Happy birthday, Abe!



At one time we celebrated the birthdays of the two greatest presidents in the history of the US, Washington and Lincoln.  In a bow to the elusive nature of inclusiveness, and an additional Monday shopping holiday, we have now watered that down to “President’s Holiday” and celebrate all our presidents, although I can think of a few who would be better off forgotten.

Today, however, is the birthday of, in my estimation, THE greatest president of the U.S., Abraham Lincoln.

I understand that this is a debatable issue, as is any proclamation that someone or something is the greatest.  But I hold this truth to be self-evident: Without Abraham Lincoln, the Union would not have survived.

Lincoln was the right man in the right place at the right time.  His courage of his convictions, his ability to work with those who despised him and tossed all manner of insults his way, and his ability to focus on the preservation of the Union as the most important goal were all hallmarks of his greatness in a time of greatest need.

Thousands of books and articles have been written about him, his presidency and the Civil War.  From this rich background, two of them stand out for me: Lincoln, a Novel by Gore Vidal and the more recent A Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin.  In addition to those, Shelby Foote’s History of the Civil War is perhaps the seminal work on the War itself, with plenty of mention of Mr. Lincoln throughout the series.

This bust of Lincoln is pretty old.  I’m not sure of it’s origin, but it belonged to my grandfather, after whom I am named, who was a big fan of Lincoln.  So much so that he gave my Dad the middle name “Lincoln.”  My Grandfather was born just seven years after Lincoln was killed by John Wilkes Booth in 1865.  When Grandpa died, the bust went to my Dad and then to me.

We have a fair amount of Lincoln memorabilia in the house, all handed down from past generations and some collected by me.  I have a cast iron model of a cannon, the kind that was used to shell Ft. Sumter in South Carolina at the beginning of the war, acquired by me on a trip to visit my brother Bill who was in the navy in Charleston a long time ago.  I was probably 10 years old when I bought it as a souvenir on our trip.

None of the things we have are worth a lot of money, but they have tremendous sentimental value.  I can’t help but think of Grandpa and Dad when I see these things.  The bust above was in Grandpa’s living room, and I remember admiring it from long ago.  He died at 96 years old in 1968.  I find it simply amazing that I could be just one generation removed from someone who was alive during Reconstruction.

Happy birthday, Abe!  Thanks for your sacrifice, your integrity, your courage, and your political genius that saved our country.  Presidents Day is a nebulous holiday, sort of a “Participant” trophy on the Federal Calendar.  Today, make no mistake about it, we celebrate the birthday of the greatest president in our history.


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