Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Lincoln was truly heroic

Several years ago, during a visit to Washington, DC, I took the time to visit the Lincoln Memorial and, while looking around the magnificent monument with its enormous seated statue of the great man, I did something that few other visitors to the monument do - I took the elevator down to the basement and visited the small museum that is housed there. At first glance the museum is not very impressive - just a few of Lincoln's personal items and papers in several small rooms - but I found myself engrossed in its contents. Amongst the papers was a letter Lincoln had written to a colleague while he was a young lawyer in Illinois. The topic of the letter was slavery. Lincoln had returned from a trip to the South and expressed his disgust at what he had seen - human beings being treated as chattels and subject to the most inhuman indignities. He vowed in that letter that he would enter politics with the express purpose of abolishing the dreadful stain that he saw slavery to be on the principles by which the founding fathers established the United States of America.

Today in America is the 150th anniversary of Lincoln's greatest speech - the simple 272 word paean to the ideals that are in the words of the Declaration of Independence - that men are born equal and that government should be accountable to the people, not the other way around.  Lincoln's speech at Gettysburg on November 19th, 1863, was intended to be nothing more than an afterword to the lengthy oration by retired senator, Edward Everett, but in a little over two minutes the President said far more than Everett had said in two hours.

Abraham Lincoln is portrayed by some historians as pragmatic and even unprincipled - deferring political and military confrontation over slavery until he was forced to act.  But those historians obviously have not read that letter that I saw at the Lincoln Memorial. Lincoln devoted his life to what he knew was right and he stood by his principles to the end of his life.

I see no counterpart amongst politicians today.

No comments: