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Michael’s “272 Words”

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To commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address, the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library asked notable Americans—including Presidents Carter, Bush (41), Clinton and Obama, Sandra Day O’Connor, Colin Powell and Steven Spielberg—to submit hand-written, 272 words essays in the spirit of our 16th President.  Here is the text of Michael’s essay:

In this sour season of division and disillusionment, Lincoln’s example matters more than ever. Americans need inspiration from his up-from-the-bottom rise, but must also learn lessons from his means of ascent. Lincoln reached the pinnacle of power through his two great loves: politics and prose.

He spent his entire adult life as a proud, practicing politician. Unlike his common modern counterparts, he didn’t go from a legal career to public office; he only earned his law license five years after his first run for the Illinois legislature (at age 23). To him, the process of vote-seeking and coalition-building counted as ennobling, not demeaning. He also unashamedly embraced partisanship, remaining one of the last of the loyal Whigs until the party he had always cherished suffered complete collapsed in the 1850s.

By that time Lincoln had become a national figure not through achievements or electoral victories (there were few of those) but through the force of his words. His love of language shines through even the earliest letters and transcriptions of stump speeches and debates. Consider his spectacularly wrong prediction in the Gettysburg Address: “The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.” The words resonate with the music of poetry; they count as not only memorable, but easy to memorize.

If our culture could follow Lincoln in exalting, rather than shunning, the grubby business of practical politics; if more of our leaders learned to deploy prose with the precision and dignity of the Emancipator, then we might yet enjoy an American revival and perhaps, even, a new birth of freedom.

(Reprinted with permission of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library Foundation)

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