As I left Illinois last week with my family, we stopped in Springfield to see the museum and home of Abraham Lincoln. As I soaked in the information and atmosphere, I was caught up in the magnanimity of the moments of sorrow and triumph in the life of this patriot.
First consider his name. It is fitting that Lincoln’s name was Abraham. It is a name with great meaning—father of a multitude or many nations.
How did he live up to this prophetic name? The year was 1863. During the Civil War, Lincoln marked the path of not only preserving the Union but building on that Union. He issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1. The proclamation declared that “all persons held as slaves” in the states having seceded from the Union “are, and henceforth shall be free.” Just as Abraham was the father of many nations, Lincoln would need to be, as time went on, the father of at least two—our nation before the civil war and our nation after.
Six months after the Emancipation Proclamation, the Confederate forces invaded the North and were met by Union forces at a little town called Gettysburg. For three days the two sides fought a ferocious battle that cost some 60,000 lives. Such a human sacrifice was unfathomable. To remember this day, on November 19th about 15,000 spectators gathered to honor this event. For many his remarks were a disappointment. He was preceded at the podium by the eminent lecturer Edward Everett from Harvard who addressed the crowd for two hours. Lincoln’s remarks had been drafted in ink and some in pencil after his arrival there. He then delivered his comments in about two minutes before the photographer could even record the event. The shocked crowd politely applauded. Lincoln whispered to his aide: “That speech went sour.” The Chicago Times called it “silly, flat and dishwatery.” However, Edward Everett wrote this, “I should be glad if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion in two hours as you did in two minutes.”
“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. “Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. “But in a larger sense we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember, what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us, that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion, that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
The Central Idea
What was the central idea, or ideas, of the Gettysburg Address? Ponder the words “conceived in liberty”…..”so conceived can long endure.” Certainly, the use of that word suggests birth, rebirth or born again. Dedication is another repeated word—dedication to the equality of all men, dedication of a resting place for the dead, and dedication to the unfinished work of freedom. “This nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom – and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
Conceived in liberty for constant renewals and rebirths of freedom—this vision and “second founding” of America now has the oldest written constitution the free world has ever known.
Second Inaugural Address
A year and a half later after being reelected, Lincoln delivered his Second Inaugural Address which would come to be known as A Psalm of the Nation. What is a psalm? It is a sacred song of praise. “Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces but let us judge not that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered ~ that of neither has been answered fully…..Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword as was said three thousand years ago so still it must be said ‘the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.’ With malice toward none with charity for all with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right let us strive on to finish the work we are in to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan ~ to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.” What was the theme? Healing and hope, malice toward none, charity for all, and the binding up of our wounds.
Belongs to the Ages
Less than one week after the surrender and on Good Friday of Easter weekend, Lincoln was assassinated. As he expired that day Secretary of War Stanton whispered, “Now he belongs to the ages.” A few weeks later his body lay in state in his hometown of Springfield, Illinois for viewing. This museum has a replica of that Hall of Representatives in the Old State Capitol. It says, “As you pass through this room, take a moment to reflect on our country’s stormy past and remember the sacrifices made, not only by Lincoln but by the many individuals throughout our history who fought and bled and died for our shared ideals.”
Lincoln’s bold actions saved a nation, thus becoming a second father to our country. That nation and its constitution continue to be beacons of freedom and liberty to the rest of the world.