On this date, in 1865, our greatest and most noble president died at the hands of a fanatic.
Lincoln was far from a perfect man.
Writers and painters have tried to make him out to be some sort of statesman that was never motivated by political considerations but did what was right regardless of the consequence. That is hardly the case.
Lincoln was a political genius who was uncannily perceptive to the winds of political and social change. He was not above timing his stands to coincide with some shift of public opinion.
For most of his life, he was a good writer, a great speaker and a mediocre leader. He lost most of his elections and did not achieve great distinction until the presidential election of 1860, in which so many candidates had split the public vote that he was able to slip into office. His transformation into our national icon was slow and excruciatingly painful.
The war waged on and could neither be won by bullet or ballot. His political skills failed him. His public approval ratings plummeted. He was hated and ridiculed. He walked the halls of the White House as everyone else slept.
Slowly, he began to focus on what he believed and what he would do.
He would redefine the union.
He would end slavery.
He would provoke a rebirth of freedom and national spirit. He redefined the union and the nation’s shortest and most beloved speech: the Gettysburg Address.
The day before the speech, the grammatically correct form of the verb “to be” what one used when referring to United States was “are;” as in, “these United Sated are.” The day after the speech, the newspapers begin to use “is;” as in, “the United States is.” It was a profound change of attitude as well as grammar.
He decided to end slavery in prayer. By his own account to his staff, “I have made a commitment to the Almighty to press forward on this matter.” He now believed this to be the reason God had given him life.
The rebirth of freedom and national spirit began with his second inaugural address, also a very short speech, in which he told the nation hat God’s wrath had been poured out on the country for its sins against humanity but that national repentance and an end to slavery had at last brought the favor of the Lord upon us.
His death burned his spirit and ideology deep into his country’s psyche.
The country at last realized the gift that this awkward, strange looking man had been. As the secretary of the state said at his death: “now he belongs to the ages.”
And the ages received him.