Lincoln’s Birthday

“It is recognized that Lincoln emerged from the lower grades of law and politics through an atmosphere in which the lowest tricks were regarded as only tricks of the trade. That queer, shabby figure, the `rail-splitter’, with his stove-pipe hat and clumsy cotton umbrella, did undoubtedly emerge among such tricksters as being by far the most truthful. But in the world where he began he could only have been called the least tricky. It is to his credit that he shed most of these habits with a natural shame, and for no other reason. But it is clear that, at some periods, it was not only his hat and umbrella that were shabby.”

So Chesterton began his essay “On Abraham Lincoln” that he included in his collection of essays written for The Illustrated London News. In these essays Chesterton is most often using his subject to battle with a very familiar issue we have today: the corruption of language. He saw even in his day the beginnings of the madness of today’s of muddled meanings and complete reverse of even self-evident concepts. Chesterton then is the soldier with a pen, always arguing in battle to get things right.

With his thoughts on Lincoln, we see more of an artist drawing a picture of a man with words, in this case a beautiful and amazing discovery.

“But perhaps the most curious part of the contradiction is this. Americans of his own Yankee and Puritan following are always talking about Success. Worse still, they are always talking about men who are Bound To Succeed. It seems possible that the men Bound To Succeed were those afterwards shortened into Bounders. Certainly the portraits and descriptions of such beings richly suggest the briefer description. But Lincoln was not a Bounder. Lincoln was most certainly not a man Bound To Succeed. For the greater part of his life he looked much more like a man Bound To Fail. Indeed, for that matter, a great many of his cold and uncomprehending colleagues, right up to the very end of the Civil War, thought he really was a man bound to fail….”

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