Abraham Lincoln’s 200th Birthday

The bi-centenial of Lincoln’s birth was yesterday.  In honor thereof I thought to post a couple of my favorite pieces of writing by him.

The Bixby Letter: In 1864, Massachusetts Governor John Albion Andrew wrote to President Lincoln concerning one Mrs. Lydia Bixby, a widow who was believed to have lost five sons during the Civil War. Lincoln’s letter to her was printed by the Boston Evening Transcript.

Executive Mansion,
Washington, Nov. 21, 1864.

Dear Madam,–

I have been shown in the files of the War Department a statement of the Adjutant General of Massachusetts that you are the mother of five sons who have died gloriously on the field of battle.

I feel how weak and fruitless must be any word of mine which should attempt to beguile you from the grief of a loss so overwhelming. But I cannot refrain from tendering you the consolation that may be found in the thanks of the Republic they died to save.

I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom.

Yours, very sincerely and respectfully,

A. Lincoln

The War Department actually got it wrong.  Only two of her sons had died in battle.  “Ironically, Mrs. Lydia (Parker) Bixby was by some reports a native of Richmond, Virginia, a Copperhead sympathizing with the South. Yet according to other reports (including the death certificate of a family member), she was born in Massachusetts. At the time of the 1850 Census, she reported her place of birth as Rhode Island, but in all subsequent census reports she is listed as having been born in Massachusetts.”  “Mrs. Bixby is said to have destroyed the letter shortly after receiving it, which would be consistent with her alleged Copperhead sympathies. certainly the original copy sent to her has been lost. However, there is in common circulation a lithographic reproduction of the letter, which suggests that the letter’s destruction was not immediate.”
From this article on Wikipedia

The Gettysburg Address:  Lincoln delivered the address, now regarded as one of the greatest speeches in American history, at the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, on the afternoon of Thursday, November 19, 1863, during the American Civil War, four and a half months after the Union armies defeated those of the Confederacy at the decisive Battle of Gettysburg.

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Source: Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, edited by Roy P. Basler. The text above is from the so-called “Bliss Copy,” one of several versions which Lincoln wrote, and believed to be the final version. It is the only copy to which Lincoln affixed his signature.

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