In trying to figure out the best way to express my feelings in a post about the 200th birthday of Abraham Lincoln, I think I’ve stepped back a bit in my own memory. In my youth, Lincoln was, quite honestly, a significant factor in developing my interest in the American Civil War. I can still recall the first day I walked up the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. I can’t possibly come close to explaining the thrill that it gave me as, if memory serves me, a six or seven year old. I still have an “original relic” from that day… my very first book about Lincoln and that era of history. It sits as a personal treasure on my bookshelf.
This past May (on my birthday, no less), I revisited those old feelings when I had the opportunity to visit Lincoln’s birthplace in Kentucky. While the site itself was a bit less than I had hoped for, I was still moved. In fact, if I had the time, I was ready to take the Lincoln trail into Indiana and see the home of his youth, but time just didn’t permit it.
Growing-up Southern did not negatively impact my reflections on Lincoln. He was still a hero of my youth, as was Robert E. Lee. While I did not know the difference then, I know now that both the facts and the myths behind both men impacted me in positive ways in my “formative” years. Even now, the men still serve as points of inspiration for different reasons, the only difference now is that I can see that neither man was without imperfections… and that’s a good thing. They were human. They are not now the same mythological characters of my youth. They are now, more real to me. Perhaps that is more important to me now, at this point in my life, because I am more able to recognize my own imperfections.
Nonetheless, with no flags flying, no Civil War uniforms to adorn my person, no great parade down main street, and no robust speech to tell the greatness of these men and their respective causes, this is the humble manner in which I choose to reflect and remember both Lincoln and Lee on, as bizarre as it may seem to some, Lincoln’s 200th birthday.
Happy birthday, Mr. President.