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Presidents' Day Share This on LinkedIn   Tweet This   Forward This

17 February 2020

Before we cast off the yoke to enjoy another national holiday in the pursuit of nothing whatsoever, we thought we'd take a moment once again to observe the honorees.

Abraham Lincoln. Photographed by Alexander Gardner in February 1865.

It's always a little hard to observe Washington since no photographs exist of him. Then too, in his time (we have recently learned) the existence of dinosaurs had not been established. Or even expected.

That, I suppose, is a lesson for our age. We may suspect we have a handle on things, but we remain in the dark about some very big issues.

But, it being a holiday and all, we do not aspire to a lesson for the ages. Just a tidbit for today.

And we found that by accident, reading a speech Abraham Lincoln gave to the Wisconsin State Agricultural Society in Milwaukee on Sept. 30, 1859.

Lincoln in 1860. Sometime after speaking in Milwaukee.

To accompany the text, we dug up this photo of Lincoln about the time of his address. It is one of the first four he sat for in 1960. Previously he sat for daguerreotypes or ambrotypes but the man was nothing if not a technie.

He loved this photo. "That looks better and expresses me better than any I have ever seen," he said. "If it pleases the people, I am satisfied."

The lead photo above, however, shows the effect of his presidency on the man after just a few years. The strands of gray hair, the wrinkles -- he seems aged beyond his middle 50s.

But in 1859 he was amusing those Milwaukee agriculturalists. And he saved his best for last:

It is said an Eastern monarch once charged his wise men to invent him a sentence to be ever in view and which should be true and appropriate in all times and situations.

They presented him the words, "And this, too, shall pass away."

How much it expresses! How chastening in the hour of pride! -- how consoling in the depths of affliction! "And this, too, shall pass away."

And yet, let us hope, it is not quite true.

Let us hope, rather, that by the best cultivation of the physical world, beneath and around us, and the intellectual and moral world within us, we shall secure an individual, social and political prosperity and happiness, whose course shall be onward and upward and which, while the earth endures, shall not pass away.

It is 160 years later but we have still not secured "individual, social and political prosperity and happiness." We suspect you would spend some fruitless hours trying to find a happy American while running into one after another outraged American.

But then the work of cultivating "the physical world, beneath and around us, and the intellectual and moral world within us" hasn't really begun in earnest. We seem to remain as in the dark about those two subjects as Washington was about dinosaurs.

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