Abraham Lincoln – Standing as a Hero

 

Abraham Lincoln, by Jean Louis Gerome, 1908

Abraham Lincoln, by Jean Louis Gerome, 1908

O captain. My captain. Our fearful trip is done;
The ship has weathered every rack, the prize we sought is won;
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring:
But O heart! Heart! Heart!
Leave you not the little spot,
Where on the deck my captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.

O captain. My captain. Rise up and hear the bells;
Rise up–for you the flag is flung–for you the bugle trills;
For you bouquets and ribbon’d wreaths–for you the shores a-crowding;
For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning; O captain. Dear father.
This arm I push beneath you;
It is some dream that on the deck,
You’ve fallen cold and dead.

My captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still;
My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor win:
But the ship, the ship is anchor’d safe, its voyage closed and done;
From fearful trip, the victor ship, comes in with object won:
Exult O shores, and ring, O bells.
But I with silent tread,
Walk the spot the captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.

–Walt Whitman

 

Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln

Leaving an enduring legacy in his historic role as savior of the Union and emancipator of the slaves, Abraham Lincoln was the 16th President of the United States, serving from March 1861 until his assassination in April 1865.

Five months before receiving his party’s nomination for President, he sketched his own life, saying:

“I was born on February 12, 1809, in Hardin County, Kentucky. My parents were both born in Virginia, of undistinguished families — second families, perhaps I should say. My mother, who died in my tenth year, was of a family of the name of Hanks. My father removed from Kentucky to Indiana, in my eighth year. It was a wild region, with many bears and other wild animals still in the woods. There I grew up. Of course, when I came of age I did not know much. Still, somehow, I could read, write, and cipher but that was all.”

He was the second child of Thomas Lincoln and Nancy Hanks Lincoln, born in a one-room log cabin on the Sinking Spring Farm in Hardin County, Kentucky (now LaRue County). Though coming from humble beginnings, his father Thomas enjoyed considerable status in Kentucky—where he sat on juries, appraised estates, served on country slave patrols, and guarded prisoners. By the time Abraham was born, Thomas owned two 600-acre farms, several town lots, livestock, and horses. He was among the richest men in the county; however, in 1816, Thomas lost all of his land in court cases because of faulty property titles.

Abraham Lincoln as a Youth

Abraham Lincoln as a Youth

The family then moved north across the Ohio River to Indiana, when Lincoln was nine. His mother died of milk sickness in 1818 and his father remarried the following year. In 1830, fearing a milk sickness outbreak along the Ohio River, the Lincoln family moved west, where they settled in Illinois. At the age of 22, Lincoln struck out on his own, making extraordinary efforts to attain knowledge while working on a farm, splitting rails for fences, and keeping store at New Salem, Illinois. He also held a variety of public positions such as postmaster and county surveyor, while reading voraciously, and teaching himself law. Of his learning method, he would say: “I studied with nobody”. He became an Illinois congressman in 1834 and was admitted to the bar in 1836. He was a captain in the Black Hawk War, spent eight years in the Illinois legislature, and rode the circuit of courts for many years. His law partner said of him, “His ambition was a little engine that knew no rest.” He married Mary Todd on November 4, 1842, and the couple would have four sons, only one of whom lived to maturity.

In 1858 Lincoln ran against Stephen A. Douglas for Senator. He lost the election; but, in debating with Douglas he gained a national reputation that won him the Republican nomination for President in 1860. In his Inaugural Address, he warned the South:

“In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow countrymen, and not in mine, is the momentous issue of civil war. The government will not assail you. You have no oath registered in Heaven to destroy the government, while I shall have the most solemn one to preserve, protect and defend it.”

Lincoln thought secession illegal and was willing to use force to defend Federal law and the Union. When Confederate batteries fired on Fort Sumter, South Carolina and forced its surrender, he called on the states for 75,000 volunteers. As President, he built the Republican Party into a strong national organization. Further, he rallied most of the northern Democrats to the Union cause. On January 1, 1863, he issued the Emancipation Proclamation that declared forever free those slaves within the Confederacy.

Lincoln won re-election in 1864, as Union military triumphs heralded an end to the war. The spirit that guided him was clearly that of his Second Inaugural Address, now inscribed on one wall of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.:

“With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds.”

Just weeks later, on April 14, 1865, Lincoln was assassinated at Ford’s Theatre in Washington D.C. by John Wilkes Booth.

 

“America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.”
— Abraham Lincoln

5 thoughts on “Abraham Lincoln – Standing as a Hero”

    1. There was a period, due to the climate of slavery and attitudes toward blacks in the U.S., that Lincoln couldn’t see how a biracial society would work. Therefore he, like many others at the time, thought through all the possibilities of what would happen “after” the freeing of the slaves. His feelings toward all this evolved through out the Civil War, but in his Peoria, IL speech in 1854 he said:

      “If all earthly power were given me, I should not know what to do as to the existing institution. My first impulse would be to free all the slaves and send them to Liberia, to their own native land. But a moment’s reflection would convince me, that whatever of high hope, as I think there is, there may be in this, in the long run, its sudden execution is impossible.

      What then, free them all, and keep them among us as underlings? Is it quite certain that this betters their condition? Free them and make them politically and socially our equals? My own feelings will not admit of this; and if mine would, we well know that those of the great mass of white people will not.”

      With regard to his statement about sending slaves back to their original country, my own personal opinion would be to compare being kidnapped and enslaved in another country. If that country were to set me free, would I want to stay there, or go back to my home country? Even if I were generations removed from the original kidnapping, but still enslaved by a country not of my heritage, would I want to stay there? It’s possible that was part of his thinking, but that’s just my opinion.

  1. Well except for a few exceptions. Why did he only free the slaves in the South? But as they say, history is written by the victors with little regard for truth.

    1. Actually, he couldn’t in the “United States” without a Constitutional Amendment. In our article The Emancipation Proclamation page 3 John Hope Franklin, Prologue Magazine, notes in his article:

      “Meanwhile, no one appreciated better than Lincoln the fact that the Emancipation Proclamation had a quite limited effect in freeing the slaves directly. It should be remembered, however, that in the Proclamation he called emancipation “an act of justice,” and in later weeks and months he did everything he could to confirm his view that it was An Act of Justice. And no one was more anxious than Lincoln to take the necessary additional steps to bring about actual freedom. Thus, he proposed that the Republican Party include in its 1864 platform a plank calling for the abolition of slavery by constitutional amendment. When he was “notified” of his re-nomination, as was the custom in those days, he singled out that plank in the platform calling for constitutional emancipation and pronounced it “a fitting and necessary conclusion to the final success of the Union cause.”

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