Exactly 150 years ago today, Abraham Lincoln was elected President of the United States. He only won 40% of the popular vote but he did win the electoral college.
Two years ago, we flew to Chicago to pick up a car donated to the Institute and drove home across a early winter landscape, miraculously encased in a small, moving bubble of sunshine and dry pavement. We stopped in Springfield and toured Lincoln's home. The last home he would ever live in outside the White House.
It was early December and Lincoln's home was decorated for Christmas in the exceedingly modest manner of middle class, 19th century mid-westerners. I was especially moved by the docent's description of Lincoln's last Christmas at home as he contemplated the staggering task ahead of him. Between his election and the date Lincoln left home for Washington DC, 7 states seceded. Four more were threatening to do so as he boarded the train to the capitol and an infant Confederate government had already been formed.
Here is the famous description of Lincoln's farewell to Springfield on February 11, 1861 - the eve of his 52nd birthday:
Sculptor Thomas Jones remembered the day Lincoln left town from this depot: "It was a dark, gloomy, misty morning, boding rain. The people assembled early to say their last good-bye to the man they loved so much. The railroad office was used as the reception room. Lincoln took a position where his friends and neighbors could file by him in a line. As they came up each one took his hand in silence. The tearful eye, the tremulous lips and inaudible words was a scene never to be forgotten. When the crowd has passed him, I stepped up to say good-bye. He gave me both his hands -- no words after that."
"The train thundered in that was to bear him away, and Lincoln mounted the rear platform of one of the cars. Just at that moment Mrs. Lincoln's carriage drove up -- it was raining. I proffered my umbrella and arm, and we approached Lincoln as near as we could for the crowd, and heard the last and best speech ever delivered in Springfield."
"My friends, no one, not in my situation, can appreciate my feeling of sadness at this parting. To this place, and the kindness of these people, I owe everything. Here I have lived a quarter of a century, and have passed from a young to an old man. Here my children have been born, and one is buried. I now leave, not knowing when, or whether ever, I may return, with a task before me greater than that which rested upon Washington. Without the assistance of the Divine Being who ever attended him, I cannot succeed. With that assistance I cannot fail. Trusting in Him who can go with me, and remain with you, and be everywhere for good, let us confidently hope that all will yet be well. To His care commending you, as I hope in your prayers you will commend me, I bid you an affectionate farewell."
(Sherry's note: Today, a candidate elected at 51 would be regarded on the youngish end of the Presidential spectrum. But the average life expectancy of a boy child born in 1860 was only 43 years vs. 78 years for a boy born in 2010.)
In honor of this anniversary, which utterly changed the future of our country, take a few minutes to watch this beautiful tribute to Lincoln, featuring an amazing collection of contemporary photographs, most of which I have not seen elsewhere. To the tune of the haunting Ashokan Farewell.