Remembering Lincoln

In honor of the presidential Inauguration this past week and Daniel Day Lewis’s recent Oscar-worthy performance in Lincoln, today’s post is dedicated to our 16th president, Abraham Lincoln.

Second in glory perhaps only to first president George Washington, most Americans think of Lincoln as a noble caricature of a man, tall with a stovepipe hat, raised in a Kentucky log cabin. As the author of the Gettysburg address (hastily penned while on horseback), Lincoln was known for his simple eloquence. In fact, many common American sayings can be traced back to Lincoln:

“Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.”

“Most folks are as happy as they make up their minds to be,” and

“You can fool some of the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.”

Many of Lincoln’s quips also show his humor:

“Things may come to those who wait, but only the things left by those who hustle.”

and, “If I were two-faced, would I be wearing this one?”

Some quotations are decidedly serious:

“I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts.”

Some are remarkably ironic for Lincoln’s day:

“Any people anywhere, being inclined and having power, have the right to rise up and shake off the existing government and form a new one that suits them better. This is a most valuable – a most sacred right, which we hope and believe, is to liberate the world.”

And others, surprisingly relevant to modern times:

“Allow the president to invade a neighboring nation, whenever he shall deem it necessary to repel an invasion, and you allow him to do so whenever he may choose to say he deems it necessary for such a purpose – and you allow him to make war at pleasure.”

But for the monumental impression Lincoln made on American history, fewer Americans are aware of the harsh reality of Lincoln’s life. As author Matthew Kelly notes in The Rhythm of Life: Living Every Day with Passion and Purpose:

“In 1816, Lincoln’s family was forced out of their home, and he had to go to work to support them.
In 1818, his mother died.
In 1832, he ran for the Illinois House of Representatives and lost.
In 1832, he lost his job. Later that same year, he decided he wanted to go to law school, but his application was rejected.
In 1833, Lincoln borrowed some money from a friend to begin a business, but by the end of the year he was bankrupt. He spent the next seventeen years paying off that debt.
In 1834, he ran for state legislature again and lost.
In 1835, Lincoln was engaged to be married, but his fiancée died and it broke his heart. In 1836, Lincoln suffered a total nervous breakdown and was confined to his bed for six months.
In 1838, he sought to become Speaker of the state legislature and was defeated.
In 1840, he sought to become elector and was defeated.
In 1843, he ran for Congress and lost.
In 1846, he ran for Congress again; this time he won and finally made his way to Washington.
In 1848, Lincoln ran for reelection to Congress and lost.
In 1849, he sought the job of land officer but was rejected.
In 1854, he ran for Senate of the United States and lost.
In 1856, he sought the vice presidential nomination at his party’s national convention. He got fewer than one hundred votes and lost.
In 1858, he ran for the United States Senate again and lost again.”

And that doesn’t even begin to cover his personal life. Lincoln’s wife Mary Todd Lincoln often struggled with mental issues (Lincoln himself battled chronic depression) and three of their four children died before reaching adulthood.

Lincoln ran for president in 1860 and won, of course, but was shot before he could finish his second term.

Why does all this matter?

Because in a modern world steeped in addiction, sexual immorality, adultery, prostitution, abuse, unemployment, cancer, divorce, depression, chronic illness, bereavement, bankruptcy, disability and poverty, Lincoln’s story is a shining example of how God can use anyone at any time to make an impact on the world.

After all, it isn’t the 45 years of constant struggle that we remember Lincoln for – it’s the four years of relative triumph (I say relative because the U.S. did fall apart during his presidency, ravaged by a brutal civil war).

Remarkable as Lincoln’s life was, it’s a story that won’t really be told, even as our first black president, Pres. Barack Obama, was sworn in for a second term on Monday – Martin Luther King Jr. Day – with his hand on Lincoln’s Bible.

At a time when nearly everyone carries around some sort of burden or hardship in their soul, we are given lists of Biblical characters to look up to, to remind us of God’s plan in the sweeping scheme of history. In the words of Lincoln, “My concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God’s side, for God is always right.”

Part of this can be done by looking to Paul, Joseph, David, Moses and a string of other “failures” who were used for higher purposes.

And, from the halls of American history, by remembering Lincoln.


*Quotes taken from