February 21, 2012

Abraham Lincoln's Humble Start Led to an Important Finish

Today I want to talk about another President in continued celebration of President's day.  This time, I have to share things I admire about President Abraham Lincoln.  He was truly a self-made man who chose to make a difference in the world based on his life experiences.  
Abe grew up in several small towns because his family had to move due to title disputes.  When one buys property, one secures a 'title' showing that the land is theirs.  If there is a question about the boundaries or the origin of the claim, one would have to go to court and defend their position.  Abe's father was involved in several of these disputes because Kentucky was poorly surveyed and the boundaries were always in question.  They lived at Sinking Spring Farm in Kentucky, then Knob Creek Farm in Kentucky, having left each because of title disputes that nearly bankrupted the family.  Tired of the title problems, Abe's dad moved them to Indiana because the land had been surveyed by the Federal Government.  Perhaps here they could set down roots.  
When asked later about these moves, Abe said that these moves were due to their disagreement with slavery and title disputes.  Living in Kentucky, Abe had seen the trafficking of slaves fairly often.  His family was opposed to the practice, so much so that they stopped attending a church because they disagreed with their views about slavery.  The constant litigation gave Abe ample opportunity to visit the courthouse and watch proceedings in his father's cases and in the other cases of the day.
Indiana brought its own trials.  Abe's mother died when he was nine, and his father remarried.  Fortunately, his step-mother loved Abe like her own son.  She helped Abe learn by reading books on whatever subjects interested Abe.  He only had about 18 months of formal teaching, gaining his education by studying books.  He mastered the Bible, Aesop's fables, Shakespeare, poetry, English and American History by reading books on these subjects. 
When Abe was in his early 20's, the family moved again due to title disputes, this time to New Salem, Illinois.  Abe took a job as a clerk in a store and did some trade in New Orleans, where he again witnessed the worst scenes that the slave trade could offer, probably cementing his distaste.  He gained respect as a clerk and as business stagnated, took the job of Postmaster.  He took a side job as a surveyor, teaching himself the art of surveying by studying books. 
Abe owed money for some of his business ventures and wasn't making enough money to pay his bills, so he decided to run for public office.  He lost his first election.  He decided to become a lawyer.
He could not afford to attend law school, so again he taught himself the law.  He read many books and became versant in the Constitution of the United States and the Declaration of Independence.  He noticed in attending so many court sessions as a boy that lawyers often referred to these works.  He applied for a license and became a practicing lawyer in 1836 at the age of 27.  He set up a practice in Springfield Illinois the following year. Then he ran for public office again, winning a seat in the legislature for steady income.  Soon, he set his sights on the Presidency.
Although Abe had attended church as a boy, he never subscribed to any particular religion, defining himself more by his 'self made man' status than any other.  He wasn't raised to believe in God and Jesus as strongly as George Washington was.  But events began to change this.  After winning the election to become the President of the United States of America, the Civil War was threatening.  Many Southern states had already seceded from the Union before he had even been inaugurated.  And his son Willie died.  Mary Todd Lincoln, his wife, said that Abe became more religious as time went on, relying increasingly on Heavenly Father to help him face his challenges.  Abe himself said, ""I have been driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go." 
Abe worried terribly that the Civil War would indeed split up the United States of the Union wasn't successful, and he prayed earnestly to end the conflict.  After the successful battle at Gettysburg, he said, "No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens."
Abe gave full credit to Heavenly Father that the war was finally turning around.  This statement began the first celebration of our current day Thanksgiving celebration, although we usually think of the Pilgrims and Mayflower when we celebrate. 
Not only did Abe institute Thanksgiving Day, but he also added the words "In God We Trust" to US coins, a practice that continues to this day.  And he also added the phrase 'under God' to his Gettysburg Address when speaking of our freedoms, which became part of the Pledge of Allegiance in 1954.  A  minister once told Lincoln he "hoped the Lord is on our side," the president replied, "I am not at all concerned about that.... But it is my constant anxiety and prayer that I and this nation should be on the Lord's side."
We celebrate Abe Lincoln's birth because he was the right President to get us through the Civil War.  He believed that all men were created as equals and hated the practice of Slavery.  He was prepared to become president by his early exposure to law and the courts and his penchant for learning.  Although he was a self-made man, he came to rely on Heavenly Father's aid and gave Him credit for America's successes. 
He will always be known as the man who freed the slaves.  As a young boy, did he even imagine that he would have this dramatic impact on his country?  He did amazing things with very humble beginnings, relying on Heavenly Father.  We can do amazing things using the same formula too.

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