Happy Birthday, Mr Lincoln
Because I'm running the @cdarwin Twitter stream I know when it's his birthday; but I was surprised when I discovered that Abraham Lincoln was born the same day in 1809 as Darwin.
In 2006 I visited Hodgenville, Kentucky, where Lincoln was born, and the slightly odd Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Site, which sports a replica Greek Temple inside which is a replica log cabin. That same year I was in DC and visited the Lincoln Memorial, where King stood to make that speech and where the Gettysburg Address is inscribed on a wall in the portico housing the huge seated statue.
Though I admire Thomas Jefferson, I was a little uneasy on my visit to Monticello, his home in Virginia, because of the slavery issue; even then the guides skirted around it a little. it's confusing the recall that the man who wrote the words:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed
was a slave owner ( and don't get me started on the Sally Hemmings story, and the Monticello Association).
Lincoln is a less ambiguous figure. Critics have tried to suggest that Lincoln wasn't primarily concerned with freeing slaves, arguing that as a politician he had mixed motives and that he'd have settled for an agreement that left slavery in the South. But it was Lincoln who abolished slavery and so when he made speeches with fine, stirring sentiments we can be happy that he really did include everyone in his vision of the US.
The Gettysburg Address, a short speech apparently dashed off quickly, is a fine example of his oratory.
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal…
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation, so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure…
…government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
and just for Europeans who might have slightly confused notions of US political history, I might point out that Lincoln was a Republican.