This is a great editorial. I'm going to post the quote from Lincoln on the Politics board, because it is timeless. Pondering Lincoln’s “Ill Omen”by Del Tackettdeltackett.comPosted on February 16, 2009
I have an old biography of Abraham Lincoln. I like old biographies—especially ones by those who personally knew of whom they were writing.
In this case, it is by the Hon. Isaac N. Arnold. Not many people knew Lincoln better than Isaac and it is probable that no one had personally studied Lincoln in his private or public life more than he.
So, I enjoy Arnold’s 1884 book, The Life of Abraham Lincoln. Some may argue that a more modern biography can weave together all the stuff that has been written about the subject, and therefore be more complete. But I think that modern works also have a tendency to be prejudicial in their own way, whether that is trying to use history as an end to a mean or simply just filtered by a politically correct viewpoint. I know the argument could be made that a close friend like Arnold would have his own prejudices, but I choose to side with the prejudices of a close friend—one who would dare say, for example, that Lincoln “…knew the Bible by heart. There was not a clergyman to be found so familiar with it as he. Scarcely a speech or paper prepared by him, from this time to his death, but contains apt allusions and striking illustrations from the sacred book.”
Something makes me think that observation might not make a modern biography.
Arnold writes of the time that Lincoln and John Hardin were riding together in a larger group headed for Springfield. He and Hardin stopped briefly in a thicket of wild plum and crab-apple trees to water the horses when Lincoln spied two baby birds that had been blown out of a nest, much too early in their lives. Hardin finally mounted up and rode on, leaving Lincoln as he searched for the nest. When Lincoln finally joined them and had to endure their laughter, Lincoln humbly confessed, “I could not have slept if I had not restored those little birds to their mother.”
It was this heart for the helpless that stirred the nationally obscure Lincoln to arise when Congress repealed the Missouri Compromise, opening up the vast western territories to slavery—an institution he abhorred. In his eulogy of Henry Clay, Lincoln warned of coming judgment through an allusion to Pharaoh, whose country was cursed with plagues and his host drowned in the Red Sea for striving to retain in bondage a captive people who had been held in slavery for hundreds of years.
But it was in an address years earlier that Lincoln spoke more formally of an “ill omen” on the horizon. He observed how those who had given their lives for liberty and freedom had all but passed away and the task of preserving it now fell to a generation that had not suffered for its benefits. And, what, Lincoln asked, was the danger that confronted them?“Shall we expect some trans-atlantic military giant to step across the ocean and crush us at a blow? Never. All the armies of Europe, Asia, and Africa combined, with all the treasure of the earth (our own excepted) in their military chest, with a Bonaparte for a commander, could not, by force, take a drink from the Ohio, or make a track on the Blue Ridge, in a trial of a thousand years.”
“At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer, if it ever reaches us, it must spring up among us. It cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen we must live through all time, or die by suicide.”
“There is even now something of ill omen among us.”
Lincoln went on to speak of those who disdain notions of right and wrong from the past, notions that formed laws laid down over years and years; those who sought to make their own ethical norms, following their own “wild and furious passions”, resorting even to “mob violence” to get their way.
He described them as one who “scorns to tread in the footsteps of any predecessor, however illustrious. It thirsts and burns for distinction…”
I am always struck by the freshness of Lincoln’s speeches…they seem to be so timeless and appropriate for today. True, man has always been selfish and self-centered, but our culture now nurtures an accepted virtue associated with self-centeredness—a dedication to the notion that my inner desires are sacred and woe to the one who dares declare them “wrong”.
On this President’s Day, I confess that I long to hear a Lincoln stand and speak.
But isn’t that exactly what he was getting at? The Lincolns of the past…have passed. The task of fighting for what is right now falls to us.