I live in the Land of Lincoln. I sometimes joke that we call ourselves that because Lincoln was the only honest politician ever to come from Illinois. Each summer the family and I go down to Springfield. We see the Lincoln museum and go over to the Lincoln tomb. We say a few prayers for the soul of the Great Emancipator. ”It is all together fitting and proper that we do” that, but why do we do it?
We do it because for us Lincoln is not just a historical figure, dimly recalled from a history textbook. Rather for us he is a living presence and reminder of just how precious liberty is. In the movie Meet John Doe, Frank Capra’s cautionary film in 1941 about how fascism could come to America, the following scene occurs with a drunken editor, Connell, who warns John Doe, played by Gary Cooper, that fifth columnists are using him:
”CLOSE SHOT: JOHN and CONNELL. CONNELL looks around
guardedly, to make certain he is not overhead.
Yessir. I’m a sucker for this
(gets a little sore
I’m a sucker for the Star Spangled
Banner—and I’m a sucker for this
(taps table with
his middle finger)
I like what we got here! I like
A guy can say what he wants—and do
what he wants—without having a
bayonet shoved through his belly.
MED. SHOT: As he leans back and nods his head, satisfied
he made his point.
Now, that’s all right, isn’t it?
The BARTENDER comes in with drink and departs.
All right. And we don’t want anybody
coming around changing it, do we?
JOHN shakes his head.
TWO SHOT: JOHN and CONNELL.
No, sir. And when they do I get
mad! I get b-boiling mad. And right
now, John, I’m sizzling!
JOHN looks at him, puzzled.
I get mad for a lot of other guys
besides myself—I get mad for a guy
named Washington! And a guy named
Jefferson—and Lincoln. Lighthouses,
John! Lighthouses in a foggy world!
You know what I mean?””
These lines have always stayed with me. Lincoln, and countless others like him, champions of liberty, are indeed lighthouses in a dark world for our political freedom. Lincoln was concerned with liberty for all as this quote demonstrates:
“You enquire where I now stand. That is a disputed point. I think I am a whig; but others say there are no whigs, and that I am an abolitionist. When I was at Washington I voted for the Wilmot Proviso as good as forty times, and I never heard of any one attempting to unwhig me for that. I now do more than oppose the extension of slavery.
I am not a Know-Nothing. That is certain. How could I be? How can any one who abhors the oppression of negroes, be in favor of degrading classes of white people? Our progress in degeneracy appears to me to be pretty rapid. As a nation, we began by declaring that “all men are created equal.” We now practically read it “all men are created equal, except negroes.” When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read “all men are created equal, except negroes, and foreigners, and catholics.” When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretence of loving liberty — to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocrisy.”
Abraham Lincoln, letter to Joshua F. Speed, August 24, 1855
It is easy for us to be for freedom for people just like us. The greatness of Lincoln is that he had the sympathy and imagination to struggle for the freedom of people he had little in common with.