- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 12, 2009

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

On two occasions, when the very existence of the United States was in grave doubt, divine providence was surely at work and we were blessed with leaders unsurpassed in political greatness in the history of the world. The first occasion was the birth and earliest years of the United States as a sovereign nation, sustained thanks to the extraordinary genius of the Founding Fathers - Washington, Adams, Madison, Jefferson, Franklin, Mason and a constellation of other visionaries unequaled since the Golden Age of Greece, if even then. It took all their collective brilliance and discernment in the last quarter-century of the 18th century to mold the raucous Colonies into the beacon of the world with a constitution and system of government that was the inspiration of peoples everywhere.

Perhaps more remarkable is the brilliance of one self-educated man toward the end of the middle third of the 19th century. It was he, in singular genius, who preserved the beacon, which in turn allowed the light to shine even brighter in the 20th and 21st century. He combined the astuteness of a Shakespeare, the oratory of a Churchill, the patience of a Job, the wisdom of a Solomon. With almost any other mortal, such panegyric would be preposterous on its face. But we are describing Abraham Lincoln, whose 200th birthday we celebrate today, and virtually no praise is too strong or misdirected in his case. It is no wonder that he is among the most written-about, and certainly revered, figures in history.

Of course Lincoln had faults, made mistakes, took liberties with the law during a time of war, and had many detractors, including those in his own party (technically, he wasn’t even a Republican in his second term; a split forced him to create an alliance with disenfranchised Republicans and some Northern Democrats called the National Union Party). It is so easy to throw stones, especially in hindsight; no one has been perfect for 2,000 years. But in the pantheon of political greatness he stands head and shoulders above all others, as the 6‘4” Lincoln literally did in life. He truly saved the nation, lived a life of “malice toward none” (even his enemies), and made it possible for the terrible divisions that had ripped the nation asunder to be healed.

His Gettysburg Address is the most quoted speech in the world; his Second Inaugural Address is a poetic masterpiece. Not bad for a man who had at most 18 months of what could be remotely called formal education, was the son of an illiterate farmer (Abe’s mother died while he was 9), and grew up in extremely humble means. He kept four books in the White House (then known as the Executive Mansion): The Constitution, the Federal Statutes, the Bible, and the “Tragedies of William Shakespeare,” all of which became part of his very being.

Commentary lauding Abraham Lincoln could fill a library (and does). Michael Beschloss, perhaps America’s most noted historian, summed it all up well in a recent issue of USA Weekend, citing seven reasons why Lincoln is the greatest of American presidents. Truncated, they are: Historians virtually unanimously agree he was the best, concluding that his presidency prevented a fracture of the United States into two or more countries; he represents the best of the American dream; his character held strong; he helped pioneer modern race relations; he remains a pop culture favorite; he understood the power of words; and his life story is a paradox, of which Carl Sandberg said at Lincoln’s sesquicentennial 50 years ago: “Not often in the story of mankind does a man arrive on Earth who is both steel and velvet, who is as hard as rock and soft as drifting fog, who holds in his heart and mind the paradox of terrible storm and peace unspeakable and perfect.”

Thank God for Abraham Lincoln. May our nation always be worthy of him.

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