Another Bicentennial: The Life, Death and Legacy of Abraham Lincoln.
Abraham Lincoln (February 12, 1809-April 15, 1865), the 16th president of the USA, has consistently polled as one of the three greatest US presidents, with George Washington, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and perhaps John F. Kennedy. Besides being the Great Emancipator, another special angle is his story, from log cabin to White House, the poor boy who made good.
Just what Lincoln’s legacy was, and is, has changed many times over the years, depending on who is doing the interpretation. There continues to be disagreement over how the 16th president should be remembered. A complicated mixture of abolitionist and holder of the standard limited racial feelings of his day, Lincoln nevertheless truly came to believe in the equality of all men and had the courage to act on these beliefs. He will be remembered mainly as the president who entered the American Civil War to preserve the Union, and who abolished slavery.
During the Civil War, Lincoln was unpopular with many and critics called him a tyrant, a hick, a racist, and an amateur, while supporters praised him as a farsighted statesman and a military mastermind—all ideas that have fed into the Lincoln legend.
Lincoln was born in Kentucky in a very poor farming family that soon moved to Indiana. All his childhood he worked very hard outdoors and had very little opportunity for formal education. However, he was obviously smart and interested in learning, and over the years largely taught himself the basics. Over the years he became an eloquent public speaker who could hold a vast audience spellbound, and a great writer whose words are still quoted today. When he was 21, the family moved to Illinois, and at age 22 he set off on his own for New Salem, where he studied for the law—he passed the law exams and was admitted to practice in march 1837. In 1834 he ran for state legislature and was elected a state representative. He moved to Springfield, the new capital city, at age 28, met and married Mary Todd, became a successful lawyer, was elected to the US House of Representatives, and was elected US president in November 1860. His time in Washington was stormy, until his assassination in April 1865, not long after being elected President for a second term.
Around the USA, many states have planned many different celebrations of Lincoln, especially those states where he was born and lived as a young man, but also in states like Pennsylvania and Florida.
Interest in Lincoln has grown recently because 2009 is also the Bicentennial of another famous man, Charles Darwin, and because of recent renewed appreciation of Lincoln’s ideals by the new US President, Barak Obama.
1. The Darwin Connection
Coincidence? Or some cosmic plan?
Born on the same day 200 years ago, Lincoln and Darwin changed the world forever. These 2 men, both respected thinkers in the 19th century who made enormous contributions to life in their times, contributions that we still continue to feel today, were both born on February 12, 1809. Those great contributions were Evolution and Equality.
Scientists today continue to work on Darwin’s scientific breakthrough, and scholars continue to debate just who and what Lincoln really was. Besides being great thinkers, it turns out that there was another connection between the two men: Lincoln was motivated to change the acceptance of slavery as an institution, but Darwin may have been too, as his family was abolitionist. In addition Darwin believed that all humans were of the same species, and not from different species as advocates of slavery maintained.
2. The Obama Connection
On a cold February day in 2007, Obama announced his candidacy for US President on a podium in front of the Old State Capitol in Springfield, Illinois. In 1858, Abraham Lincoln at the same site had told his fellow Illinoisans that “a house divided against itself cannot stand.” Obama had a similar message and pledged to unite a divided country. One of Obama’s famous sayings was, “There are no Red States or Blue States…just the United States.” Obama, also elected to president from Illinois, as Lincoln was, used many of Lincoln’s ideas and writings as personal inspiration.
A century and a half after Lincoln’s famous Gettysburg promise of a “new birth of freedom”, the promise has been fulfilled. Obama chose a new birth of freedom as the theme for his Inaugural Address on January 20, 2009, and he took the Oath of Office with his hand on the same bible that Lincoln used for his Oath of Office in 1861. We must remember that the American Civil War did not start as a war to abolish slavery, but rather to restore the Union.
3. The States Connection
Go to this site for a listing of many of the special events planned for the Lincoln Bicentennial