Famous Addresses - Washington And Lincoln
GREAT national characters are distinct and conspicuous pledges of Providential favor toward a people. History shows that it is chiefly by the great characters from time to time raised up that Providence inspires and guides the upward march of nations, conducting by the inspiration and the pattern of these great personalities the people as a whole to higher levels of truth and manhood, of social welfare and social righteousness. Great characters are object-lessons addressed to the moral imagination of their countrymen, enlarging the limits of expectation and endeavor, inspiring and uplifting the common mind and heart by their disclosures of the ampler possibilities of nobleness and manhood that lie concealed or unsuspected within the reach of human nature.
How large, how potent a factor in the conduct of Providence a single great personality may be! We have the witness and the exhibition, the most astounding in all history, in our very midst to-day: our citizen Jews. When we speak of them we speak virtually of one great Man. Their quality, distinction, enterprise, success, are the perpetuation of the influence of one character. The memory of a single great man-Moses-kept and consecrated through the ages by supreme veneration and obedience, has sufficed to preserve intact a wandering people and to confront the modern world with what I may call the one outstanding miracle of civilization, "a race without a country."
It is a first duty, then, to guard resolutely against any lessening of our admiration for these great benefactors, the lowering of our enthusiasm in consequence of any mousing, microscopic criticism, any clamor of cynical disparagement, sure to make its "importunate chirp resound," as Burke expresses it, in and about the times and the seasons set apart to commemorate the great careers. Minds of this complexion, sibilant and venomous, are sure to be roused, like serpents under summer suns, to special activity by the heat of popular enthusiasm. As Edmund Burke declared, deep insight of human nature was displayed in the old Roman formality that required or allowed opportunity for public detraction and obloquy as a recognized part of every Roman triumph. For minds of this order, "like the poor, we always have with us." Cynically nearsighted, morally dyspeptic, with digestion too weak for massive and strenuous things, their chief vocation is detraction, their main delight "damning with faint praise" the noble memories which they can neither appreciate nor endure. We hear their carping chirp of criticism to-day. Only recently I have noted such expressions as "the legendary Washington," "the Lincoln idealized beyond recognition," "the popular apotheosis of characters in the past that were in great part essentially commonplace."
Great characters, like great objects in nature, demand distance and perspective to be viewed aright; to be judged aright, they must be judged by their total mass, their dimensions, and elevation, by the way they tower above the common horizon. Gazing admiringly upon a giant oak or pine, if some pettifogging botanist or entomologist intrudes himself and, flattening his nose against the noble tree, begins to tell me of knots and gnarls and worm-holes in the bark, I say, "Begone! Get thee behind me, thou 'minute philosopher,' thou ferreter of trifles. Never by such process can the measure or the meaning of the noble object make itself felt. Stand back! Survey its grand dimension as a whole; see its mighty arms in Titan battle with the winds of heaven; mark how its giant roots, piercing the earth with the dark energy of their powerful life, anchor securely the mighty form!"
Contemplating with growing sense of grandeur the mighty Fremont Peak or the Grand Teton in the Rockies, should some landscape gardener with his water-pot and foot-rule announce himself and begin rehearsal of his petty rules of judgment drawn from garden lore as the proper scale of measurement for my emotion and my admiration, I would say: "Away with thee! Get thee to the cabbage-patch the flower-beds, the miniature pastures of city folk 'where boxwood hedge and gravel walks make dainty passage for my lady's feet,' but leave me leave me alone with my great mountains."
So would we look at Washington and Lincoln.
Without in the least attempting any extended comment on their lives and labors, any formal analysis of their characters, permit me to emphasize for you to-night a single great truth, pre-eminently illustrated and confirmed by their personalities and careers.
The history of our country reveals in marked degree, not only the general fact of Providential guidance, but in the characters of the great leaders raised up in our times of crisis, the turning-points of our history, the personalities of a Washington, a Lincoln, illustrate most impressively the further fact that Providence definitely prepares its Instruments prepares them by original gifts of faculty and temperament, by careful discipline, circumstance and experience, by long severity, it may be, of hardship and peculiar trial; so that "when the fulness of time is come," these Instruments stand forth each definitely equipped, each pre-eminently fitted for the special work allotted him to do.
Washington and Lincoln how supremely fitted each for his special task; and yet, as men, how different in personal history, in habit, in temperament, in aptitudes! Washington in the Civil War, Lincoln in the Revolutionary War, might have been equals only in conspicuous failure. This is the point we would emphasize.
The War of the Revolution was a war of the "classes." It was, in the main, the revolt of wealth and culture against a foreign tyranny that touched chiefly the purses and the pride of our fore-fathers. In Revolutionary days the "classes" and the "masses" were still distinctly defined. Social separation, social distinction, on the ground of birth, of ancestry, of landed proprietorship, was frankly asserted and as frankly accepted. Democracy as we know it had but a slight hold as yet upon either the convictions or the customs of the leading men or even the masses. The Fathers of the Revolution were, in point of sentiment and habits of life, cultivated Englishmen in revolt. General Washington, in taste and temperament and largely in political conviction, was, to all intents, a great English Commoner fighting against George the Third, his English King.
To marshal and direct and unify the wealth and culture of the Colonies in support of the patriot cause, there was demand and necessity that one of the same class be raised up as leader a man like Washington, a man, indeed, of supreme integrity, ability, and patriotism; yet withal a rich man, a man possessing social prestige and influence, a man of courtly conventions, insistent upon all the formalities of intercourse between high and low, a man whose austere and patrician dignity kept perpetual guard against all familiarities of approach or companionship.
Such, in brief, was the essential character of the Revolutionary War, and such the personality of the great leader required and commissioned by Providence to conduct it to success.
But the Civil War, the war for the Union as carried on by the North, was the war not of the "classes" but of the "masses"; it was distinctly the war of the common people. The wealthy, the cultured, the socially distinguished, in good part, perhaps in majority, were ready to say in the beginning and long afterward: "Let the South go let them set up for themselves." But the common people, "the plain people," as Lincoln loved to call them, insisted first and last, and through the leadership of one of them-selves, Abraham Lincoln, made good their insistence, that the Union must be and shall be preserved, one and inseparable, now and forever.
Providence, we repeat, not only appoints but prepares its Instruments. The man to champion to successful issue the cause of the common people for the preservation of the Union must be one in complete touch and sympathy with all the people —a man of the people, by the people, for the people.
Abraham Lincoln was preeminently that man a man of "the plain people," his faith, his vision, his moral passion, and ideals all were theirs; known to all, accessible to all, in fellowship with all. General Washington we know and admire; President Washington we know and venerate; but George Washington, the individual man, remains to this day practically an unknown personality. Not so with Lincoln, the individual man. All knew him, all loved him, all trusted him, not only as the great leader but as the common friend and fellow and brother-man.
Let me not be misunderstood. No lapse of time, no comparison or contrast should or can diminish one ray of glory or abate one thrill of gratitude due the mighty patriot Washington. As there could be but one Columbus, so there could be but one Washington Father and Founder of the Republic. Full measure of that awe felt by the Greek of old before the statue of Jupiter or before the Mountain of Olympus we ourselves must feel, and must ever feel, as we recall and perpetuate the august memory of Washington.
Washington, calm, remote, majestic, like some snowclad mountain
"whose awful form
His absolute integrity, his high-mindedness, his perfect self-mastery, his serene sense of duty that never swerved from its task, his fortitude (patient to the point of miracle), his clearness of judgment which was in him a special form of genius, his utter unselfishness in devotion to his country's cause and liberties (greater than a Cesar, he could spurn aside the crown of king-ship pressed upon him) these qualities command the reverence and the unmeasured gratitude of every true American to-day and every day, and constituted, in the case of Washington, a personality that, measured by the moral stature even of his great con-temporaries, towers above them as the colossal figure of Liberty towers above the level waters of New York Bay. Great character was the secret of his supremacy and his achievement. "Ah!" said Mirabeau, in the crisis of the French Revolution, "if I had but character I could save France." Washington had character, and so saved the Republic.
But Lincoln, Abraham Lincoln, "the only." The memory and impress of the man stir the national heart with the fervor of an immense enthusiasm. His early years of incredible toil, privations, and struggle, registered so deeply in that strong yet seamed and saddened face let me pause to remind you not chance, this, but Divine appointment, Divine preparation working to an end. Others might wear soft raiment, others might sit in kings' houses faring sumptuously every day; but Lincoln, like Hercules, to do the work of Hercules, "must be fed early and long on the marrow of lions." I love to think of his rugged strength, his huge and homely figure, his patriarchal simplicity, his honesty, so transparent, so absolute it has passed into proverb and song, "Honest Old Abe"; his wealth of ready sympathy for all classes, "the very milk of human kindness in the man"; the immeasurable commonplace of his genial humor, the unshakable integrity of cheer with which his great heart bore the burden of his giant labors, his prophet insight of the times, his vital trust in Providence, his unfailing faith in fellowman, "the plain people"
"Here was a type of that true, elder race,
This great and wise and kindly man, this servant of God and his country, inspires not only veneration and gratitude, but fills the common heart of his countrymen with the warmth and glow of a personal affection.
Such were the great characters providentially raised up; such were the great leaders selected, disciplined, and equipped by Providence, each to do his special work; the one as the Founder and Father of the Republic, the other to lead the Republic, rent and riven by the passion born of discordant moral and political conviction, to lead the Republic through the flame and thunder of warring times to the promised land of restored union and peace, of permanent brotherhood and universal freedom.
May the memories of these two great characters, like stars of imperishable lustre, shine down and shed abroad, not only for us but for all men, the benediction of their light and guidance—binary stars, that
"Arise and remain and take station
( Originally Published 1914 )
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