Happy Birthday!

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. George Jones
  • 17th Medical Operations Squadron commander
Special thanks to Kristine Jones.

Tuesday will be the 199th Anniversary of the birth of our 16th President. On Feb. 12, 1809, in a small log cabin on Sinking Spring Farm in Hardin County, Kentucky, Abraham Lincoln entered the world to humble surroundings. Fifty-six years later he would be the first president to be assassinated.

Almost two centuries later, there have been more books written about him than any other president. What about Abraham Lincoln keeps us fascinated with him over twelve score since his death?

One trait, perhaps, is honesty from an elected official. Lincoln wrote, "resolve to be honest at all events" and became known as "Honest Abe." Maybe his strong work ethic and his unending thirst for knowledge, or his disciplined ability to stay focused on a goal and at the same time have a measure of flexibility. Possibly above all other traits, his compassion for his fellow man marvels the generations.

Arguably the most beloved President of the United States, his concern for others is evident in many of his writings and speeches. In his second Inaugural Address March 1865, Lincoln said the following: "With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan--to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations." Timeless comments from a self-made man.

The sum of schoolhouse education for Abraham Lincoln was about one year. He educated himself with borrowed books. He worked as flatboat navigator, storekeeper, farmer, surveyor, soldier and postmaster. After being elected at age 25 to the Illinois Legislature, he taught himself law. He went on to serve one term in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1847-1849 and remained an avid reader all his life.

"A capacity, and taste, for reading, gives access to whatever has already been discovered by others. It is the key, or one of the keys, to the already solved problems. And not only so, it gives a relish, and facility, for successfully pursuing the [yet] unsolved ones," said Lincoln in 1859 in an Address to the Wisconsin State Agricultural Society.

As President and Commander-in-Chief, he constantly read and kept abreast of anything new and relevant that might assist in his aim of ending the war and bringing the country back together. Technological advances in weaponry and communication greatly changed the way the military engaged, much as we find today. The telegraph enabled "almost instant" communication from the front. Lincoln was known to have spent hours and sometimes days in the telegraph room. He focused his thirst for knowledge and his compassion into untiring devotion to preserving the nation.

Lincoln expressed compassion with skill at managing people. He was known for being able to coerce men who may not have liked each other to work together. He was a master at inspiring men with praise while simultaneously reprimanding if necessary. His legendary sense of humor, even in dire situations, helped keep hope alive. He was decisive, even when it wasn't easy. He would stay unemotional and remain focused on the facts. Ironically, this ability could be the foundation of his compassion and empathy towards others. One of the most recognized speeches ever is the Gettysburg Address, full of compassion but firmly grounded in the reality of the time.

"Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal." "...We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live..." His birthday is a good time to reread that speech and be inspired all over again.

Congress established the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission in 2000 to commemorate his upcoming 200th birthday in 2009. Dedicated to renewing American appreciation of Lincoln's legacy, the 15-member commission of lawmakers and scholars also has an advisory board of more than 130 Lincoln historians and enthusiasts. The ALBC is based at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. and is the organizing force behind numerous tributes, programs and cultural events over a two-year celebration beginning this month, February 2008, at Lincoln's birthplace in Kentucky.

Lincoln's birthplace and family home are national historic memorials: the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Site in Hodgenville, Kentucky and the Lincoln Home National Historic Site in Springfield, Illinois. The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum opened in Springfield in 2005 featuring many state-of-the-art exhibits. The Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery is located in Elwood, Illinois.

Visit these sites over the next couple years. Visit the many books, speeches, and pictures available today at your fingertips. As we begin the 200th Anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's birth, his words apply to us today as they did on Dec. 1, 1862, in a message he delivered to Congress: "In times like the present, men should utter nothing for which they would not willingly be responsible through time and eternity."

Happy Birthday, Mr. President.