The Middle East is in crisis. A government shutdown over the debt ceiling looms. Public sector unions are fighting in states across the country. But gratefully, and with impeccable timing, author and historian Lewis E. Lehrman emailed me three articles, stories that elegantly and graciously remind us how our leaders pulled our country through even darker days. This is the first of a three-part series.
This piece about President Abraham Lincoln's patriotism by Mr. Lehrman first ran in the Stamford Advocate on February 12, 2011. Mr. Lehrman is co-founder of the Gilder-LehrmanInstitute of American History and author of "Lincoln at Peoria: The Turning Point" (Stackpole Books, 2008).
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I cede the floor to Mr. Lehrman:
President-elect Lincoln made very few public remarks before departing Springfield, Ill.,for Washington for his inauguration in 1861. On Nov. 20, 1860, however, Lincolnaddressed some very brief comments to supporters in Springfield. He urged them"neither express, nor cherish, any harsh feeling towards any citizen who, by his vote, hasdiffered with us. Let us at all times remember that all American citizens are brothers of acommon country, and should dwell together in the bonds of fraternal feeling."
Lincoln's concern was catholic. More than a year later in his First Annual Message toCongress in December 1861, President Lincoln noted that America's population hadgrown eight-fold since its founding: "The increase of those other things which men deemdesirable has been even greater."
In the midst of the Civil War, he foresaw a great future for America: "The struggle oftoday, is not altogether for today -- it is for a vast future also. With a reliance onProvidence, all the more firm and earnest, let us proceed in the great task which eventshave devolved upon us."
Lincoln's was an optimistic patriotism. In that official message of 1861 he predicted thatsome Americans would live to see the country's population reach 250 million -- a recordnot reached until the 1990 census.
Lincoln was ever-conscious of the country's potential. In December 1862, Lincolnconcluded his second annual message with a stirring admonition of the nature of theAmerican Republic: "Fellow-citizens, we cannot escape history. ... The fiery trial throughwhich we pass, will light us down, in honor or dishonor, to the latest generation. We saywe are for the Union. The world will not forget that we say this. We know how to savethe Union. The world knows we do know how to save it."
Lincoln understood America's duty and power in the world: "We shall nobly save, ormeanly lose, the last best, hope of earth. Other means may succeed; this could not fail.The way is plain, peaceful, generous, just -- a way which, if followed, the world willforever applaud, and God must forever bless."
Another year of civil war passed. Lincoln understood that America's destiny would notbe fulfilled without struggle and persistence. In December 1863, he responded to aninvitation to give a speech in New York City at Cooper Union. The president, recoveringfrom a mild case of smallpox, declined to come.
Instead, he wrote: "Honor to the soldier, and sailor everywhere, who bravely bears his country's cause. Honor also to the citizen who cares for his brother in the field, and serves, as he best can, the same cause -- honor to him, only less than to him, who braves, for the common good, the storms of heaven and the storms of battle."
Lincoln understood his obligation to minister to America's citizens and especially toAmerica's soldiers. In brief remarks to the Ohio regiment in August 1864, Lincoln said:"We have, as all will agree, a free Government, where every man has a right to be equalwith every other man. In this great struggle, this form of Government and every form ofhuman right is endangered if our enemies succeed. There is involved in this struggle thequestion whether your children and my children shall enjoy the privilege we haveenjoyed."
Later that month, Lincoln addressed another Buckeye regiment: "I admonish you not tobe turned from your stern purpose of defending your beloved country and its freeinstitutions by any arguments urged by ambitious and designing men, but stand fast tothe Union and the old flag."
The president knew that America's future depended on its willingness to defend theunion and the freedom it represented. In response to a serenade after his reelection inNovember 1864, the commander-in-chief said: "Gold is good in its place; but living,brave, patriotic men are better than gold."
President Lincoln's patriotism appealed to all and included all. He concluded his secondInaugural Address in March 1865: "With malice toward none; with charity for all; withfirmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the workwe are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne thebattle, and for his widow, and his orphan -- to do all which may achieve and cherish ajust, and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations."