It would be unjust to fail to mention that today marks the 200th birthday of Abraham Lincoln, unquestionably one of America’s greatest presidents. When I was a child, the silhouettes of Washington and Lincoln had an iconographic power over me. The face on the penny, the curly beard, the strong, arched hairline above the noble brow, the resolute expression all wormed their way into my childish reverence.
Now my relationship with Mr. Lincoln is more complex. I don’t think he needed to fight a war that he seems to have deliberately provoked. I don’t believe he did it to end slavery. But how I do thank God that he did end slavery. How I thank God that he spoke of healing, “with charity for all, with malice toward none.”
I wish he hadn’t set such a strong precedent for setting aside the constitution in times of national emergency. But I thank God for the amendments that ended slavery.
I wish he hadn’t accelerated the transfer of power to the federal government. But I thank God that the federal government intervened on behalf of the oppressed when the local governments were the oppressors.
Only the future will tell if we can settle the contradictions in our national character. I am only as optimistic as the American educator cultivates wisdom and virtue in her daughters and sons.
But, Mr. Lincoln, I thank you for putting in motion the energies that ended slavery and for striving to bring healing to a broken people.
Requiescat in pace.