The Legacy of Lincoln

Who are we now? What will our legacy be?

I’ve thought about those questions a lot the past few months. Our nation inaugurated its first African-American president in January, and the country he leads today looks much different from the United States of 10, 20 or 200 years ago.

From the first announcement of his candidacy for president on the steps of the Old State Capitol, now-President Obama has masterfully woven the imagery of “a tall, gangly, self-made Springfield lawyer” into the tapestry of contemporary America. In terms of symbolism, a Hollywood screenwriter could not have written a better story.

This year, as we celebrate the 200th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birth, we reflect upon this great man and his legacy, which has only grown more powerful through the years. I recently paid a visit to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield and wondered what he would have thought about the current state of our great Union. For even as we deal with the enormous challenges before us today, this Union, which he held together in the darkest of hours, remains a beacon of hope and opportunity.

Here in the Land of Lincoln, we live amidst this legacy every day, but even in this bicentennial year, it’s all too easy to take for granted. Known for his dynamic storytelling abilities, Lincoln’s own life has been stretched and appropriated, elevated to a mythical status far beyond what his modest demeanor might have felt was proper. And while it’s important to remember that he was just a man, with the same warts and shortcomings as the rest of us, Lincoln was well aware of the tremendous power of symbolism, and the innate human need and desire to search for greater meaning.

In this issue, storyteller Brian “Fox” Ellis steps into the shoes of four different men from Lincoln’s time, providing a unique perspective on the man and the myth. Through his extensive research, Fox is doing important work, plumbing the obscure nooks and crannies of this quintessential American and making history come alive in a way that helps to provide context and understanding to our lives today.

Likewise, Jean Myers of Metamora, whose Lincoln essay appears here in abridged form, has done a great service to his community and the region, keeping our rich heritage and knowledge of the past alive and meaningful.

In a world in which we have little time to reflect upon our present, much less our past, these are the tools which can help guide our future. The current economic crisis finds us reinventing ourselves and reassessing what really matters. Life is a journey, and the road at times is bumpy. Abraham Lincoln, whose own life was full of great pain and heartache, understood this as well as anyone.

Who are we now? What will our legacy be? As we ask these questions of ourselves, we are privileged to have a front-row seat at the foot of this remarkable leader. a&s