Saturday, February 12, 2011

Lo, how the mighty are fallen!

Not Hosni Mubarak.

I’m talking about someone born 202 years ago today, someone everyone in the United States used to take notice of every year on February 12th, someone whose name probably won't even be mentioned today by what conservative radio personality Rush Limbaugh calls “the drive-by media,” who prefer to report about Lindsay Lohan and LeBron James (each of them has a Wikipedia article, but I am not going to include the links; you can make the effort yourself to look them up if you are really that interested in drug-using actresses and self-absorbed basketball players).

Give up?

I’m talking about the sixteenth President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln.

When I was a boy, everyone knew that Lincoln was born on February 12, 1809, in a log cabin in Kentucky. Everyone knew his parents were Tom Lincoln and Nancy Hanks Lincoln. Everyone knew his first love was Ann Rutledge, who died of typhoid fever. Everyone knew he married Mary Todd and had four children, Robert, Edward, Willie, and Tad. Everyone knew of the debates between Lincoln and Stephen Douglas, and the Emancipation Proclamation, and the Second Inaugural Address, and the assassination by John Wilkes Booth.

Some of the myth surrounding Lincoln’s birth and childhood is questioned today. The Wikipedia article about him does state that he was born in a one-room log cabin, but it also states that his father Thomas enjoyed considerable status in Kentucky, where he sat on juries, appraised estates, served on country patrols, and guarded prisoners. By the time his son Abraham was born, Thomas owned two 600-acre farms, several town lots, livestock and horses. He was amongst the richest men in the area. Makes you wonder why little Abe was born in a one-room log cabin, then, unless one-room log cabins were all the rage, that era’s equivalent of the McMansions we see about us today. Mostly foreclosed-on McMansions, he hastened to add. But I digress.

We were forced as students, forced I tell you, to memorize Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. The entire Gettysburg Address. All ten sentences and 271 words. Here they are:

“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 battle-field 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 can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not 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.”

When I was a boy, we observed Lincoln’s birthday on February 12th and George Washington’s birthday on February 22nd. Nowadays, we lump them together and have “Presidents Day,” ostensibly to remember all the presidents of the United States at once (although, to be fair, Washington and Lincoln are usually the ones mentioned most often) but really to give federal employees a three-day weekend. As Lincoln once said, it is altogether fitting and proper that we do this, and we have Lyndon Baines Johnson to thank for the change.

So forget about Abraham Lincoln as an individual. Forget about George Washington. Instead, on a Monday in the near future, spend your day thinking about Millard Fillmore, Warren G. Harding, and George W. Bush.

You might even think about Jimmy Carter.

And if you do, and you know your history, you might think about Menachem Begin. And Anwar Sadat.

And then, and only then, should you think about Hosni Mubarak.


Putz said...

you know the person of all those that you mention in this article was stephen douglas who ran against joseph smith for president<><><>of course neither one did any thing in that regard

Pat - Arkansas said...

In your recounting of what everyone "knew" about Abraham Lincoln, you left out his reading books by firelight in the one-room log cabin, and walking miles through the snow to return a borrowed book. Oh, and that he wrote the memorable words of the Gettysburg Address on an envelope while traveling to that battlefield by train.

Putz said...

stephen A. douglas

A Lady's Life said...

America certainly had some great men in her times.Men who made a difference. Men also who wanted to make a difference which times did not permit.
How do you get elected today as an honest man?
Honest men get trampled
Honest mens' ideas get trampled.Ideals, purity of the soul, get trampled.Lobbyists kill them.
Only the tough survive long enough get to the election part and today you need money to stand before the people or you do not get heard.
A young man started the uprising in Egypt.
He deserves to be heard and run for government because he got the hearts of the people beating. Do you think anyone will care about him now that Mubarek is gone? Will he ever be heard of? or will they come one night and make him disappear.
That's how it works today for the poor man.

Yorkshire Pudding said...

The only time I would think about George W. Bush is if I was suffering from constipation. Instead, I will think about the noble and gifted current incumbent of the White House - God Bless Barack Obama!

rhymeswithplague said...

Thank you, Putz, Pat, and Canadian Lady, for your comments.

I left out You Know Who on purpose.

Snowbrush said...

I've been to Lincoln's birthplace, his house in Springfield, and also his tomb, but the tomb was the most memorable. I vaguely recall that there was some fear of his body being stolen, and so he was moved from his old tomb to the new one in which he lies quite deep with a lot of heavy stuff on top of him. I think it was when he was moved that they took a look at the corpse to verify, I suppose that it was really him. Of course, they also might have just wanted to see how he had fared. I know that I often want to dig people up to check on their degree of dissolution, whereas Peggy just wants to steal their buttons and jewelry, mercenary woman that she is.

Wine in Thyme said...

Amen Sister Lady.