This toast was given in honor of Abraham Lincoln at a president’s day celebration last week.
We gather tonight, by the gracious leave of Empress Bowser, to remember Presidents Washington and Lincoln, our great presidents who led us through war on our own lands. The means by which we honor these fathers of our country Lincoln described well enough in the verses of his early youth (O yes, young Lincoln wrote poetry!):
“O Memory! thou midway world
‘Twixt earth and paradise,
Where things decayed and loved ones lost
In dreamy shadow rise.”
So let us together this night employ that great gift from a loving God, our memory, guardian of all truth. Let us remember something truly great about old, honest Abe.
One sign of Lincoln’s greatness: he grew stronger when tested. But how is this possible? As one observer put it, “[Lincoln’s] mental abilities were large, and they became the more robust as the more weight was imposed upon them.”
What becomes more excellent as weight is put upon it? A spring? Perhaps; Lincoln was hale and hardy. The scales of justice? Fitting, for Lincoln was a just man, who weighed matters well.
But tonight I prefer to put in our memory another strength of our sixteenth president, one which, likewise, becomes stronger when pressed. It is the same power that, near the end of his life, provoked this reply from Lincoln to a snide quip: “Why, Mr. President, you have changed your mind.”
“Yes, I have,” Lincoln replied, “and I don’t think much of a man who isn’t wiser to-day than he was yesterday.”
I submit to you that Lincoln’s strength is his love of truth and honesty, his constant attention to the nature of things, to the facts on the ground, to demands of the moment, free of self-deception and deluding pride. Old, honest Abe grew stronger under the pressure of our Civil War because he had the habit of an honest, studious mind.
As that same observer noted, “I believe [Lincoln] to be true as steel, and as courageous as true.” Perhaps his great courage, his great strength is just that: his adherence to the truth. And perhaps the common opinion that lovingly remembers him as Honest Abe is exactly right.
In an age that’s hellbent to see us forget every good thing from our past and even the very sex of our bodies, it seems wise to remember President Lincoln in this light. It is our duty this night and forever to remember the strong, honest greatness of our truthful father Lincoln and his own father Washington in the manner Lincoln described, again, in the poetry of his youth:
As leaving some grand waterfall,
We, lingering, list its roar—
So memory will hallow all
We’ve known, but know no more.
Let us hallow our fathers in memory. To President Lincoln and Washington as well.