Celebrating Lincoln’s Birthday at the Altar of Freedom

Even though most the celebration of U.S. President’s birthdays have been regulated to a single, Monday holiday, two presidential birthdays stand out, ten days apart – the birth of Abraham Lincoln and that of George Washington.

Our first president was known for his physical prowess, moral conduct, and reverence for honor and duty.  He was a courtly man who loved society and going to the theater.  Our 16th president was equally tall, but gangly, growing up in the backwoods of Kentucky in a log cabin, a life he secretly eschewed for all our admiration of his rags-to-riches presidency.  He’d only served briefly in the army, with no great distinction.  Yet when called upon to wage a war against his own countrymen, Lincoln studied every book on warfare he could get his hands upon.

If Washington was physically heroic, Lincoln’s courage was more esoteric.  Washington was a general who eschewed politics.  He fought with a sword.  Lincoln was a lawyer.  With the stroke of a pen, he set the black people free, by fiat, and thus signed his own death warrant by way of the Emancipation Proclamation.

Both men cherished freedom and liberty.

At the young age of 27, Lincoln, then a young attorney, addressed the Young Men’s Lyceum of Springfield, Illinois (a debating society) in January 1838 on the subject of The Perpetuation of Our Political Institutions.  According to the author of Abraham Lincoln:  Great Speeches, John Grafton, “Lincoln delivered [an] impassioned defense of the rule of law as the indispensable safeguard of America’s treasured political institution…Lincoln argued that the only real threat to America’s political institutions as they had come down from the Founding Fathers was the manifest withering away of the nation’s respect for the rule of law.  Only mob rule could bring down the new Republic’s democratic institutions.”

“We, when mounting the stage of existence,” Lincoln told his audience, “found ourselves the legal inheritors of these fundamental blessings [of a government of a system of political institutions, conducing more essentially to the ends of civil and religious liberty, than any of which the history of former times tells us].  We toiled not in the acquirement or establishment of them – they are a legacy bequeathed to us by a once hardy, brave, and patriotic, but now lamented and departed race of ancestors.  Theirs was the task (and nobly they performed it) to possess themselves, and through themselves, us, of this good land, and to uprear upon its hills and its valleys, a political edifice of liberty and equal rights; ‘tis ours only to transmit these, the former unprofaned by the foot of an invader; the latter, undecayed by the lapse of time and untorn by usurpation, to the latest generation that fate shall permit the world to know.  This task – gratitude – to our fathers, justice to ourselves, duty to posterity, and love for our species in general, all imperatively require us to perform.

“How then shall we perform it?  At what point shall we expect the approach of danger?  By what means shall we fortify against it?”

Lincoln predicted that not all the armies of the earth combined, with Napoleon in the van, would ever cross the Blue Ridge Mountains nor drink from the Ohio River.

“At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected?  I answer, if it ever reaches us, it must spring up amongst us.  It cannot come from abroad.  If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher.  As a nation of free men, we must live through all time, or die by suicide.”

Lincoln returned to the question a little later in the speech:

“How then, is one point at which danger may be expected?  The question recurs, “how shall we fortify against it?”  The answer is simple.  Let every American, every lover of liberty, every well-wisher to his posterity, swear by the blood of the Revolution, never to violate in the least particular, the law of the country, and never to tolerate their violation by others.  As the patriots of Seventy-Six did to the support of the Declaration of Independence, so to the support of the Constitution and Laws, let every American pledge his life, his property, and his sacred honor; let every man remember that to violate the law is to trample on the blood of his father, and to tear the character of his own, and his children’s liberty.  Let reverence for the law be breathed by every American mother, to the lisping babe that prattles on her lap – let it be taught in schools, in seminaries, and in colleges; let it be written in Primers, spelling books, and in Almanacs – let it be preached from the pulpit, proclaimed in legislative halls, and enforced in courts of justice.  And, in short, let it become the political religion of the nation; and let the old and the young, the rich and the poor, the grave and the gay, of all sexes and tongues, and colors and conditions, sacrifice unceasingly upon its altars.

“While ever a state  of feeling such as this shall universally, or even very generally prevail through the nation, vain will be every effort and fruitless every attempt to subvert our national freedom.”

 

 

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Published in: on February 12, 2013 at 11:26 pm  Leave a Comment  

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