For the past one hundred years, a thoughtful, marble, 19-foot figure of Abraham Lincoln – once known to all as our 16th president – has sat observing the nation beside the Potomac. This month is the centenary of the Lincoln Memorial. One wonders what Honest Abe would say today.
The idea of a memorial for this epic storyteller, self-taught lawyer, Republican president who saved the Union, father of the Emancipation Proclamation and 13th Amendment (ending slavery), and inspiration for the 14th (equal protection to states), was hatched three years after he died. Southern Democrats blocked it.
Not until 1910, under Republican President William Howard Taft, was the Lincoln Memorial authorized. Building continued under Democrat President Woodrow Wilson, with grumbling.
For context, Republican President Theodore Roosevelt, who preceded Taft, created and racially integrated the US Civil Service. Wilson, an unrepentant racist, re-segregated the Civil Service.
Still, the Lincoln Memorial continued and was completed in May 1922, an iconic symbol dedicated by then-sitting Supreme Court Justice William Taft and Republican President Warrant G. Harding.
Inside the walls reminiscent of a classic Greek temple echoes our nation’s ideals. Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address is etched in marble – what was once scrawled on an envelope.
“Four score and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal…”
Like civil rights leader Martin Luther King, speaking before the statue in 1963, Lincoln never imagined a nation again at war with itself. Both men wished Americans to be judged not by the color of their skin, but the “content of their character.” Neither TR or Taft ever wanted to see re-segregation.
The Lincoln Memorial reminds us that men of good faith, good heart, and honest hope want all to live and prosper with liberty and equal treatment, not only by the law, but by each other.
Yet where are we now? As Lincoln looks on, we seem to have wholly lost our way. Rather than seeking to celebrate common cause in liberty and equal treatment, appreciate our common lot, unite around common American purpose – we do the opposite.
In our schools, we hear distaste, disdain, and disrespect for anthem, flag, ideals, hose who – at great personal cost – founded and fought for, ultimately preserved this nation.
We see racist ideas – the notion that prejudice is inescapable, achievement limited by skin color, developing character somehow less important than nurturing resentment. Under the rubric of Critical Race Theory, or CRT – as well as neo-Marxism, socialism, deconstructivism, even anarchism, children are taught to disregard, dismiss, and disown their past and parents.
We see ideals like equality before the law, embodied in the 19th Amendment – passed just before the Lincoln Memorial was completed – and Title IX which gives girls equal rights, being undermined by those who attack biology, assert men and boys can be women and girls. We see female privacy and safety rights in schools, sports, locker rooms, and bathrooms put at risk.
In short, we see an accelerating deconstruction of scientific, cultural, constitutional, and statutory norms. We see the redefinition of words and laws. We see non-enforcement of laws against illegal immigration, drug trafficking, violence, intimidation of Supreme Court Justices.
We see a willing shrug or encouragement by corporate leaders, media, social media giants – as well as national, state, and some local leaders – for dangerous foolishness.
We see conscious efforts to shut down free speech, a right Lincoln used regularly with jokes and stories. He would be kicked off Twitter and banned by Biden’s Federal “Disinformation Board.” Half his stories were from the rural sticks, the other half allegorical, many rough and ribald.’
We see violence pushed, anger promoted by a House Speaker and Senate Majority leader – on the question of whether the Supreme Court can rule on the constitutionality of abortion. We see churches stormed. Anti-constitutional, anti-historical, anti-American practices multiply.
So, what would Lincoln say – or TR, Taft, or Martin Luther King for that matter? What would Harry Truman, John Kennedy, or Ronald Reagan say – all of whom stood before Lincoln.
They would all – including Lincoln – tell us to stop, to think for ourselves, put aside the easy ways of cross-allegation. TR would reprimand us for our ignorance, as would Taft. Truman would use plain words, like to get off our high horse. Kennedy would tell us to “do the hard thing” and “ask not what our country can do for us …” King would remind us that character is king.
Lincoln? He might just remind us: “Twelve score and six years ago, our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal ….”
Just as at Gettysburg, he might recall to our nation the heavy weight of history upon us. Need for deep appreciation of past sacrifices, the priority on truth, and on constructive civic action.
Lincoln’s Memorial is silent, of course – as are nearby monuments for Jefferson and Washington. But not really. Even today, their combined wisdom echoes. It speaks from their rock walls and in the hearts of Americans who still dare to care. They did; we must.
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