Today we celebrate the lives of two presidents — which is your favorite?
Like every American, I admire George Washington. During an election year, I often reflect on the reason we invest so many powers in the presidential office — because of our exceptional first president.
But I will admit to being a Lincoln aficionado. Perhaps that’s because I grew up playing with Lincoln Logs, and my family visited Lincoln sites on our family vacations. That fondness grew during the six years I served a church located a few miles from New Salem. That’s where Lincoln attempted to run a general store, along with a partner named William Berry, an enterprise which failed. It was William Berry’s father, the Reverend John Berry, who founded the church I served, so there were many connections.
When my family moved to northern Virginia, we had easy access to other Lincoln sites in Washington, DC: the Lincoln Memorial, the Lincoln Cottage and Soldier’s Home, Ford’s Theater and the Peterson house, as well as the trail of John Wilkes Booth. I didn’t think there were many sites I had missed!
Then, this past fall I visited Greenfield Village, in Dearborn, Michigan and discovered that the Logan County Courthouse, where Lincoln first practiced law, was moved — actually physically relocated — to Henry Ford’s mythical village. Here it is:
I was impressed to hear the story behind the corner hutch (far left). That piece of furniture was hand-built by Abraham and his father Tom as a way to thank the people who cared for Abe (and his sister and cousin) after his mother, Nancy Hanks Lincoln, died. Father Tom went off to procure a stepmother for the family and left the children in the care of friends.
Amazingly enough, this historic piece of furniture isn’t held by the Smithsonian, but by Greenfield Village, a place which has no claim to it, other than Henry Ford’s wealth. It strikes me as ironic that an emblem of one man’s ordinary, humble beginnings could be purchased with the fruit of another man’s astounding financial success. But perhaps I am being too hard on the old tycoon. I’m sure Ford had his reasons for revering Lincoln.
Don’t we all wish our next president could have the same level gaze and fortitude as the man we picture in a stovepipe hat? Lincoln’s leadership was shaped by his humble beginnings, but also by his melancholy. Lincoln knew full well that life is hard. That simple truth is wisdom we all seem too eager to escape.