Musings from a great writer

Published 8:50 pm Friday, May 13, 2011

In an old interview replayed on TV recently, noted Southern Civil War Author Shelby Foote was discussing his favorite writers.

But his favorite of all writers, he said, was Abraham Lincoln.

Although we remember Lincoln for his historic speech at Gettysburg, his additional writings, Foote said, should be observed in context along with other great American writers.

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With this fresh in mind, I recently discovered a new book by Iain C. Martin, titled, “The Timeless Words and Sage Advice of Abraham Lincoln—America’s Greatest President.” It was Foote who also said Lincoln was our greatest president.

Going through the book, I chose a few selections of Abraham Lincoln worth reflection.

And thus, this is what he had written:

As a nation, we began by declaring “all men are created equal.” We now practically read it “all men are created equal, except Negroes.” When the Know-Nothings (the American Party) get control, it will read “all men are created equal, except Negroes and foreigners and Catholics.”

When it comes to this, I shall prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretense at loving liberty—to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure and without the base alloy of hypocrisy.

And thus, this is what he had written:

Resolve to be honest at all events; and if, in your own judgment, you cannot be an honest lawyer, resolve to be honest without being a lawyer. Choose some other occupation.

And thus, this is what he had written:

It is very common in this country to find great facility of expression, and less common to find great lucidity of thought. The combination of the two in one person is very uncommon: But when you do find it, you have a great man.

And thus, this is what he had written:

My poor boy. He was too good for this earth. God has called him home. I know that he is much better off in Heaven, but then we loved him so. It is hard, hard to have him die.

And thus, this is what he had written:

Now, my countrymen, if you have been taught doctrines conflicting with the great landmarks of the Declaration of Independence, if you have listened to suggestions which would take away from its grandeur, and mutilate the fair symmetry of its proportions; if you have been inclined to believe that all men are not created equal in those inalienable rights enumerated by our chart of liberty, let me entreat you to come back. Return to the fountain whose waters spring close by the blood of the Revolution.

And thus, this is what he had written:

Our popular government has often been called an experiment. Two points in it our people have already settled: the successful establishing and the successful administering of it. One still remains: its successful maintenance against a formidable internal attempt to overthrow it … Such will be a great lesson of peace; teaching men that what they cannot take by an election, neither can they take by a war, teaching all the folly of being the beginners of a war.

And thus, this is what he had written:

Honor to the Soldier, and Sailor everywhere, who bravely bears his country’s cause. Honor also to the citizen who cares for his brother in the field, and serves, as best he can, the same cause—honor to him, only less than to him, who braves, for the common good, the storms of heaven and the storms of battle.

And thus, this is what he had written:

As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master. This expresses my idea of democracy. Whatever differs from this, to the extent of the difference, is not democracy.

An thus, this too is what he has given us:

…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.

Jim Smith is a former editor of The Post-Searchlight. You may comment on this through his email