Today is the 212th anniversary of the birth of Abraham Lincoln, one of the greatest of American presidents. It should be noted that, in a great coincidence of history, it is also the 212th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin, one of the greatest of scientists. One was born in a one-room, dirt-floored cabin in the semi-wilderness of central Kentucky, the other in a large, comfortable, servant-riddled house in Shropshire. Both rose to deserved immortality and today one rests in a great tomb in Springfield, Illinois, the other in Westminster Abbey.
All you really need to know about Abraham Lincoln is carved on the wall behind his statue in the Lincoln Memorial: “In this temple, as in the hearts of the people for whom he saved the Union, the memory of Abraham Lincoln is enshrined forever.”
It is hard to see how the Civil War could have been won without Lincoln’s masterful handling of the most difficult four years in American political history. There would have been no American century without Lincoln.
But it should also be remembered that he was the greatest writer ever to live in the White House. And there is keen competition for that honor. Theodore Roosevelt wrote more than thirty books, many of them still in print. Thomas Jefferson put the new country’s aspirations into immortal prose.
Inaugural addresses seldom live beyond the day they are delivered. They tend to be mere laundry lists of the new president’s political aspirations. In the 20th Century, only Franklin Roosevelt’s First Inaugural in 1933 and John F. Kennedy’s in 1961 (written by Theodore Sorensen) are remembered today. But both of Lincoln’s inaugurals live on in such phrases as “the mystic chords of memory,” “the better angels of our nature,” “to bind up the nation’s wounds,” and “to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and orphan.”
Indeed, in these sad days when the iconoclasm of moral twits is abroad in the land, we should learn again that, “With malice towards none, with charity for all,” is not only good ethics but wise public policy.