We are still too near…
He was not born into poverty as is commonly imagined. His father was one of the wealthiest men in their community.
He knew loss from an early age. His mother died when he was only 9. His older sister cared for him until their father remarried a year or so later. He became very close to his step-mother and called her “Mother” until his death.
He had a reputation for laziness in his pre-teen years, primarily because he preferred reading to doing his chores. In fact, he had only one full year of formal education.
As he approached his twenties, he proved to be a formidable physical presence. Tall, and much stronger than he looked, due to years of rail-splitting, he could hold his own when it came to fighting.
Nothing in the years leading to his election as President of the United States 154 years ago yesterday gave any real clue to the enormous role he would play in our country’s survival as a country.
Abraham Lincoln’s moral stature, his strength of character and purpose, were forged largely out of sight, within the books he loved so, and from his experiences seeing the slave trade first hand in New Orleans, when he was 22.
He walked back from New Orleans to Illinois. That’s a long time to contemplate what he had witnessed.
No one in his right mind would try to defend slavery today.
The test of moral leadership usually requires perspective, doesn’t it?
You and I face moral, and sometimes physical, tests during our lives. Like the young Lincoln, our characters are forged out of sight in each of these daily decisions. Do we do what is right or what is expedient and popular?
But none of us can hide from ourselves. We know how we have answered the questions life has placed before us.
The enormity of the loss of life produced during the Civil War had to weigh in a very personal way on a father who had buried two sons. Amidst the national grief, Lincoln was forced to shoulder his personal grief and bury young Willie even as he served as Commander in Chief.
Death was ever present in his life. Yet he always found a way forward, and he never wavered in his belief that our country must be united if democracy was to survive.
It’s worth remembering that today.
Perspective on what we’ve been through together helps.
This is the United States of America. Too many have bled and died before us — for us — to ever forget that.
“Now why was Lincoln so great that he overshadows all other national heroes? He really was not a great general like Napoleon or Washington; he was not such a skillful statesman as Gladstone or Frederick the Great; but his supremecy expresses itself altogether in his peculiar moral power and the greatness of his character. We are still too near to his greatness, but after a few centuries more our posterity will find him considerably bigger than we do. His genius is still too strong and too powerful for the common understanding, just as the sun is too hot when its light beams directly on us.” ~ Leo Tolstoy