February 16, 2008


Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Since Monday is President's Day and last Tuesday was his birthday, this seems like a good time to pay respect to President Lincoln.

It's amazing how large his image looms in American life. But it's not limited to America.

The great Russian writer Leo Tolstoy told the story of traveling in a remote region of the Caucasus, where he entertained a tribal chief along with his family and guests with stories of famous people.

At length, however, the chief interrupted:

But you have not told us a syllable about the greatest general and greatest ruler of the world. We want to know something about him. He was a hero. He spoke with a voice of thunder; he laughed like the sunrise and his deeds were strong as the rock...His name was Lincoln and the country in which he lived is called America, which is so far away that if a youth should journey to reach it he would be an old man when he arrived. Tell us of that man.

He complied, and his host was so grateful that he gave him a magnificent horse as a present.

Reflecting on Lincoln, Tolstoy said:

This little incident proves how largely the name of Lincoln is worshipped throughout the world and how legendary his personality has become. Now why was Lincoln so great that he overshadows all other national heroes? He really was not a great general like Napoleon or Washington; he was not such a skilful statesman as Gladstone or Frederick the Great; but his supremacy expresses itself altogether in his peculiar moral power and in the greatness of his character.

Washington was a typical American. Napoleon was a typical Frenchman, but Lincoln was a humanitarian as broad as the world. He was bigger than his country -- bigger than all the Presidents together.

We are still too near to his greatness...but after a few centuries more our posterity will find him considerably bigger than we do.

His genius is still too strong and too powerful for the common understanding, just as the sun is too hot when its light beams directly on us.

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