Like many other people, I regard Abraham Lincoln as the greatest American who ever lived and there are quite a few locations where you can learn about this most remarkable individual. Springfield, Illinois is a great place to start. You can visit the only home he ever owned and get to know how he lived and what his day to day routine was as he practiced law and then ran for President. Springfield also has his tomb and the Lincoln-Herndon Law Office and many other sites including the Lincoln Museum and Presidential Library.
Lincoln’s birthplace is in Kentucky and there is a small homestead in Indiana. These are reconstructions but give you a good idea of what life was like for this remarkable man. Just outside of Springfield (about twenty miles) is the reconstructed village of New Salem where Lincoln lived during his early twenties. Again, while not the original construction, the village and the film and exhibits that accompany it will give you valuable information on the man who led this country through its most difficult time.
Most people visit the Lincoln Memorial when they are touring Washington, D.C. and it truly is a beautiful and impact remembrance of our 16th President. While in Washington, however, a visit to Ford’s Theater is an absolute must if you are interested in tracing the life of this great American. An accompanying museum in the basement is excellent and a new center across the street by the Peterson House where Lincoln was taken to die is also a place that will provide great information and further anyone’s appreciation for this great American.
While Lincoln led the country through a terrible war, he was a man of peace and captured the ideals of our democracy as well as anyone who ever held that office.
On the subject of democracy and slavery, he wrote:
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 no democracy.
In 1861, at his first inauguration, with the Southern states seceding from Union, Lincoln spoke directly to the South:
In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow countrymen, and not in mine, is the momentous issue of civil war. The government will not assail you. You have no conflict without yourselves being the aggressors. You have no oath registered in Heaven to destroy the government, while I shall have the most solemn one to “preserve, protect and defend” it.
Concluding, he said:
I am loath to close. We are not enemies but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion my have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave, to every living heart and hearth stone all over this broad land will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.
At his second inaugural Lincoln summarized how the war, which was now nearly over, had started:
Both parties deprecated war; but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive; and the other would accept war rather than let it perish. And the war came.
Concluding, he said:
With malice toward none, with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow and his orphans, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just, and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.
We live in difficult times today, but they are nowhere near as divisive or as difficult as when Mr. Lincoln took the oath of office. Thousands of soldiers died in battle to uphold the ideals of democracy and Lincoln, himself, was one of the last casualties of that horrific conflict. Ad he concluded his speech in Gettysburg to dedicate the cemetery he summed up why we must never give up the struggle to make our democracy work:
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 the government of the people, by the people and for the people shall not perish from the earth.
Find out about Mr. Lincoln’s hometown of Springfield, Illinois.