We are into February, a short month with long nights and cold weather, a good time for a good book. How about an Abraham Lincoln book to relate to the observance of his birthday this month? There are plenty of Lincoln books to choose from!
Since the death of the sixteenth President of the United States in 1865, more than 16,000 books have been written about Abraham Lincoln, his family, his leadership during the Civil War, and his assassination. Imagine! More books than about any other American and maybe more than about any other individual in history. And, the list continues to grow with new books each year for a new generation of readers.
With so much having been written about this great leader, are there new thoughts or words, new insights, in 2017 as we remember the former President who is so closely associated with the Cumberland Gap area and with Lincoln Memorial University in particular? Leaving that question for historians to answer, I found two books that I have kept close by for reading and re-reading.
One of those is entitled The Wit and Wisdom of Abraham Lincoln containing “the best stories by and about America’s most beloved President.” In the second, entitled Lincoln for the Ages, seventy-six distinguished Americans wrote about almost every facet of Lincoln’s life from his boyhood years to the his death. The book was conceived by Carl Haverlin, President of Broadcast Music, Inc. and former LMU trustee. It was edited by Ralph G. Newman, 1952 recipient of LMU’s Lincoln Diploma of Honor. Beyond that many of the authors were University officials and friends including Robert L. Kincaid, R. Gerald McMurtry, and Wayne C. Temple.
Since first reading about Lincoln years ago, I have been fascinated with both his unusual wit and his great wisdom highlighted in the first book. And with the discovery of the second book I was impressed with the diversity of authors and topics. It contained information about almost every phase of Lincoln’s life, and the articles were written by individuals that LMU students and alumni had met or heard in various settings from graduation speakers [Illinois Governor William Stratton], to classroom professors [Drs. McMurtry and Temple], to Lincoln Day Banquet speakers [Iowa Congressman Fred Schwengel].
The wit and wisdom of Lincoln often showed up in unusual circumstances and for various purposes. He liked to talk, he enjoyed reading, and he knew human nature. He seemed always to have a story to illustrate his position on a matter or his thoughts about almost any topic. A few examples illustrate those characteristics:
On one occasion some of Lincoln’s friends were talking of the diminutive stature of Stephen A. Douglas, and in an argument as to the proper length of a man’s legs. During the discussion Lincoln came in, and it was agreed that the question should be referred to him for decision. “Well,” said he reflectively, “I should think a man’s legs ought to be long enough to reach from his body to the ground.”
At the White House, a New Yorker said to the President that it seemed strange that the President of the United States and the President of the Confederate States should have been born in the same State. “Oh, I don’t know about that,” laughed Mr. Lincoln. “Those Kentucky people will tell you that they raise ‘most anything in their State, and I reckon they’re mighty near right.”
Civil War General O.O. Howard commented that “In the first speech I ever saw of Mr. Lincoln’s he said, ‘Many free countries have lost their liberties, and ours may lose hers; but if she shall, be it my proudest boast not that I was the last to desert, but that I never, never deserted her.”
General Howard was close to President Lincoln and figured prominently in the establishment of Lincoln Memorial University, primarily because of the words of Abraham Lincoln. In September, 1863, during a visit with the President at the White House, Lincoln rolled a map down from the wall and pointed to Cumberland Gap: “General, can’t you go through here and seize Knoxville?” as they discussed the Civil War and the military situation in the West.
As the conversation neared an end, Howard said the President remarked, “General, if you come out of this horror and misery alive, and I pray to God that you may, I want you to do something for those mountain people who have been shut out of this world all these years. I know them. They are loyal there! If I live I will do all I can to aid, and between us perhaps we do the justice they deserve. Please remember this.”
And Howard did remember those words and Lincoln’s wishes. Working with the Reverend A. A. Myers, who had brought the General to Cumberland Gap, they were able to secure the support necessary for the chartering of Lincoln Memorial University on February 12, 1897.
Why not use the occasion of the birthdays of both Lincoln and the University to lead you to finding a good Lincoln book for winter reading?
William H. Baker, Claiborne County native and former resident of Middlesboro, may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org