Thursday, February 12, 2009

Lincoln the Lawyer

Today marks 200 years since Abraham Lincoln's birth.

Two days before Lincoln's 198th birthday, President Obama opened his presidential campaign on the steps of the Old Capitol in Springfield where Lincoln gave his "house divided" address. In his speech, Obama invoked Lincoln's spirit: "Through his will and his words, he moved a nation and helped free a people.”

In his speech on the Old Capitol steps in June 1858, Lincoln said about the political struggle over slavery:

"Our cause, then, must be intrusted to, and conducted by, its own undoubted friends -- those whose hands are free, whose hearts are in the work -- who do care for the result. Two years ago the Republicans of the nation mustered over thirteen hundred thousand strong. We did this under the single impulse of resistance to a common danger, with every external circumstance against us. Of strange, discordant, and even hostile elements, we gathered from the four winds, and formed and fought the battle through, under the constant hot fire of a disciplined, proud and pampered enemy. Did we brave all then, to falter now? --now, when that same enemy is wavering, dissevered and belligerent? The result is not doubtful. We shall not fail -- if we stand firm, we shall not fail. Wise counsels may accelerate, or mistakes delay it, but, sooner or later, the victory is sure to come."

Historian David Ward is curator of One Life: The Mask of Lincoln at the National Portrait Gallery. When asked for a story how Lincoln might have felt about the presidential election, Ward said: "I think the fact that a person of color is now president would hearten Lincoln immensely."

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