Abraham Lincoln. (Lecture. 1915.)
I have frequently heard the remark, "Abraham Lincoln is one great man who had very ordinary ancestors." Occasionally, scientific writers on heredity have hinted that the doctrine of Coucent does not fully account for the appearance of this remarkable man. The obscurity of the environment of his remote ancestors seems to have perplexed some of his biographers. The truth of the matter is, men do not inherit the effects of college and universities, the effects of libraries, nor the effects of any kind of training. In America we rejoice over the fact that "blood will tell," whether it flows through the veins of kings or through the veins of heroic pioneers.
Primitive greatness was not born of mental acumen; it was born of physical strength and endurance. The great size of the human brain was attained thousands of years ago, no through the pursuits of philosophy, theology, history, poetry, art or science, but rather through man's physical struggle for survival.
Lincoln's ancestors were not scholars, were not kings, were not millionaires, They were stalwart men; they were red-blooded men; they were courageous American pioneers with an unlimited capacity for work and progress.
There is no virtue in poverty; there is no virtue in momentary riches. Both have crushed their thousands and tens of thousands. Lincoln's home life and neighborhood environment were suited to the needs of his wonderful ambition. True, these conditions would have crushed a pigmy, and the luxury of some of our twentieth century homes would have crushed Abraham Lincoln. While the early environment of Lincoln is not the environment we would advocate for the boy of today, it was the environment that stimulated the latent powers of Lincoln and gave to America her greatest statesman, her greatest president, her greatest world humanitarian.
I do not know what the college could have done for Lincoln; I do know what he could have done for college. He passed through all the stages of human development after the manner of other men. In his boyhood, he manifested precisely the same characteristics that he manifested when he was President of the United States. As a boy he was a Democrat, an exponent of "fair play". He lived with those who, like himself, were forced to keep close to mother earth. Hardships left no scars on Lincoln, disappointments generated no bitterness in his heart. He was one of the common people. He loved them, he was loyal to them, he was inspired by them, he gave his life for them. He was fortunate in his environment; without it he would have been buried in obscurity.
In this critical hour in America the common people are calling for a Lincoln, a statesman who knows the meaning of democracy, a leader whose soul is consecrated to the preservation of the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I ask my fellow Americans to study the life of Abraham Lincoln. If the boys and girls of today wish to know the meaning of Americanism read and re-read the life of Abraham Lincoln. Read his speeches, read his letters, sit at his feet and learn how to build a greater America, learn how to make America the world's beacon light of democracy.