Lincoln: triumph, tragedy

Lincoln: triumph, tragedy

February 12th, 2010 in Opinion Free Press

On this date, Feb. 12, in 1809, not far north of the Tennessee line in southern Kentucky, a boy named Abraham was born in a log cabin to Thomas and Nancy Hanks Lincoln.

It was backwoods farm country. The youngster had only about a year and a half of formal schooling, but he educated himself primarily by reading borrowed books.

When he was only 9, his mother died. His father remarried. The family moved to Illinois.

As a young man, Abraham served in the Illinois militia, and was elected captain in the Black Hawk War against hostile Indians, but never saw combat.

He was elected to the Illinois Legislature in 1834 as a Whig. He became a lawyer, by "reading law." He ran for the U.S. House of Representatives in 1846 and served for two years. Then in 1854, he ran for the U.S. Senate. The choice of senators then was by the legislators, and falling short, he urged his supporters to vote for another.

Mr. Lincoln ran as a Republican in a second Senate race in 1858, against Stephen A. Douglas. The Republicans won more popular votes, but Democrats won more legislative seats, and thus the legislators re-elected Sen. Douglas.

A notable speech by Mr. Lincoln, in which he deplored the division of the country over slavery, has been long remembered: "A house divided against itself cannot stand," he said, quoting from Mark 3:25 in the Bible.

In 1860, Mr. Lincoln was nominated as the Republican candidate for president -- and defeated Sen. Douglas, John C. Breckinridge and John Bell.

But Southern states seceded from the Union and the War Between the States became inevitable.

In years of bitter fighting, Union forces won victories at Gettysburg in Pennsylvania, Vicksburg in Mississippi, Chickamauga in Georgia and Chattanooga in Tennessee. But the war was to drag on.

President Lincoln called for national healing: "With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan -- to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all mankind."

But on April 14, 1865, as President and Mrs. Lincoln attended a play, John Wilkes Booth leaped into the Lincolns' theater box and fired a single shot that was to cause the president to be pronounced dead on April 15, 1865.

Conjecture has continued about what might have occurred if President Lincoln had lived, if the bitterness of the Reconstruction had been avoided, and if his intended magnanimous reconciliation from a terribly divisive war had taken place among our states and our people.

Remembering his birthday today, President Lincoln is justly honored as one of our greatest presidents.