COLUMN: Lincoln legacy: Who is the man behind that statue?
Abe Lincoln was very strong. On his death bed, his arms were exposed looking strangely powerful on his spare frame. Even as a youth he could hold an ax out straight from his shoulder.
Lincoln meant what he said about being firm in his Second Inaugural Address: “with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right.” From that speech, we usually just remember the phrase, “with malice toward none and charity toward all.”
Lincoln's life raises the question: how do we mix firmness with charity?
This is a public policy issue and—as we have explored this week—it is also a personal moral issue. We started in Lincoln’s boyhood, looking at the creative way he stopped some melon thieves. Then, we looked at how Lincoln liked to pause and contemplate the vast sweep of America.
Mid-week, we recalled Lincoln's compassion for all creatures. Yesterday, we looked at the way so many Americans, including Marilyn Monroe, love him.
Think back to that story about the melons. How funny it would have sounded for the young Lincoln to pounce on his melon-stealing friends, declaring “with firmness in the right as God gives me to see the right.” He actually didn’t need those words when he caught the thieves. At 14, he already towered over other boys. He embodied firmness and right in his bearing and approach to the incident.
Lincoln saw the American union the same way he saw the community around his family field, something to be held together. He never forgot to be firm, and he always remembered to be benevolent. These personal values are deeply evident in his Second Inaugural.
Each year, men and women from around the world come to see Lincoln in the heart of Washington D.C. They climb the steps to the Lincoln Memorial, that huge temple at the far end of the Mall from the U.S. Capitol. There he is—a giant etched in stone.
This week, which images of Lincoln the man are most compelling to you?
Which of Lincoln's personal values are most important today?