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The “late great” Abraham Lincoln

February 11, 2017

Our current President spoke of “the late great Abraham Lincoln” and yesterday welcomed the Prime Minister of Japan to “the famous White House.”  Tomorrow, who knows what President Trump will say or Tweet, but here are some thoughts about Abraham Lincoln  on the 208th anniversary of his birth.

Growing up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, about 194 miles from Gettysburg,  I  worked for Lincoln’s Republican Party of Allegheny County. That led to my working on the Nixon and Goldwater campaigns for President. I was a Freshman in college when Richard Nixon ran against JFK and a senior when Goldwater ran against LBJ.

One of the local Republican leaders who befriended me was Jim Malone, President of the Pennsylvania Manufacturers Association. I remember him well because the Taft Conservatives who were still alive at the time simply didn’t want young people crowding into their “game.”  Malone was different and made regular contributions to our little conservative club on the campus of Pitt.

PMA also sponsored the annual Lincoln Day dinner, a glorious affair–from my perspective. As a “townie” taveling to school and work by streetcar, I looked forward to the annual “free” Lincoln dinner and the prime rib and free drinks that attracted all the Republican Party officials from the County , the ward chairmen and candidates for local, state and federal office.  This was good experience, and appreciated that, even as a lowly college student, I was invited to attend these and other events where I met President Eisenhower in the waning days of the 1960 Nixon campaign.

Back then, like today, the legacy of Abraham Lincoln was celebrated, but little understood. But, some Ideas of Lincoln’s resonated when we read the Gettysburg Address, or visited the many Civil War battlefields where so many Americans lost their lives. They fought to give us a “new birth of freedom,” Lincoln reminded us, but what he didn’t tell us was even more important.

Richard Gamble, professor of History at Hillsdale College, in an essay in The American Conservative, has opened a door to new insight into the legacy and intent of Abraham Lincoln. There is much to learn from Gamble’s brief essay and it is well we do that two hundred and eight years later as we read the Gettysburg Address on Lincoln’s birthday, February 12, 2017.

Like many important documents in the American political tradition, there is more than one version of the text of the Gettysburg address.

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