Monday, February 09, 2009

10 score years ago

February 12th, 1809 in Hogdenville, Kentucky, on the south fork of Nolin Creek, Abraham Lincoln was born in a small log cabin. Some of you may know him as the guy on the five dollar bill or remember a few lines from Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. Some may know him as the man who freed the slaves, or that he was the first President to be assassinated. There is so much more to learn about this remarkable man.

If there is a more fascinating figure in American history, I am not aware of one. Lincoln's life has been documented, dissected and examined to such an extent, one could scarce think of a subject not covered. Yet every year a few more books are written about our sixteenth President, trying to reveal a little more about the man behind the monuments. At last count, more than 14,500 books have been written to do just that. If you walk through Borders Books today, you will find dozens on display.

I have a few Lincoln books on my bookshelves, and I must admit, I recently bought another. I have just finished Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin. It is a wonderful book, based on the men in Lincoln's cabinet. To a man, they all privately thought they could do a much better job as Commander in chief. Such is the nature of politics.

Lincoln's writings and speeches are voluminous, however there are a few that stand out as truly remarkable works to this day. The power and prose of the Gettysburg address are legendary, and the speech's 268 words are worth reading and rereading. However, for me his second inaugural address is my favorite. The setting is the East Portico of the Capitol, four years into the blood and suffering of the civil war. The Union is in command of much of the South and would soon defeat the Confederacy, the crowds gathered are looking forward to the end of the war, but they are anxious about the nation's future. Lincoln's words are moving, sorrowful and yet they challenge the audience to finish the work and heal the nation. Here are the last few lines.

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 have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

Standing in the crowd that day was an actor and southern sympathizer named John Wilkes Booth. In a little over a month, President Lincoln would be assassinated.

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