Tag archives: Lincoln

Gettysburg, 2013

by Robert Morrison

November 19, 2010

The City Fathers and, presumably, Mothers of Gettysburg are already planning their Sesquicentennial observance of the 150th anniversary of Lincolns Gettysburg Address. Although it wont arrive for another three years, the main address of the festive occasion will be delivered, God willing, by President Barack Obama.

Thats interesting. The city elders must be assuming that Mr. Obama will be re-elected in 2012. Or, if he decides not to run or is not re-elected, perhaps theyve concluded they want Barack Obama anyway. Its a college town, so perhaps we should not be too surprised.

President Lincoln was not the featured speaker at the dedication of the Gettysburg National Cemetery, held on this day, November 19th, in 1863. That honor went to Edward Everett, the most famous orator in America. In the midst of an already long and bloody civil war, the committee that chose Everett was sending a message. This former president of Harvard, former Secretary of State, was indeed a distinguished man who could be relied upon to do nothing unseemly on this solemn occasion.

Town residents, after all, had only recently been able to return to their homes. The summer air had been putrid with the smell of decaying flesh and the burning bodies of horses killed by the hundreds in the three days of battle.

Edward Everett had been the vice presidential candidate of the Constitutional Union party in 1860; in effect, he had been an opponent of Mr. Lincoln. To invite him to be the primary speaker was a little like inviting Sarah Palin to share the stage with Mr. Obama.

Lincoln gave no hint of being insulted. There is no record of his having said anything the least critical of the organizing committee or of Mr. Everetts invitationbefore or after the event.

Lincoln was happy to add what he might have called his poor mite. And what a mite it was. The 272 words of Lincolns Gettysburg Address used to be memorized by school children in America. At one time, newspaper columnists would be happy to point out that a candidate for high office had learned Lincolns short speech by heart.

Instead, we have today the thrill that goes up and down commentator Chris Matthews leg when Barack Obama speaks. Or, we have Nicholas Kristof of the once-powerful New York Times gushing about how Mr. Obama can recite, in a perfect Arabic accent, the words of the Muslim call to prayer.

Let me make bold to say that the world will little note nor long remember what Mr. Obama says on that important occasion. Thats because the world is not noting what he says now.

Heres a challenge: Ask a friend, preferably a supporter of the President, to quote a single line from the Inaugural Address of January 20, 2009. Or from his Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech. Or from his 2010 State of the Union Address.

He was elected largely on the basis of his incomparable speaking ability, we are told. But what does he say? No one can tell you.

Heres what Mr. Obama said in Springfield, Illinois, on the 200th Anniversary of Lincolns birth:

It is wonderful to be back in Springfield, the city where I got my start in elected office, where I served for nearly a decade, and where I launched my candidacy for President two years ago, this week - on the steps of the Old State Capitol where Abraham Lincoln served and prepared for the presidency.

It was here, nearly one hundred and fifty years ago, that the man whose life we are celebrating today bid farewell to this city he had come to call his own. On a platform at a train station not far from where we’re gathered, Lincoln turned to the crowd that had come to see him off, and said, “To this place, and the kindness of these people, I owe everything.” Being here tonight, surrounded by all of you, I share his sentiments.

But looking out at this room, full of so many who did so much for me, I’m also reminded of what Lincoln once said to a favor-seeker who claimed it was his efforts that made the difference in the election. Lincoln asked him, “So you think you made me President?” “Yes,” the man replied, “under Providence, I think I did.” “Well,” said Lincoln, “it’s a pretty mess you’ve got me into. But I forgive you.”

It is a humbling task, marking the bicentennial of our 16th President’s birth - humbling for me in particular, I think, for the presidency of this singular figure in so many ways made my own story possible.

Isnt it wonderful to know that those 630,000 Union and Confederate dead did not die in vain? That Lincolns own martyrs death combined with those fallen soldiers to make possible the election of Barack Obama?

In the passage quoted above, just first 250 words of a lengthy speech, Mr. Obama manages to make eight references to himselfthis in an address ostensibly honoring the Great Emancipators birth.

Count the references to himself in Lincolns Gettysburg Address. There are none.

Maybe thats why Edward Everett had the grace to write the President: I should like to flatter myself that I came as close to the central meaning of the day in two hours as you did in two minutes.

So, Whats Wrong with Dude?

by Robert Morrison

November 3, 2010

So whats wrong with the President of the United States letting his hair down, going on TV to mix it up with the coven on The View and get called Dude by comic Jon Stewart? Isnt that just another way of stripping the Oval Office of its aura. Isnt that just another way of showing youre not stuck up?

Before we had Presidents Day, and gave equal billing to Jimmy Carter and James Buchanan, we had Washingtons Birthday and Lincolns Birthday. Little children in grade school would cut out hatchets to remember the boy George Washington and the legend of the cherry tree. For Abraham Lincoln, a tall, black stove pipe hat would be our introduction to the tallest of our Presidents.

A new book, a best-seller by James Swanson, tells the story of the death pageant for President Lincoln as his body was taken back to Springfield, Illinois, following his assassination on April 14, 1865. More than a million Americans lined the tracks and brushed quickly past the open casket to pay their last respects to the man they called Father Abraham. It was an unprecedented outpouring of grief. Author James Swansons Bloody Crimes contrasts the Lincoln funeral train with the hunt for Confederate president Jefferson Davis.

One of the things we learn from Swansons wonderful book is that the funeral train was a tribute not only to Abraham Lincoln, but also to his people, all of his people, and to all the blood that had been shed to preserve the Constitution he called the last best hope of earth.

Swanson includes a remarkable account from journalist George Alfred Townsend. Townsend had been permitted to enter the dead Presidents office as his effects were being packed up, a month after he was shot.

I am sitting in the Presidents Office. He was here very lately, but he will not return to dispossess me of this high-backed chair he filled so long, nor resume his daily work at the table where I am writing.

A bright-faced boy runs in and out, darkly attired, so that his fob-chain of gold is the only relief to his mourning garb. This is little Tad, the pet of the White House…He will live to be a man pointed out everywhere, for his fathers sake, and as folks look at him, the tableau of the murder will seem to encircle him…

They are taking Mr. Lincolns private effects, to deposit them wherever his family may abide, and the emptiness of the place, on this sunny Sunday, revives that feeling of desolation from which the land has scarce recovered. I rise from my seat and examine the maps…[they] exhibit all the contested grounds of the war; there are pencil lines upon them where some one has traced the route of armies…was it the dead President?

Jim Swanson describes the passage of the great funeral train along a 1,625-mile route that re-traced Lincolns Inaugural journey of 1861. It was an unspooling of a ribbon of fire across this broad land as people from all walks of life came to offer their prayers, their flowers, their salutes.

Another Townsend, General Edward D. Townsend, has charge of the funeral train. It is his duty to make sure the remains of the dead Emancipator suffer no indignity along the route.

In Baltimore, for example, there is some fear that Lincoln haters might try to break through the cordon of guards and spit on the corpse. Nothing like that happens. In fact, Baltimores nobility shines through her tears. Black and white Baltimoreans gather to show their deep affection for the slain leader. They shuffle quietly past the catafalque in what may have been the Souths first great integrated event.

Gen. Townsend performs his function with great honor. But he is nearly dismissed when a wrathful Sec. of War, Edwin M. Stanton, learns that Townsend has permitted a photographer in New York City to make an image of Lincoln in his casket.

Stanton had wept, but then had taken brisk command during that terrible night of April 14-15, when fear ruled the nations capital and it seemed an assassin lurked behind every lamppost. Now, he belongs to the Ages, Stanton said as Lincoln breathed his last.

Stanton could not imagine anyone being allowed to hawk ghoulish souvenirs of the Presidents face frozen in death. He need not have worried, the photograph is distant, ever so respectful, and gives us the only image we have of Lincoln in repose. Its a national treasure.

Lincoln would have been the last one to stand on his own dignity. He was an awkward man whose rumpled clothing and giant boots gave no hint of elegance. When a visitor once expressed his surprise that the President was blacking his own boots, Lincoln disarmed him: Whose boots should I black?

His dignity came from his own soul, his integrity, his great mission. It was Lincoln who said right makes might. It was Lincoln who appealed to the better angels of our nature.

Not every President can be a Lincoln. We can thank God we have not had another Civil War to tear us apart. But even during the Civil War, Lincoln did not refer to the people of the South as his enemy. Yet, that is how President Obama refers to his domestic political opponents in an appearance on Univision.

When you allow the Presidency to be degraded, Mr. President, when you willingly lower the dignity of the high office to which we have raised you, you degrade us all.

Every President who comes into office has to look to Washington and Lincoln as models. All the great ones did.

Nobody looks to Andrew Johnson for a guide. President Johnson took a train trip out of Washington for a swing around the circle in the 1866 mid-term elections. He harangued drunken crowds from the back of the train. He called for his political foes in Congress to be hanged. His performance was so rancid that Gen. Grant left the Presidential train in disgust. Johnson suffered a landslide vote against him and his policies in those congressional elections.

President Obama came to Washington invoking Lincoln. Its not too late for him to return to that high road.

Seven Score and Six Years Ago

by Robert Morrison

November 19, 2009

Today is the 146th anniversary of Lincolns Gettysburg Address. I was reminded of this date yesterday when I took some visitors from Australia and New Zealand to visit the Lincoln Cottage in Northwest Washington. President Lincoln spent almost a quarter of his four-year term at this rural getaway. He and his family spent summers and early fall days there in 1862, 1863, and 1864. It was at this refugea retirement home for old and disabled soldiers—that he drafted the Emancipation Proclamation during that fateful summer of 1862.

Lincoln was not the featured speaker at the dedication of the Gettysburg Cemetery that cold November day in 1863. That honor had been reserved to Harvards former president, Edward Everett. Everett was regarded as the greatest orator of that age of great oratory.

Everett, a former Secretary of State, and former ambassador to England, was certainly a distinguished speaker. His resume looked a lot more impressive than prairie lawyer Lincolns did.

Edward Everett had also been the Vice Presidential candidate of the Constitutional Union party in 1860. Lincoln and the Republicans had defeated that ticket and two others to claim the White House in that most important election.

Imagine this: You are President of the United States. You have been invited to give some appropriate remarks at a cemetery dedication, but you are not the main attraction. And the one who will be the main attraction was Number Two on a rival political slate. It would be like President Obama being invited to tee-up a major address to be delivered by Sarah Palin. We could hardly blame the President if he blew the occasion off.

Lincoln did no such thing. He accepted his diminished status eagerly. He was an unusual kind of politician. Once, General George B. McClellan returned from a family wedding and passed by the parlor of his home. There, President Lincoln, Secretary of State Seward, and Lincolns young aide John Hay had been patiently waiting for their Commanding General to return. McClellan ignored the waiting guests and went right upstairs to bed. Hay asked the President how he could stand being treated with such contempt. Lincoln replied: I will hold General McClellans horse if he will only bring us victories.

At Gettysburg, Lincoln began his brief remarks with an almost biblical cadence: Fourscore and seven years ago. The poetic opening brought his listeners back not to the adoption of the Constitution, but to the Declaration of Independence.

Lincoln had said he never had a single political idea that did not derive from that document. The great civil war Lincoln memorialized in that address was a test of the proposition proclaimed in the Declaration that all men are created equal.

This is, arguably, the central proposition of American history. Its what we are contending over in the health care fight right now. For those who believe that the destruction of human life in the womb is a fundamental right of choice, abortion is a service. And they want to make sure that such services are fully covered in mandatory government-controlled health plans.

For those of us who affirm that the right to life was endowed by our Creator, and enunciated by that Declaration, another Lincoln quote is appropriate. Lincoln in 1858 said the Founders believed that nothing stamped in the divine image was sent into the world to be trod upon. We believe unborn children are so stamped.

Abraham Lincoln never had to go to Delaware to meet the flag-draped caskets of fallen American soldiers. When he lived at the Soldiers Home, those caskets came to him. Daily, forty bodies of Union soldiers were brought to this quiet refuge and interred on the grounds.

At Gettysburg, Lincoln called for a new birth of freedom for our country. He said we should highly resolve that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth. Several days later, a letter came to the White House. The Honorable Edward Everett wrote the President: 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.

Today, 146 years later, it would be good to take two minutes to read those immortal words again.

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