In the most conspicuous position of the period, Lincoln drew upon himself the scoffs of polite society; but even then he filled the souls of mankind with utterances of wonderful beauty and grandeur. It was distinctly the weird mixture in him of qualities and forces, of the lofty with the common, the ideal with the uncouth, of that which he had become with that which he had not ceased to be, that made him so fascinating a character among his fellow-men, that gave him his singular power over minds and hearts, that fitted him to be the greatest leader in the greatest crisis of our national life.
He possessed the courage to stand alone—that courage which is the first requisite of leadership in a great cause. The charm of Lincoln’s oratory flooded all the rare depth and genuineness of his convictions and his sympathetic feelings were the strongest element in his nature. He was one of the greatest Americans and the best of men.
The poet Whittier writes:
The weary form that rested
Save in a martyr’s grave;
The care-worn face that none forgot,
Turned to the kneeling slave.
We rest in peace where his
Saw peril, strife, and pain;
His was the awful sacrifice,
And ours the priceless gain.
That task is done, the bound
We bear thee to an honoured grave,
Whose noblest monument shall be
The broken fetters of the slave.
Pure was thy life; its bloody
Hath blessed thee with the sons of light,
Among the noble host of those
Who perished in the cause of right.
Our children shall behold
The kindly-earnest, brave, foreseeing man,
Sagacious, patient, dreading praise, not blame;
New birth of our new soil, the first American.
Ordinary men die when their physical life is brought to a close, if perhaps not at once, yet in a brief space, with the passing of the little circle of those to whom they were dear.
The man of distinction lives for a time after death. His achievements and his character are held in appreciative remembrance by the community and the generation he has served. The waves of his influence ripple out in a somewhat wider circle before being lost in the ocean of time. We call that man great to whom it is given so to impress himself upon his fellow-men by deed, by creation, by service to the community, by character, by the inspiration from on high that has been breathed through his soul, that he is not permitted to die. Such a man secures immortality in this world. The knowledge and the influence of his life are extended throughout mankind and his memory gathers increasing fame from generation to generation.
It is thus that men are to-day honouring the memory of Abraham Lincoln. To-day, one hundred years after his birth, and nearly half a century since the dramatic close of his life’s work, Lincoln stands enshrined in the thought and in the hearts of his countrymen. He is our “Father Abraham,” belonging to us, his fellow-citizens, for ideals, for inspiration, and for affectionate regard; but he belongs now also to all mankind, for he has been canonised among the noblest of the world’s heroes.