This month we honor all those who have
served as President of the United States. By coincidence, the
birthdays of two of the republic’s great early leaders, George
Washington and Abraham Lincoln, both fall in February.
Unfortunately, what were once distinct holidays are now one, the
rather generic "Presidents' Day."
Not surprisingly, though, of all
the presidents, it's Lincoln who's captured the imagination of many
of us in the Roundtable. Now, during the long-awaited bicentennial
year of his birth, he’s once again in the national spotlight – not
that he ever really left it. What can one write about Lincoln that
hasn't already been written somewhere among the millions of words
already set down about him? Nobody could have predicted the
greatness that lay ahead for this tall, ungainly man, born to a poor
frontier family in the wilderness of Kentucky on February 12, 1809.
No one could have foreseen that he would guide the nation through
perhaps its most difficult and perilous time, bringing two warring
regions back into a republic that would not only survive but prevail
in the years to come. Lincoln's enduring legacy is a nation at
peace, prosperous and strong, united from sea to sea and from north
I've always liked the Thomas Nast
illustration which appears above. I first saw it, in a book
belonging to my grandfather, when I was very young. Drawn just days
before Lincoln's assassination, the sketch shows the President in
repose, thoughtful and calm, wielding the pen which was always his
greatest weapon against injustice and rebellion. His makeshift table
is a military drum, stilled for the moment as he writes words of
unequaled power and durability. Lincoln was a man of peace, yet he
led in a time of unparalleled bloodshed, and it's all there in that
Today we may remember Lincoln as a
leader, a patriot, a father, a lawyer, a warrior, an emancipator, a
writer, an orator, and so many other things as well. Lincoln was
greater than the sum of his parts, neither the martyr-saint of early
hagiography, nor the passive politician of more recent scholarship.
As we celebrate his 200th birthday, and as we study the conflict
that defined and ennobled his presidency, we can remember Lincoln
however we wish to.
Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton
said at the moment of Lincoln's death, "Now he belongs to the ages."
To the ages, and to every one of us.
Note: This is adapted from an
article that originally appeared in the February 2001 issue of The