This week we honor the life of Abraham Lincoln (February 12, 1809 – April 15, 1865, age 56), 16th President of the United States, U.S. Congressional Representative, failed candidate for U.S. Senate, Christian, civil rights leader, practicing lawyer, militia captain, patent holding inventor, postmaster, husband to Mary, and father of four. He was assassinated by a spy while attending a performance in Ford’s Theatre, Washington, D.C.
President Lincoln’s final Emancipation Proclamation (January 1, 1863, he had issued a preliminary one) is credited with greatly helping to pave the way for the end of slavery in America. Commander-in-Chief during the Civil War, his Gettysburg Address (November 19, 1863) is considered a rhetorical masterpiece, even though it was little more than 270 words. (See commentary and copy of the speech here.) It is credited with helping heal the wounds of a greatly divided nation.
I have never had a feeling politically that did not spring from the sentiments embodied in the Declaration of Independence.
The legitimate object of government, is to do for a community of people, whatever they need to have done, but can not do, at all, or can not, so well do, for themselves – in their separate, and individual capacities. In all that the people can individually do as well for themselves, government ought not to interfere.
The people of these United States are the rightful masters of both Congresses and courts, not to overthrow the Constitution, but to overthrow the men who pervert the Constitution.
As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master. This expresses my idea of democracy. Whatever differs from this, to the extent of the difference, is no democracy.
Those who deny freedom to others, deserve it not for themselves; and, under a just God, can not long retain it.
Will springs from the two elements of moral sense and self-interest.
The probability that we may fall in the struggle ought not to deter us from the support of a cause we believe to be just; it shall not deter me.
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 laws of the country, and never to tolerate their violation by others.
…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 charter of his own and his children’s liberty.
When I so pressingly urge a strict observance of all the laws, let me not be understood as saying there are no bad laws… if they exist, [they] should be repealed as soon as possible, still, while they continue in force, for the sake of example they should be religiously observed.
There is no grievance that is a fit object of redress by mob law.
…no man is good enough to govern another man without that other’s consent. I say this is the leading principle, the sheet-anchor of American republicanism.
I insist, that if there is any thing which it is the duty of the whole people to never entrust to any hands but their own, that thing is the preservation and perpetuity, of their own liberties, and institutions.
It is to deny, what the history of the world tells us is true, to suppose that men of ambition and talents will not continue to spring up amongst us. And, when they do, they will as naturally seek the gratification of their ruling passion, as others have so done before them.
…the noblest cause — that of establishing and maintaining civil and religious liberty.
Passion has helped us; but can do so no more. It will in future be our enemy. Reason, cold, calculating, unimpassioned reason, must furnish all the materials for our future support and defense. — Let those materials be moulded into general intelligence, sound morality, and in particular, a reverence for the constitution and laws…
Any people anywhere being inclined and having the power have the right to rise up and shake off the existing government, and form a new one that suits them better.
The provision of the Constitution giving the war making power to Congress was dictated, as I understand it, by the following reasons. Kings had always been involving and impoverishing their people in wars, pretending generally, if not always, that the good of the people was the object.
The better part of one’s life consists of his friendships.
Discourage litigation. Persuade your neighbors to compromise whenever you can. Point out to them how the nominal winner is often a real loser — in fees, expenses, and waste of time.
With public sentiment, nothing can fail; without it nothing can succeed. Consequently he who moulds public sentiment, goes deeper than he who enacts statutes or pronounces decisions. He makes statutes and decisions possible or impossible to be executed.
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. The one is the common right of humanity, and the other the divine right of kings.
No country can sustain, in idleness, more than a small percentage of its numbers. The great majority must labor at something productive.
A capacity, and taste, for reading, gives access to whatever has already been discovered by others. It is the key, or one of the keys, to the already solved problems. And not only so. It gives a relish, and facility, for successfully pursuing the [yet] unsolved ones.
Yet in all our rejoicing let us neither express, nor cherish, any harsh feeling towards any citizen who, by his vote, has differed with us. Let us at all times remember that all American citizens are brothers of a common country, and should dwell together in the bonds of fraternal feeling.
Therefore, I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, [ during this time of civil war ] do appoint the last Thursday in September next, as a day of humiliation, prayer and fasting for all the people of the nation. [ Thanksgiving Day ] And I do earnestly recommend to all the People, and especially to all ministers and teachers of religion of all denominations, and to all heads of families, to observe and keep that day according to their several creeds and modes of worship, in all humility and with all religious solemnity, to the end that the united prayer of the nation may ascend to the Throne of Grace and bring down plentiful blessings upon our Country.
We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of Heaven. We have been preserved, these many years, in peace and prosperity. We have grown in numbers, wealth and power, as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. … we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us!
That some should be rich, shows that others may become rich, and hence is just encouragement to industry and enterprise. Let not him who is houseless pull down the house of another; but let him labor diligently and build one for himself, thus by example assuring that his own shall be safe from violence when built.
The world has never had a good definition of the word liberty, and the American people, just now, are much in want of one. We all declare for liberty; but in using the same word we do not all mean the same thing.With some the word liberty may mean for each man to do as he pleases with himself, and the product of his labor; while with others, the same word may mean for some men to do as they please with other men, and the product of other men’s labor. Here are two, not only different, but incompatible things, called by the same name — liberty. And it follows that each of the things is, by the respective parties, called by two different and incompatible names — liberty and tyranny.
I am a slow walker, but I never walk back.
In regard to this Great Book [ The Bible ], I have but to say, it is the best gift God has given to man. All the good the Saviour gave to the world was communicated through this book.
…let us stand by our duty, fearlessly and effectively. Let us be diverted by none of those sophistical contrivances wherewith we are so industriously plied and belabored — contrivances such as groping for some middle ground between the right and the wrong…
Let us have faith that right makes might, and in that faith, let us, to the end, dare to do our duty as we understand it.
No policy that does not rest upon some philosophical public opinion can be permanently maintained.
If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong … And yet I have never understood that the Presidency conferred upon me an unrestricted right to act officially upon this judgment and feeling … I claim not to have controlled events, but confess plainly that events have controlled me.
If there be those who would not save the Union, unless they could at the same time save slavery, I do not agree with them. If there be those who would not save the Union unless they could at the same time destroy slavery, I do not agree with them. My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union; and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union…. I have here stated my purpose according to my view of official duty; and I intend no modification of my oft-expressed personal wish that all men everywhere could be free.
I now leave, not knowing when, or whether ever, I may return, with a task before me greater than that which rested upon Washington. Without the assistance of that Divine Being, who ever attended him, I cannot succeed. With that assistance I cannot fail. Trusting in Him, who can go with me, and remain with you and be everywhere for good, let us confidently hope that all will yet be well. To His care commending you, as I hope in your prayers you will commend me, I bid you an affectionate farewell.
If by the mere force of numbers a majority should deprive a minority of any clearly written constitutional right, it might, in a moral point of view, justify revolution—certainly would if such a right were a vital one.
A majority held in restraint by constitutional checks and limitations, and always changing easily with deliberate changes of popular opinions and sentiments, is the only true sovereign of a free people. Whoever rejects it does, of necessity, fly to anarchy or to despotism.
Intelligence, patriotism, Christianity, and a firm reliance on Him, who has never yet forsaken this favored land, are still competent to adjust, in the best way, all our present difficulty.
Must a government of necessity be too strong for the liberties of its own people, or too weak to maintain its own existence?
Such will be a great lesson of peace, teaching men that what they can not take by an election neither can they take it by a [ civil ] war; teaching all the folly of being the beginners of a war.
And having thus chosen our course, without guile and with pure purpose, let us renew our trust in God and go forward without fear and with manly hearts.
Labor is prior to and independent of capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.
No men living are more worthy to be trusted than those who toil up from poverty; none less inclined to take or touch aught which they have not honestly earned. Let them beware of surrendering a political power which they already possess, and which if surrendered will surely be used to close the door of advancement against such as they and to fix new disabilities and burdens upon them till all of liberty shall be lost.
…I intend no modification of my oft-expressed personal wish that all men everywhere could be free. [ slavery ]
In times like the present men should utter nothing for which they would not willingly be responsible through time and in eternity. [ temperance ]
…that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth. [ Gettysburg Address ]
Again I admonish you not to be turned from your stern purpose of defending your beloved country and its free institutions by any arguments urged by ambitious and designing men, but stand fast to the Union and the old flag.
With malice toward none, with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan — to do all which may achieve and cherish a just, and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations. [ Gettysburg Address ]
Don’t kneel to me, that is not right. You must kneel to God only, and thank him for the liberty you will hereafter enjoy. I am but God’s humble instrument; but you may rest assured that as long as I live no one shall put a shackle on your limbs; and you shall have all the rights which God has given to every other free citizen of this republic.
Folks are usually about as happy as they make their minds up to be.
Source: White House, Wikiquotes, Wikipedia. When applicable, spelling and punctuation have been revised to current standards.