Abraham Lincoln

Lincoln’s Birthday Address by P. Y. Pendleton


ABRAHAM LINCOLN! What pulse does not
quicken at the mention of his name? What
people does not know him? What nation does not
honor him? The fact that his conspicuous life was a
many-sided paradox in a measure accounts for his
universal popularity.

His was the schooling of the pioneer, scanty and de-
fective. He learned little from the backwoods teachers
of his day; they had little to impart. There were
practically no books in his own home, and very few in
the homes about him, so there were not above a half-
dozen for his use. Thus his opportunities left him an
ignoramus, but his great soul made him a genius.

He had visions which brought him into command of
the purest language and the highest graces of litera-
ture; and noble purposes which refined speech because
they first refined the heart whose fullness filled the
mouth with utterance. Untutored and unlearned save
by self-culture, he enriched our literature with the
Gettysburg Address. Consider the paradox of it ! His
literary excellencies blossomed forth despite their un-
favorable environment like lilies in the noxious swamp.
The swamp marveled at their beauty, but the modest
lilies knew no pride. Like Robert Burns, this great
American received, in the school of English, his di-
ploma directly from the hand of God.


And in his official career we also meet with paradox.
In official station he passed from the extreme bottom
to the exalted top. The village postmaster became the
chief of Presidents. Starting as one observed of no-
body, he ended as the cynosure of everybody. And
though he was postmaster, it might almost be ques-
tioned whether he was or not, since his pockets were
his till, his office was his hat, and his general delivery
was wherever he chanced to be met. And even in this
office he merited distinction, for he anticipated by
half a century the convenience of the rural route.

The spirit of wit has long since told the world that
pride struts in extremes. It is found in lieutenants
and crops out in generals. But Lincoln was equally
informal as postmaster or as President. As the
nation’s chief executive he appointed his greatest polit-
ical rivals to fill the highest offices of government, and
then went about stating, without ostentation or self-
depreciation, that *’he had very little influence with
the present Administration.” And this brings to mind
another paradox in Lincoln that holds us with its
unequaled charm.

He was the sad-faced humorist, the jester with the
tear-stained cheek. Somehow born to sorrow, cradled
in penury, nurtured in struggle and brought at last
“to spend the strength of his prime as a man of peace
‘erwhelmed with the burdens of war, with what pathos
does his humor appeal to us! Life was to him an
almost unbroken storm. The clouds hung low and
heavy, and the pitiless, drenching rain of fraternal
strife drowned out all the tender things. It made the
pleasant paths unsightly and the lanes and highways
impassable, and caused the glory of life’s day to be
overcast with gloom and sorrow.

Yes, it was all this and more, but ever and anon
the nation lifted its weary eyes toward the dark
firmament of those cheerless times, and beheld with joy
the clear bine sky, and the warm, strong glory of the
snn of hope, for Lincoln, in his kind, droll way, had
said the thing that only Lincoln could say — ^the thing
that made men smile, brought good cheer and would
not be denied. What he said was no idle jest, no
rasping discord, no strained effort to present a face
of courage in the hour of defeat. No, it was too
homely and unadorned to seem unfit, too natural to
appear untimely or even somewhat ill-advised. It was
but the utterance of hope irrepressible, beautiful as
God’s rainbow resting in peaceful calm upon the whirl-
ing, storm-racked cloud; sublime, yet simple as the
childlike heart of noble man. Broken-hearted men
and women would have died, but just then Lincoln
told a story, and the soul of the public returned unto
its rest, the nation smiled and so lived on. Truly his
humor in the darkness of the war was as God’s nourish-
ing manna in the wilderness, as a sudden rift of sun-
shine glinting through the storm-bound heavens, or as
the midnight song at Philippi that with unwonted
glory swept all sadness from the jail-cursed hours and
duly compassed God’s deliverance.

Born in the South, and of Southern parentage, he
imbibed the spirit of the South, and, moving thence
to the North, he adopted the moral-political concepts of
the North. He thus became cosmopolitan in sentiment
as only the larger American can become cosmopolitan.

This view of our first martyr President is seen only
in its unfinished outline. The ruthless violence of the
assassin removed the partly finished canvas of his
life from the present world before the hand and brush


of God had filled in the outlines, or brought the colors
to completion.

The South will never know the touch of that recon-
structive, kindly hand. Its ministration of mercy was
abruptly stayed in the very hour of greatest need. The
superb promise of the second inaugural — ”With malice
toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the
right as God gives us to see the right,” stands as but
a promise whose deep sincerity breathes in the artless
simplicity of its wording, but whose beneficent fulfill-
ment was hindered by satanic spite.

But if we made final pause here, we would pass un-
noticed the greatest paradox in Lincoln’s life — ^his fel-
lowship with God. The years of his boyhood were spent
where even morality was crude and where religion was
largely a caricature. The coarse and the vulgar impreg-
nated the very air. That this miasma of immorality
and indecency left lasting imprint on his impressive
nature is beyond doubt. He frequently, even in his
prime, shocked the nation’s sentiment of ultra refine-
ment and sorely tried the patience of the sensitive and
truly cultured. Familiarity with unrefined humanity
in all its crassness and sinful unrestraint made Lincoln
a non-religious man. He never united with any
church. Indeed, it was only in the last few weeks of
his life that he ever, so far as history shows, manifested
any desire or determination to do so ; though his aloof-
ness was exceptional. Among Presidents, church mem-
bership is the rule.

But the trials of war changed his heart. From
a spirit of levity bordering on lewdness, and an atti-
tude of self-sufficiency approaching callous indifference,
he developed into a man phenomenal in prayer. Not
a ritualist was he, not a mouther of beautifully round-

ed sentences, ornate with attractive tropes, and embel-
lished with choice and well-selected figures. No, nor
was he of that somewhat holier order, who with real
emotion and worshipful spirit quote precious rhetori-
cal gems picked from the Psalms, and celestial jewels
drawn from other Scripture. On the contrary, he was
a prayer man, christened in the dews of a Gethsemane ;
a wrestling Jacob, panting for a blessing; a man of
few words, but manifold groanings which could never
be uttered.

Thus the one who went out with but little moral
refinement and less religious pretension, came back
across his grass-trampled, sod-torn Jabbok, an Israel;
a prince who could prevail with God in prayer and
who could lead the ministry of a Christian nation into
truer conception of intercession than it had ever known.
Yes, this self-sufficient Western giant became the most
dependent upon God of all the men of his age.

Moreover, he began life’s struggle with the poor.
His family had no position, no station. Hence there
has been none in America so humble in circumstances
as to feel himself beneath the reach of Lincoln’s under-
standing sympathy. Sympathy! what a world of it he
had. To the end the poor man was his brother, and
the outcast, the unfortunate and the negro slave his
bosom friend. And this friendship was simple, genuine.
He exalted himself as no man’s patron, he manifested no
stooping condescension even when exercising his power-
ful governmental prerogatives in behalf of the most
justly convicted private in the army, or the most
obscure, unrecognized, disfranchised citizen whose needs
cried aloud to him for help.

Nor did he at any time show any sense of shame
while espousing the cause of the disreputable or despised.


Others, springing from such lowly origin, might have hes-
itated before thus again identifying themselves with the
socially ostracized, whose past familiarity they would
fain forget. They might well have feared lest the
public suspect a bond of kinship all too close with
these unworthy objects of their solicitude. Pride, like
Simon Peter, ardently denies the compromising friend-
ships and associations of an accusing past. But to
Lincoln there was no past. He never abandoned the
people of his youth; rising in life, he took them with
him, and was unashamed. He never outgrew a friend-
ship; his heart was too large to follow a course so
small. His humble soul scorned snobbishness. He
was the most democratic of all republicans, the poorest
in spirit of all the Presidents, therefore let us ex-
plain his matchless magnanimity by believing that he
attained the promise of the Beatitude and in some
clear way saw God.

Truly he was the poor man’s friend, and yet in
daily life he walked and mingled in harmonious fellow-
ship with the richest and the mightiest, and was a free
American, and unafraid. He felt no embarrassment
at their wealth, no envy at their power, no rancor or
bitterness at their superlatively superior advantages
for attaining honors, pleasures, knowledge and power.
With a spirit of equanimity as rare in the world as the
society of angels, he, the son and heir of the poor man,
was brother to the rich and powerful, and felt no
pangs of insufficiency, no pains of jealous pride. If
any of the aristocracy failed to meet him on his level
plane of frank goodfellowship, he pitied their weakness,
and passed silently on, sparing himself the trouble of
idle and wasted comment. There were big things in
life that could be cured; why worry over little things

that were beyond remedy ? They would have their day
and die, and be no more.

Thus compassing a gamut of life somewhat like
that which started in the manger, and ended on the
cross, Abraham Lincoln entered into experiences simi-
lar to those common to the vast majority of mankind,
because he included in that compass all the classes
ranging from the lowest to the highest. Thus to men
of all stations, in every civilized land, he left an
example of noble, patient, faithful citizenship, which
has been rarely equaled, never excelled.

“We do well to do him honor, for his spirit breathes
a wholesome influence even in the most turbulent times,
and his life is, and will be, associated with the fate of
the ”Stars and Stripes” forever.

Old Glory, our Glory,

His Glory, too;
Abraham Lincoln,

We’re grateful to you.