Lincoln, six feet one in his stocking feet,
The lank man, knotty and tough as a hickory rail,
Whose hands were always too big for white-kid gloves’
Whose wit was a coonskin sack of dry, tall tales,
Whose weathered face was homely as a plowed field-
Abraham Lincoln, who padded up and down
The sacred White House in nightshirt and carpet-slippers,
And yet could strike young hero-worshipping Hay
As dignified past any neat, balanced, fine
Plutarchan sentences carved in Latin bronze;
The low clown out of the prairies, the ape-buffoon,
The small-town lawyer, the crude small-time politician,
State-character but comparative failure at forty
In spite of ambition enough for twenty Caesars,
Honesty rare as a man without self-pity,
Kindness as large and plain as a prairie wind,
And a self-confidence like an iron-bar:
This Lincoln, President now by the grace of luck,
Disunion, politics, Douglas and a few speeches
Which make the monumental booming of Webster
Sound empty as the belly of a burst drum.
Stephen Vincent Benet, John Brown’s Body
Today is the 207th birthday of Abraham Lincoln. Faithful readers of this blog know that I am an admirer of our sixteenth president. My admiration is not a matter of mere historical antiquarianism. I believe that many of the issues of Lincoln’s day are with us in our time under different guises.
- Are all men created equal, or may we treat part of the “great family of man”, as Lincoln called humanity, as sub-humans, mere disposable property?
- Who should decide the great issues of our day: the Supreme Court or the voters at the ballot box?
- What are the proper roles of the state governments and the federal union?
- Does God punish nations for sins?
- Are the Founding Fathers merely men of the past, or did they establish a movement that we should adhere to today?
- What is the meaning of freedom?
- Is this nation worth dying and killing for?
- Should the Constitution be amended to address the problems confronting us today?
- Are their evils like slavery that must be confronted no matter what the cost?
- Is a Republic a viable form of government long term?
When pondering these issues, I think Lincoln has much to teach us. Continue Reading