Abraham Lincoln is one of my heroes. Against all odds, he rose to become a leader of men and an inspiration to the world.
I ask myself what makes a man great. It’s not his fame. It’s not his office. I think it has to be his concern for far greater than himself.
When Larry and Carol from Great Falls, Montana, came to visit, they took me to Lincoln's home and Lincoln Museum. This was more than visiting a house and museum. This was getting close to Lincoln and knowing him.
Here’s a little history: (More photos at the end of this entry)
The house Lincoln lived in in Springfield, Illinois, before he went to Washington, D.C., was considered a wealthy home, although today we wouldn’t think so. The rooms were small and simple. Yet the dirt-floor cabin where Lincoln had been born and where his whole family lived in one room and where Abe taught himself to read was smaller than the kitchen of his Springfield home.
After Lincoln was elected and before he took office, seven states had withdrawn from the United States in protest. Can you imagine how Lincoln must have felt?
Some of his advisors suggested that Lincoln just let the states go off if that’s what they wanted. But Lincoln was firm that America would be a union and not a house divided. Others told Lincoln to give those dissenting states a concession like slavery so they would come back to the union. But Lincoln was firm that everyone in the United States would be free and free to rise from any origin, as he had been free to rise.
The two things that are said to have made Lincoln powerful were his determination and his sense of what was right and what was wrong. He sure knew what he thought.
I also want to mention the exquisite command of the English language he had. I read somewhere once that language reveals the consciousness of the person who speaks it. Naturally in those days, candidates wrote their own speeches from their own hearts. In fact, then, candidates did not campaign. They stayed home, and other people campaigned for them.
Lincoln had great sadness. Although his wife had been instrumental in his becoming president, his marriage was greatly troubled. One of his law partners told of how Lincoln would come to work crying, but in an hour would have composed himself.
One son out of four survived childhood. You might be surprised to know that Lincoln was a permissive father. His law partner said that when the boys came to their office, they caused havoc and Lincoln saw no fault in them.
Later, the only surviving son sold Lincoln’s home to the State of Illinois for $1.00 with the proviso that it be maintained as a museum and that never ever would even a penny be charged to tour the home.
When I taught school, I told my classes a little about Abraham Lincoln. He did not learn to read until he was twelve. There were no libraries, and books were hard to come by. He had the Bible to read. And there was a well-to-do man in town who loaned Lincoln books.
What were the books? The ones I remember were Pilgrim’s Progress and Robinson Crusoe and Kirkham’s Grammar. Later, on the tour of the Lincoln Museum, I was reminded of Aesop’s Fables. Larry and Carol read history a lot, and they reminded me that Shakespeare had also had great influence on Lincoln’s use of language.
And what a beautiful and remarkable command of the English language Lincoln had.
Here is his farewell address to all the people gathered at the train depot as he started on his inaugural journey for Washington, D.C., not knowing – as none of us know – what lies ahead:
February 11, 1861
My friends, no one, not in my situation, can appreciate my feeling of sadness at this parting. To this place, and the kindness of these people, I owe everything. Here I have lived a quarter of a century, and have passed from a young to an old man. Here my children have been born, and one is buried. I now leave, not knowing when, or whether ever, I may return, with a task before me greater than that which rested upon Washington. Without the assistance of the Divine Being who ever attended him, I cannot succeed. With that assistance I cannot fail. Trusting in Him Who can go with me, and remain with you, and be everywhere for good, let us confidently hope that all will yet be well. To His care commending you, as I hope in your prayers you will commend me, I bid you an affectionate farewell.