22, is the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. I hope to find time to write about President Kennedy’s assassination in a few days. This morning, however, I felt a need to share President Lincoln’s address.

Many of you, growing up in the United States and of a certain age, know of the Battle of Gettysburg. The devastation  that battle wrought. The lives lost on that battlefield. The carnage. Many of you were required to memorize the Gettysburg Address, especially if you lived in Illinois. Less than 300 words in length, it was probably spoken by Abraham Lincoln in less than three minutes. It remains burned in our minds, still, and I hope that students are still learning of it.

It is one of the most memorable speeches by any U.S. President.

The photo, as well as this version of the speech are from the National Portraits Galleries site, Face-to-Face. It is a wonderful website and can be found here.

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate—we cannot consecrate—we cannot hallow—this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—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.

Abraham Lincoln. Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. November 19, 1863


Winslow Homer

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. . . . Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.

Abraham Lincoln

First Inaugural Address

Monday, March 4, 1861

Abraham Lincoln, 16th president of the United States.

February 12 is Lincoln’s birthday.

I’ve been thinking about these words today, which is the birthday of Abraham Lincoln, a man widely considered to be among the greatest of United States presidents.

Abraham Lincoln’s birthday used to be a state holiday. If February 12 fell on a weekday, there was no school. We all knew who Lincoln was, what the Gettysburg Address and the Emancipation Proclamation were. We lived in the great prairie state whose slogan was, and is, The Land of Lincoln.  I always liked that. I liked knowing that good ol’ Abe spent a good part of his life, including the years leading up to his presidency, in Illinois. I still do.

” . . . the better angels of our nature”.

That simple phrase from the last paragraph, indeed, the last line of Lincoln’s first inaugural address, has always resonated with me.

Our better angels.

That we would all call upon those angels would be a great thing, don’t you agree?

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When our daughters were very young and our coffers were less than full, long before the term “staycation” was coined, we went on a series of mini trips. Greenfield Village near Detroit, Michigan. Nippersink, Wisconsin. Do you remember the MacDonald’s commercial with the little kids, all in a row, rain pouring down, slickers on, boots splashing, singing “we are Nippersinkers, we’re in luck, if it rains all day, we can waddle like a duck. Quack, quack, waddle, waddle. Quack, quack, waddle, waddle? Well, there really was a Nippersink.  Three or four days away, of playing in a swimming pool, seeing a little history, doing the best we could.

One such trip was to New Salem near Springfield. A reconstructed pioneer village where Abraham Lincoln once lived. I love New Salem and I love all things Lincoln. Doris Kearns Goodwin’s A Team of Rivals sits patiently on my shelves and eagerly falls into my hands when I go to read it every so often. It is a book that won’t be read by me in one session, I fear, but, in many fits and starts. That’s okay. Lincoln’s life was full of fits and starts.  I’ll get to it eventually.

Growing up in the late 50’s and early 60’s,the highlight of 8th grade was going to Springfield  for a field trip. We boarded a school bus early in the morning to go to the train station in Chicago, then took a train down to Springfield. How I remember that trip still; the clickety clack of the rails, the state capitol, rubbing Lincoln’s nose at the Lincoln Tomb for good luck, and exploring New Salem. As a mom, I hoped Jennifer and Katy would feel the same way.

It was a very hot day  in July when we visited as a young family. We were leaning over a split rail fence with other visitors, checking out the penned livestock. Jennifer was in rapt attention (or so I remember), but Katy was younger and doing her very best whining. Trying to placate her, we pointed to a butterfly flitting about over the animals. I remember it was yellow. A swallowtail, perhaps. It danced in the air as butterflies do. Others were watching it as well, admiring the butterfly’s beauty, while wiping perspiration from their brows. Suddenly, a bird swooped in and caught the butterfly just as it closed its wings aloft. A collective gasp escaped from the crowd watching. Just like that. The butterfly was captured mid-air, its flight cancelled, its beauty irrelevant, it’s already short life finished in an instant. I remember thinking right then how precious freedom is. I found it meaningful to be watching it in a place known for Abraham Lincoln’s early years; where he unsuccessfully ran a store and did odd, unpresidential work and from whence he held his first elected offices. I thought of his place in history as a revered American president, the great emancipator, his fight against slavery and his steadfast determination to preserve the Union.

That beautiful butterfly and its swift demise is an image that has remained with me for all these years. I think of it still.

I think of freedom and Abraham Lincoln, especially after this bitter campaign season we just came out of.

I thought of this all today.

It was on November 6, 1860, that Abraham Lincoln was elected president of the United States.

150 years ago today.


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