Thursday, August 9, 2007

Dedicated to the proposition ...

I just finished reading Land of Lincoln: Adventures in Abe's America, by Andrew Ferguson. It is a very good book about what Lincoln has meant, does mean, and ought to mean.

The final chapter in the book is about the Lincoln Memorial on the Mall in Washington and within it the great Daniel Chester French statue of a sitting Lincoln, with the texts of the Gettysburg Address and his Second Inaugural Address engraved on the walls.

The Memorial was dedicated in May, 1922. An elderly Robert Todd Lincoln was in attendance, sitting at the top of the steps. There were three speakers, the President, the Chief Justice, and Robert Moton, the president of the Tuskegee Institute. Ferguson's opinion is that Moton's address was the most significant and memorable:
Moton addressed directly a belief common then as it is now: that Lincoln's greatness lies in his preservation of the Union. .... Whoever honors Lincoln simply because he saved the Union, Moton said, misses the larger portion of his achievement. Lincoln saved the Union but it was a particular kind of Union he saved: a Union dedicated to a proposition.

"When the last veteran has stacked his arms, when only the memory of high courage and deep devotion remains, at such a time the united voice of a grateful posterity will say: The claim of greatness for Abraham Lincoln lies in this, that amid doubt and distrust, against the counsel of chosen advisers, in the hour of the Nation's utter peril, he put his trust in God and spoke the word that gave freedom to a race and vindicated the honor of a Nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal."

.... The Union was saved, and the proposition was preserved. That's what the memorial says. That's what the icon, solid and unmoving on the banks of the river, stands for. The rest is just nuance.

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