Lincoln Day Speech:
to the Maryland House of Delegates February 13, 2012
by Delegate Michael A. McDermott
Motive is an interesting thing. I have questioned the motives of people for decades, as, no doubt, have you as well. As an investigator, I can tell you that finding the motive for a crime is a critical element in solving it.
On a ball field, it is easy to spot the team that lacks motivation. The best coaches are those who can keep their team upbeat and pressing toward the goal.
On a battlefield, it is the leadership which refuses to surrender, finds a way to win, and leads from the front.
We admire it in an individual, we struggle to maintain it in ourselves, and we will die without it…motivation.
If we want to be a successful leader, we look to those who, having been tried in a crucible, came out to victory on the other side. And, having found them, we must uncover their motive, less we be guilty of merely mimicking their actions.
Perhaps no president has been studied as much as Abraham Lincoln and we could easily find ourselves occupied by his actions without searching out his motives…but we would do this great man a disservice and would hinder ourselves in our quest.
No doubt, a couple of things jump right to the front when we consider his motivation. For starters, how about saving the union? We could easily make that argument. Yet, saving the union was only relative to the preservation of that which was greater.
We could make a case that the emancipation of those held in bondage would provide all the motivation necessary to propel a man to cast aside every burden and press on to the goal which lies before him. Yet, even this noblest of causes does not reach the depth of Lincoln’s motivation.
It was a speech in Peoria where he challenged his listeners by saying:
“Let us re-adopt the Declaration of Independence, and with it, the practices, and policy, which harmonize with it. Let north and south -- let all Americans -- let all lovers of liberty everywhere -- join in the great and good work. If we do this, we shall not only have saved the Union; but we shall have so saved it, as to make, and to keep it, forever worthy of the saving. We shall have so saved it, that the succeeding millions of free happy people, the world over, shall rise up, and call us blessed, to the latest generations.”
That speech was given six years before this country would plunge itself into a great civil war. It was a clarion call to embrace that which we had walked away from. The Founders had made solemn declarations about us as a people. We had claimed a God given right to freedom as opposed to the charity of a government or a king. We had stated clearly, “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”…and yet we allowed one citizen the right to enslave another. We were not walking in the truth we had proclaimed. By the sixteenth presidential administration, it had finally caught up to us.
The harmony which Lincoln sought…that place where practice and policy would merge so that all could enjoy the fruits of liberty, was not fully discovered in the Constitution…yet the foundation for it is laid out plainly in our Declaration of Independence.
Lincoln saw clearly that the United States was liberty’s hope. If the world would know freedom, its lamp could not be extinguished in America. If his country was broken asunder…if some of her sons and daughters remained in bondage…liberty would not continue and the promise that was independence would be consigned to that forgotten shelf of history.
Lincoln new that life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness were unalienable rights given by God and not granted by a government…and for the government to impose itself on that which was granted by God could only produce sorrows and shame.
If Life and Liberty were a gift of God’s grace, Lincoln wisely concluded that they were not merely to be experienced on our shores, but they belonged to the world as well. If they died here, there was no telling if the opportunity for men and women to know freedom would ever arise again.
Lincoln’s motivation was not simply to save or to set free, but rather to restore. It was in restoration of liberties principles that salvation and freedom would be found. And not simply found and preserved for future generations of Americans…it was to be for the world.
Even as our own countrymen struggled with freedom for all peoples, never the less, the foundation stood firm. Lincoln took us back to our beginnings that we might right the wrongs and provide a hope and a future to ourselves and our posterity.
Some may find it interesting and some may view it as prophetic the words of a speech given by Lincoln on September 11th, 1858 in Edwardsville, Illinois
What constitutes the bulwark of our own liberty and independence? It is not our frowning battlements, our bristling sea coasts, the guns of our war steamers, or the strength of our gallant and disciplined army. These are not our reliance against a resumption of tyranny in our fair land. All of them may be turned against our liberties, without making us stronger or weaker for the struggle. Our reliance is in the love of liberty which God has planted in our bosoms. Our defense is in the preservation of the spirit which prizes liberty as the heritage of all men, in all lands, every where. Destroy this spirit, and you have planted the seeds of despotism around your own doors.
It is our love of liberty that makes us a peculiar people. It was this love that was secured by our founders when they pledged their lives, their treasure, and their sacred honor. The price has not cheapened over time although the love of liberty is often hidden from a people who take it for granted.
Are we nobly defending liberty in this place or is it our own ambitions and affections? With every law we pass, with every word we speak in these halls we are building up or we are tearing down the principles that guard our freedom.
Our country was never intended to become merely a fortress where liberty could find a voice. We were never intended to simply provide safe haven for the oppressed peoples of the world. We were crafted as an instrument of change for the world…we are the example so that others might see. Lincoln ran to the battle with this in mind.
Consider for a moment that icon of liberty erected in New York’s harbor. Many have described the Statue of Liberty as guarding the gateway to freedom…that her presence bids the people of the world to come to our shores as she lights the way, but the artist had something far greater in mind.
The statues name in French is La Liberté éclairant le monde which translated m eans “Liberty Enlightening the World”. At her feet lies a broken chain and she is not standing in place, she is striding forward, away from our shores and moving out into the world. She is the vision that Abraham Lincoln had of America...the same vision shared by the founders and the signers of the Declaration of Independence.
It is a vision that may be lost on those who have confused power for liberty and money as the means of freedom. We are under attack by those who do not comprehend the essence of our spirit. It was seen on December 8th, 1941 and on September 12th, 2001 when flags fluttered from our homes and we stood together to reaffirm and readopt those principles that find fertile ground in our hearts.
On Abraham Lincoln's inaugural journey to Washington in February of 1861, he stopped in Philadelphia at the site where the Declaration of Independence had been signed and made a few remarks.
I am filled with deep emotion at finding myself standing here, in this place, where were collected together the wisdom, the patriotism, the devotion to principle, from which sprang the institutions under which we live. You have kindly suggested to me that in my hands is the task of restoring peace to the present distracted condition of the country. I can say in return, Sir, that all the political sentiments I entertain have been drawn, so far as I have been able to draw them, from the sentiments which originated and were given to the world from this hall. I have never had a feeling politically that did not spring from the sentiments embodied in the Declaration of Independence. I have often pondered over the dangers which were incurred by the men who assembled here, and framed and adopted that Declaration of Independence. I have pondered over the toils that were endured by the officers and soldiers of the army who achieved that Independence. I have often inquired of myself, what great principle or idea it was that kept this Confederacy so long together. It was not the mere matter of the separation of the Colonies from the motherland; but that sentiment in the Declaration of Independence which gave liberty, not alone to the people of this country, but, I hope, to the world, for all future time. It was that which gave promise that in due time the weight would be lifted from the shoulders of all men. This is a sentiment embodied in the Declaration of Independence. Now, my friends, can this country be saved upon that basis? If it can, I will consider myself one of the happiest men in the world, if I can help to save it. If it cannot be saved upon that principle, it will be truly awful. But if this country cannot be saved without giving up that principle, I was about to say I would rather be assassinated on this spot than surrender it.
Abraham Lincoln did not surrender the principles of liberty. He laid hold of them for future generations and preserved a heritage and hope for the entire world. That which stood up at Lexington and Concord...that which knelt humbly before God at Valley Forge...it stood at Antietam, Gettysburg, and Shiloh...it crawled through the Argonne Forest...it swam ashore from Pearl Harbor...it waded ashore at Normandy...it has been a hand extended to our friends and one brandishing a sword against tyrants...it is that same unquenchable spirit that dwells in me and you...and while we, as a family, can argue and be angry with one another from time to time...we are, in the end, family...bound together by cords of liberty, paid for with the blood of patriots, past...present...and future.
Let us encourage one another with these words and let us maintain these principles and be sure to teach them to our children’s children... that government of the people, by the people, and for the people will never perish from this earth.
May God bless this General Assembly and the Great State of Maryland.