Sunday, May 01, 2005


A Youthful Man in a Youthful Land

Long time readers will perhaps remember that I am a big fan of Abraham Lincoln. One of my church family sent me Carl Sandberg's Abraham Lincoln, which up till now I have only been able to sample.

In reading the first few chapters of The Prairie Years, I am vividly reminded of the historical context in which Lincoln came of age. He lived on the age of wildedrness, and he briefly mustered as a Captain in a Black Hawk indian war along the edges of the then frontier. Subsequently, he enlisted for a short stint as a private. ("Rank" within militia forces in those days must have been more "mutable" and transitory than one might think.)

Lincoln's early years are filled with all forms of hard labor, pick up trades, and the rudimentary evolution of both frontier commerce and legislative bodies. It makes fascinating reading. This helps remind us that when Lincoln began his most memorable speech at Gettysburg with the phrase, "Forescore and seven years ago," that was only one generation away from those who had a personal experience of the Revolution and our struggle for Independence.

Sandberg did an excellent job, not only in capturing the frontier spirit of the day in all its freshness and raw energy, but also in locating priceless artifacts of the emergent local political systems.

Lincoln shows early promise in making polical connections, and raising himself up by his own bootstraps. You can begin to see the greatness of his intellect emerge in these early artifacts, such as this early statement of principles, as printed as a handbill by the Sangamo Journal at Springfield, IL, March 9, 1832:
That every man may receive at least, a moderate education, and thereby be enabled to read the histories of his own and other countries, by which he may duly appreciate the value of our free institutions, appears to be an object of vital importance, even on this account alone, to say nothing of the advantages and satisfaction to be derived from all being able to read the scriptures and other works, both of a religious and moral nature, for themselves.

It always surprises me when I see these sudden glimpses of a time when religious faith and spiritual conviction were a central part of community discourse, and the driving purpose behind public policy.

Is it really such a danger to the public good if people of faith return to public life, and resume our historic conversation on morality and civic virtues? Will we be that much in danger if America should once again produce men (and women) with the moral character of Abraham Lincoln?

May the "worst fears" of our detractors come true.

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