Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Here's to you, Abe

Today, in case you didn't know it, is the 199th anniversary of the birth in 1809 of Abraham Lincoln, our sixteenth president. You might have heard of him. His image is on our one-cent coin and also on our five-dollar bill. He is known for the Emancipation Proclamation and the Gettysburg Address and his Second Inaugural Address and the Lincoln-Douglas Debates and for having been assassinated at Ford's Theater by John Wilkes Booth in Washington, D.C., one April night in 1865. The second largest city in the state of Nebraska is named after him. In Washington, D.C., thanks to a sculptor named Daniel Chester French, there is a very large statue of him behind the spot where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., gave his famous "I Have A Dream" speech in 1963. Lincoln is often referred to as Abraham Lincoln of Illinois, even though he was born in Kentucky. He was the child of a woman named Nancy Hanks who died young, the lover of a woman named Anne Rutledge who also died young, and the husband of a woman named Mary Todd who went insane toward the end of her life. Oh, yes, and one other thing: at a time when the direction of the United States veered toward destruction, he saved the Union. If it weren't for president number sixteen, we might not currently be selecting president number forty-four.

I mention all these things because I encountered a grand total of one, yes, one reference to Abraham Lincoln today, on Garrison Keillor's "Writer's Almanac." Everywhere else, silence. When I was a boy in New England, Lincoln's birthday and George Washington's birthday were both school holidays. Later, when my family moved to one of the states of the Old Confederacy, Washington's birthday was still observed as a school holiday, but no one paid any attention at all to Lincoln's birthday. Sore losers, I guess. Nowadays, neither Washington nor Lincoln is honored personally, only a vague general category known as Presidents on a day that means absolutely nothing to anybody except merchants who put their wares on sale and worker bees who get a three-day weekend.

So while we still can, while there's still time, before he recedes into oblivion altogether, here's to you, Abe. We owe you one.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent reminder of the day's meaning!

    Once, I had the privilege to visit Lincoln's homes in Springfield and New Salem, IL, and his tomb. Very moving!

    Northeast of here, across the Mississippi River in Wisconsin, is a tiny cement marker along a hilly, rural road. The marker states that Abraham Lincoln and his Illinois militia once camped there during the Black Hawk War.

    I enjoy your posts very much!