In a small way, I can relate to the rail-splitter from out West because he had a way of speaking that was not always appreciated by the newspapers back EastPresident George W. Bush said to laughter and applause during his remarks at the dedication of the Lincoln Library in Springfield. (Thanks to Ashbrook's Peter W. Schramm.)
A New York Times story on his first inaugural address reported that Mr. Lincoln was lucky "it was not the constitution of the English language and the laws of English grammar that he was called upon to support." I think that fellow is still writing for the Times.
…Those who knew [Abraham Lincoln] remembered his candor, his kindness and his searching intellect — his combination of frontier humor with the cadences of Shakespeare and the Holy Bible. As a state legislator in Springfield, a congressman, and a debater on the stump, Lincoln embodied the democratic ideal — that leadership and even genius are found among the people themselves, and sometimes in the most unlikely places.
Young Lincoln didn't worry much about how he looked or what he wore. He took great care of the things he said, and Americans took notice beyond the borders of Illinois.
…The convictions that have guided our history are also at issue in our world. We also face some questions in our time: Do the promises of the Declaration apply beyond the culture that produced it? Are some, because of birth or background, destined to live in tyranny — or do all, regardless of birth or background, deserve to live in freedom? Americans have no right or calling to impose our own form of government on others. Yet, American interests and values are both served by standing for liberty in every part of the world.
Our interests are served when former enemies become democratic partners — because free governments do not support terror or seek to conquer their neighbors. Our interests are served by the spread of democratic societies — because free societies reward the hopes of their citizens, instead of feeding the hatreds that lead to violence. Our deepest values are also served when we take our part in freedom's advance — when the chains of millions are broken and the captives are set free, because we are honored to serve the cause that gave us birth.
Sometimes the progress of liberty comes gradually, like water that cuts through stone. Sometimes progress comes like a wildfire, kindled by example and courage. We see that example and courage today in Afghanistan and Kyrgystan, Ukraine, Georgia and Iraq. We believe that people in Zimbabwe and Iran and Lebanon and beyond have the same hopes, the same rights, and the same future of self-government. The principles of the Declaration still inspire, and the words of the Declaration are forever true. So we will stick to it; we will stand firmly by it.
Every generation strives to define the lessons of Abraham Lincoln, and that is part of our tribute to the man himself. None of us can claim his legacy as our own, but all of us can learn from the faith that guided him. He trusted in freedom and in the wisdom of the Founders, even in the darkest hours. That trust has helped Americans carry on, even after the second day of Gettysburg; even on December 8, 1941; even on September the 12th, 2001. Whenever freedom is challenged, the proper response is to go forward with confidence in freedom's power.