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On this day in 1860, Abraham Lincoln was elected 16th president of the United States.
In the five extraordinary years that followed, he masterminded and won a Civil War and in doing so, preserved the Union, abolished slavery, strengthened the Federal Government, and modernised the economy. He was assassinated in 1865 by the actor John Wilkes Booth, an angry and bitter Confederate, only days after calling for reconciliation between the two sides of the conflict.
Lincoln was a great orator and his famous Gettysburg address still ranks high in terms of power and brevity. The sentences resonate today, especially the last bit: “that the nation, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
He was also a great poetry lover. Here is one he wrote himself – in the autograph book of a hotel owner’s daughter – he was staying there at the time, To Rosa:
You are young, and I am older;
You are hopeful, I am not –
Enjoy life, ere it grow colder –
Pluck the roses ere they rot.
Teach your beau to heed the lay –
That sunshine soon is lost in shade –
That now’s as good as any day –
To take thee, Rose, ere she fade.
When I think of Lincoln’s death or of anyone’s untimely death, I always remember those simple lines of the great English poet John Donne: “any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”
Today I give thanks for great statesmen who put their country before themselves and their own safety.