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Title: Address of President Roosevelt on the occasion of the celebration of the hundredth anniversary of the birth of Abraham Lincoln, Hodgenville, Ky., February 12, 1909
Author: Roosevelt, Theodore
Language: English
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*** Start of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "Address of President Roosevelt on the occasion of the celebration of the hundredth anniversary of the birth of Abraham Lincoln, Hodgenville, Ky., February 12, 1909" ***

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12, 1909 ***

                    Address of President Roosevelt
                  on the occasion of the Celebration
                     of the Hundredth Anniversary
                        of the Birth of Abraham
                Lincoln [Illustration] Hodgenville, Ky.
                           February 12, 1909


                      Government Printing Office

We have met here to celebrate the hundredth anniversary of the birth
of one of the two greatest Americans; of one of the two or three
greatest men of the nineteenth century; of one of the greatest men
in the world’s history. This rail splitter, this boy who passed his
ungainly youth in the dire poverty of the poorest of the frontier
folk, whose rise was by weary and painful labor, lived to lead his
people through the burning flames of a struggle from which the nation
emerged, purified as by fire, born anew to a loftier life. After long
years of iron effort, and of failure that came more often than victory,
he at last rose to the leadership of the Republic, at the moment when
that leadership had become the stupendous world-task of the time. He
grew to know greatness, but never ease. Success came to him, but never
happiness, save that which springs from doing well a painful and a
vital task. Power was his, but not pleasure. The furrows deepened on
his brow, but his eyes were undimmed by either hate or fear. His gaunt
shoulders were bowed, but his steel thews never faltered as he bore
for a burden the destinies of his people. His great and tender heart
shrank from giving pain; and the task allotted him was to pour out like
water the life-blood of the young men, and to feel in his every fiber
the sorrow of the women. Disaster saddened but never dismayed him. As
the red years of war went by they found him ever doing his duty in the
present, ever facing the future with fearless front, high of heart, and
dauntless of soul. Unbroken by hatred, unshaken by scorn, he worked and
suffered for the people. Triumph was his at the last; and barely had he
tasted it before murder found him, and the kindly, patient, fearless
eyes were closed forever.

As a people we are indeed beyond measure fortunate in the characters
of the two greatest of our public men, Washington and Lincoln. Widely
though they differed in externals, the Virginia landed gentleman and
the Kentucky backwoodsman, they were alike in essentials, they were
alike in the great qualities which made each able to render service to
his nation and to all mankind such as no other man of his generation
could or did render. Each had lofty ideals, but each in striving to
attain these lofty ideals was guided by the soundest common sense. Each
possessed inflexible courage in adversity, and a soul wholly unspoiled
by prosperity. Each possessed all the gentler virtues commonly
exhibited by good men who lack rugged strength of character. Each
possessed also all the strong qualities commonly exhibited by those
towering masters of mankind who have too often shown themselves devoid
of so much as the understanding of the words by which we signify
the qualities of duty, of mercy, of devotion to the right, of lofty
disinterestedness in battling for the good of others. There have been
other men as great and other men as good; but in all the history of
mankind there are no other two great men as good as these, no other two
good men as great. Widely though the problems of to-day differ from the
problems set for solution to Washington when he founded this nation,
to Lincoln when he saved it and freed the slave; yet the qualities
they showed in meeting these problems are exactly the same as those we
should show in doing our work to-day.

Lincoln saw into the future with the prophetic imagination usually
vouchsafed only to the poet and the seer. He had in him all the lift
toward greatness of the visionary, without any of the visionary’s
fanaticism or egotism, without any of the visionary’s narrow jealousy
of the practical man and inability to strive in practical fashion for
the realization of an ideal. He had the practical man’s hard common
sense and willingness to adapt means to ends; but there was in him none
of that morbid growth of mind and soul which blinds so many practical
men to the higher things of life. No more practical man ever lived
than this homely backwoods idealist; but he had nothing in common with
those practical men whose consciences are warped until they fail to
distinguish between good and evil, fail to understand that strength,
ability, shrewdness, whether in the world of business or of politics,
only serve to make their possessor a more noxious, a more evil member
of the community, if they are not guided and controlled by a fine and
high moral sense.

We of this day must try to solve many social and industrial problems,
requiring to an especial degree the combination of indomitable
resolution with cool-headed sanity. We can profit by the way in which
Lincoln used both these traits as he strove for reform. We can learn
much of value from the very attacks which following that course brought
upon his head, attacks alike by the extremists of revolution and by the
extremists of reaction. He never wavered in devotion to his principles,
in his love for the Union, and in his abhorrence of slavery. Timid and
lukewarm people were always denouncing him because he was too extreme;
but as a matter of fact he never went to extremes, he worked step by
step; and because of this the extremists hated and denounced him with
a fervor which now seems to us fantastic in its deification of the
unreal and the impossible. At the very time when one side was holding
him up as the apostle of social revolution because he was against
slavery, the leading abolitionist denounced him as the “slave hound of
Illinois.” When he was the second time candidate for President, the
majority of his opponents attacked him because of what they termed his
extreme radicalism, while a minority threatened to bolt his nomination
because he was not radical enough. He had continually to check those
who wished to go forward too fast, at the very time that he overrode
the opposition of those who wished not to go forward at all. The goal
was never dim before his vision; but he picked his way cautiously,
without either halt or hurry, as he strode toward it, through such a
morass of difficulty that no man of less courage would have attempted
it, while it would surely have overwhelmed any man of judgment less

Yet perhaps the most wonderful thing of all, and, from the standpoint
of the America of to-day and of the future, the most vitally important,
was the extraordinary way in which Lincoln could fight valiantly
against what he deemed wrong and yet preserve undiminished his love
and respect for the brother from whom he differed. In the hour of a
triumph that would have turned any weaker man’s head, in the heat of
a struggle which spurred many a good man to dreadful vindictiveness,
he said truthfully that so long as he had been in his office he had
never willingly planted a thorn in any man’s bosom, and besought his
supporters to study the incidents of the trial through which they were
passing as philosophy from which to learn wisdom and not as wrongs to
be avenged; ending with the solemn exhortation that, as the strife
was over, all should reunite in a common effort to save their common

He lived in days that were great and terrible, when brother fought
against brother for what each sincerely deemed to be the right. In
a contest so grim the strong men who alone can carry it through are
rarely able to do justice to the deep convictions of those with whom
they grapple in mortal strife. At such times men see through a glass
darkly; to only the rarest and loftiest spirits is vouchsafed that
clear vision which gradually comes to all, even to the lesser, as the
struggle fades into distance, and wounds are forgotten, and peace
creeps back to the hearts that were hurt. But to Lincoln was given
this supreme vision. He did not hate the man from whom he differed.
Weakness was as foreign as wickedness to his strong, gentle nature; but
his courage was of a quality so high that it needed no bolstering of
dark passion. He saw clearly that the same high qualities, the same
courage, and willingness for self-sacrifice, and devotion to the right
as it was given them to see the right, belonged both to the men of the
North and to the men of the South. As the years roll by, and as all of
us, wherever we dwell, grow to feel an equal pride in the valor and
self-devotion, alike of the men who wore the blue and the men who wore
the gray, so this whole nation will grow to feel a peculiar sense of
pride in the man whose blood was shed for the union of his people and
for the freedom of a race; the lover of his country and of all mankind;
the mightiest of the mighty men who mastered the mighty days, Abraham


*** End of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "Address of President Roosevelt on the occasion of the celebration of the hundredth anniversary of the birth of Abraham Lincoln, Hodgenville, Ky., February 12, 1909" ***

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