Tolstoy says of Lincoln. "Washington was a typical American. Napolean was a typical Frenchman, but Lincoln was a humanitarian as broad as the world. He was bigger than his country - bigger than all the Presidents together." "We are still too near his greatness but after a few centuries more our posterity will find him considerably bigger than we do. His genius is still too strong and too powerful for the common understanding, just as the sun is too hot when its light beams directly on us."
This book certainly aids our understanding of the kindness and compassion of Lincoln. He united disparate personalities for the good of the country. He knew when to move forward and when to wait. His empathy astounds.
Somehow, I have to come back to the words of the Gettysburg Address. My generation was raised on them. We were raised to believe that this country was a country of honor. Sadly, our faith has been sadly diminished, and yet, I still want to believe that we can return to what Lincoln believed. Where is our leader now?
Lincoln's now famous words:
Four score and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth upon this continent, a new nation, a 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 than nation, or any nation so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives, that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate - we can not consecrate - we can not hallow - this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember, what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us, the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here, have, thus far, so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us - that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last measure of devotion - that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain - that, this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom - and that, government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
The secretary of war, under Lincoln, Stanton was raised as a Quaker, and did not believe in war, and yet he and Lincoln tried to console themselves that this war "represented a divine will at work in human affairs."
Lincoln's wife Mary lost three brothers and a brother-in-law who fought in the Confederate army. Their son Willie died, from typhoid fever, probably as a result of the White House water coming from the Potomac River which was contaminated because of inadequate latrines. It is hard to imagine the division. I have read of this before, families divided, but somehow it is hitting me more deeply now, as I wonder how we make a huge change now, how we find ways to honor and recognize differences without wounding, killing, dividing and judging. Lincoln lived by not judging. May I learn, ever more consciously, to do the same.