In The Partly Cloudy Patriot, Sarah Vowell reminisces about "that first, great, artsy - craftsy age when Americans learn about Abraham Lincoln. How many of us drew his beard in crayon? We built models of his boyhood cabin with Elmer's glue and toothpicks. We memorized the Gettysburg Address, reciting its ten sentences in stovepipe hats stapled out of black construction paper. The teachers taught us to like Washington and to respect Jefferson. But Lincoln - him they taught us to love" (8).
Sometimes I miss the old days when we -- and a few decades later, our children -- colored in a picture of George Washington or made an Abraham Lincoln Log cabin out of popsicle sticks, and observed their birthdays separately and never stopped to ask if these leaders were ever anything other than absolutely heroic at all times.
I was already in college by the time the Bicentennial came along and basically missed all the big events and fireworks due to working long hours for little money at a stupid restaurant (of course, I should count my blessings, as those were the days when you could actually work your way through college by means of such a job). Vowell (b 1969) who grew up to become one of our most enlightened and beloved American historians, was still a little kid that summer and recalls a happier celebration:
" . . . I can’t help but notice that only one of my formative experiences, the Bicentennial, came with balloons and cake. Being a little kid that year, visiting the Freedom Train with its dramatically lit facsimile of the Declaration, learning that I lived in the greatest, most fair and wise and lovely place on earth, made a big impression on me. I think it’s one of the reasons I’m so fond of President Lincoln. Because he stared down the crap. More than anyone in the history of the country, he faced up to our most troubling contradiction—that a nation born in freedom would permit the enslavement of human beings—and never once stopped believing in the Declaration of Independence’s ideals, never stopped trying to make them come true.
"On a Sunday in November , I walked up to the New York Public Library to see the Emancipation Proclamation. On loan from the National Archives, the document was in town for three days. They put it in a glass case in a small, dark room. Being alone with old pieces of paper and one guard in an alcove at the library was nice and quiet. I stared at Abraham Lincoln’s signature for a long time. I stood there, thinking what one is supposed to think: This is the paper he held in his hands and there is the ink that came from his pen, and when the ink dried the slaves were freed. Except look at the date, January 1, 1863. The words wouldn’t come true for a couple of years, which, I’m guessing, is a long time when another
person owns your body. But I love how Lincoln dated the document, noting that it was signed “in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the United States of America the eighty-seventh.” Four score and seven years before, is the wonderfully arrogant implication, something as miraculous as the virgin birth happened on this earth, and the calendar should reflect that" (167 - 68).
TO PRESIDENT ABRAHAM LINCOLN
Born 12 February 1809
President of the United States of America
from 4 March 1861 – until his death, 15 April 1865