Today I want to get it just right. It is our precious Abe Lincoln’s 200th birthday. I want to choose just the right thing to say about him in this blog that does the great man justice, that gives us a look into his fine soul.
When I think of Lincoln, I think of his honesty, yes, his courage, of course, but mainly what comes to mind is his unfailing kindness – to Mary, his wife, when she was yelling at him while he was president and under the most terrific strain from the Civil War. He just shrugged off her verbal and sometimes physical assaults, picked up Willie or Tad and put them on his shoulders, and walked out of the room. He did not utter a harsh word at her. During his presidency, the White House was open to Civil War veterans and widows who wanted to meet with Lincoln. He would never refuse to see a one of them though he was terribly overworked, with little staff to help him run the country.
His kindness for the weakest among us showed up early in his youth. It is believed that his father Thomas Lincoln was ashamed that Abe was sensitive and fond of books, storytelling, and poetry, considering such interests “soft.” Thomas Lincoln felt contempt to discover such sentimentality in his own son. Lincoln and his father never were close. They remained isolated from one another from the time of Lincoln’s mother’s death when Abe was 9. The bad blood between them was never resolved. When Thomas Lincoln lay dying, Abraham refused a request to visit his father’s sickbed and did not attend his father’s funeral.
The following anecdote from Lincoln’s boyhood illustrates how his heart ached for the unfortunate:
He was always the champion of the helpless, no matter how humble the object of any ill-treatment might be. One day he came and caught a group of mischievous boys putting live coals on a poor mud-turtle’s back. The lads, and several girl friends, laughed to see the turtle moving slowly and aimlessly about in its surprise and misery. When Abe Lincoln saw what was going on he dashed into the group in a frenzy of wrath, snatched the shingle from the ringleader’s hand, dashed the burning coals off the poor turtle’s back, then began beating the boys with the thin board. When he had scattered them right and left, according to one of the girls who witnessed the sudden scene, “he preached against such cruelty” and, with angry tears in his deep gray eyes, told the snickering offenders that a terrapin’s or “an ant’s life is as sweet to it as ours is to us.” (1)
This boy champion of the underdog grew into a man and the 16th President of the United States of America. As a boy, he freed the turtle; as a man, he freed the slaves. Lincoln famously declared,
If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong.
Happy 200th Birthday, Abe Lincoln.
(1) Whipple, Wayne. The Heart of Lincoln. (Philadelphia: George W. Jacobs & Co., 1915)