Today, February 12, is Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. He’s the 16th President of the United States, creator of the Emancipation Proclamation, leader of people and all-around historical hero. He is viewed by many as one of the greatest, or maybe the greatest, President in US history. (He and George Washington tend to vie for that title depending on the list.)
Lincoln in literature
Abraham Lincoln continues to inspire and capture imaginations even 150 years later. Just in a literary sense, there have been over 15,000 books written about him. He’s even been thrown into novels. My favorite is a re-imagining of him as a vampire hunter.
Many of us know his accomplishments. (Just to be clear, those accomplishments do not actually include killing blood suckers.) But, I’ve always been interested in Lincoln as a person. Maybe it’s the writer in me.
What made him such a great leader?
So, why, a century and a half later, do we still look to Lincoln as the paragon of Presidential virtue? I read up on this a bit. Not surprisingly, there’s no shortage of opinions on Lincoln’s character. The following traits were cited the most often: compassion, honesty, patience, dignity, intelligence, introspection, and eloquence. The last one – eloquence – this one burrows down deep inside me and creates that warm feeling in my soul because, it’s really about writing. Part of Lincoln’s greatness was his ability to verbalize thoughts, emotions and ideas in a way that spurred people to think.
The words of Lincoln
Many people probably think of eloquence and think of flowery language (Shakespeare, etc). But, the definition of eloquence is to be fluent or persuasive in speaking or writing or to clearly express or indicate an idea or concept. Especially for the time, Lincoln was very plain spoken, yet still eloquent. His ideas are clear. Concepts don’t necessarily need embellishment to be insightful. They just need insight.
So what are Lincoln’s most eloquent quotes? I’m sure that’s up for debate. Although it was very hard to choose, here are my 10 favorite. And, because I can’t help myself, I’ve added a twitter hashtag that might be included if President Lincoln lived today and was on Twitter. (If someone can imagine him as a vampire hunter, I can imagine him on Twitter.)
1. Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power. (#truth)
2. And in the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years. (#nowthatsaproverb)
8. It is the eternal struggle between these two principles — right and wrong — throughout the world. They are the two principles that have stood face to face from the beginning of time; and will ever continue to struggle. (#alreadyonrightsideofhistory)
9. America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves. (#vampirehunterandprophet)
10. We the people are the rightful masters of both Congress and the courts, not to overthrow the Constitution but to overthrow the men who pervert the Constitution. (#OGresistor)
President Lincoln was a president who really did have the best words. Of course, when one has character, one doesn’t need to say that. Lincoln, a man of eloquence, at his core then, seems to be a writer, which makes me like him all the more. (Not that I needed another reason).
Fallen cold and dead
Sadly, like many great men, Lincoln paid a price for his greatness. He ushered a country through war, only to be murdered. No eloquent speech could save him from that fate.
Therefore, I’ll leave you with this poem that eloquently immortalized the sorrow of losing a man who embodies the true meaning of greatness.
You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time.