As a passionate history student and avid reader of presidential biographies, today is a special day for me. This is where my kids typically run for the door; “Oh no, another lecture or trip to a presidential library!"
Though my favorite presidents are Roosevelt (Teddy), Truman, and Eisenhower, the greatest president, hands down, was Lincoln. Beyond his successful management of the Civil War, and of course the Emancipation Proclamation, no president has so fully represented American ideals and mythology as Abraham Lincoln. Born on the frontier, self-made, self taught, physically strong, courageous, caring, and ultimately, a martyr. All this, plus his raw political abilities -known as decisive leader, he was also an excellent negotiator- would have ranked him as the greatest president. But then there’s the writing…
When our family visits the Lincoln Memorial, as we do nearly every year, and reads The Gettysburg Address (Brag Alert: my kids know it by heart) and the Second Inaugural, it seems impossible to me that he, talented as he was in so many other ways, personally wrote them. It’s this gorgeous, clear and incisive writing ability that to me launches him into the greatness stratosphere.
“Four Score and 7 years ago,.. the last full measure of devotion… of the people, by the people, for the people (-yeah, HE wrote that).” “ ..With malice towards none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right…”
The second inaugural is as perfect a summation of moral purpose and historical context as has ever been delivered in the middle of a crisis, and also just plain beautiful poetry.
Yet for all these, my mind keeps going back to the phrase “…angels of our better nature” with which he ends his 1st inaugural address. Until a couple of years ago, I thought it was from Shakespeare. To me, it perfectly sums up the act of faith that our democracy (the first constitutional democracy in the history of the world) was based upon. Even more, it sums up the spirit of human progress, despite of our very human nature –And in just 6 words! It’s so hopeful. It says, “yeah, you may be greedy, or lazy, or prejudiced, or scared, or angry, but you can rise above that and, with a little encouragement do the right thing anyway.” That’s the heart of the American Spirit.
I'd like to tie this to Scully’s with references to hard work, lack of pretense and doing the right thing when it’s not the most personally profitable thing.
From our family to you, Happy President’s Day.
“The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.” -Abraham Lincoln