On Monday, February 13th, Delegate Meagan Simonaire delivered the Lincoln Day Address to the Maryland House of Delegates. The following are her prepared remarks.
Tonight we honor and remember one of the greatest leaders of our nation, Abraham Lincoln. Much has been said about our 16th president and his legacy has inspired many throughout the past 152 years.
While preparing my thoughts for this evening, I came across numerous insights on who Lincoln was and what he has meant, and tonight I’d like to share a few of those with you.
In 1922, sociologist, writer, and civil rights activist W. E. B. DuBois stated, “Abraham Lincoln was perhaps the greatest figure of the nineteenth century. Certainly…[he] is to me the most human and lovable. And I love him not because he was perfect but because he was not and yet triumphed.”
President Franklin D. Roosevelt said in 1940 “I do not know which party Lincoln would belong to if he were alive…His sympathies and his motives of championship of humanity itself have made him for all centuries to come the legitimate property of all parties—of every man and woman and child in every part of our land.”
In 2005, then-Senator Barack Obama observed that “when the time came to confront the greatest moral challenge this nation has ever faced, this all too human man did not pass the challenge on to future generations…In the midst of slavery’s dark storm and the complexities of governing a house divided, he somehow kept his moral compass pointed firm and true.”
Honesty. Integrity. Humility. These are the hallmarks of the imperfect, but principled leader who had such a profound impact on the course of our nation’s history.
Lincoln’s dedication to liberty and equality particularly resonates with me, as one of the issues near to my heart is the modern day slavery known as human trafficking. I first became aware of human trafficking when I was around sixteen; two women from the organization Project Rescue gave a presentation on the growing prevalence of human trafficking, one of the largest illegal trades in the world today. I couldn’t believe that something so horrific was happening, not only in far-away countries, but here, in my city and my neighborhoods.
Their presentation spurred my involvement in several outreaches and conferences over the following years, oriented towards combating human trafficking. It also played a large part in my decision to run for office, in hopes that I would be able in some way to make an impact, and help give a voice to those who have had their most basic human rights brutally violated.
Another thing that stood out to me as I read more about Lincoln’s life was his ability to balance his pragmatism with his principles.
Lincoln was deeply opposed to slavery from a moral standpoint, and he held to that conviction. However, he also recognized and acknowledged the complexities involved and sought to address them. He was said to have possessed an “uncanny ability to empathize with and think about other people’s point of view,” and recognized the value and importance of understanding the other side, while not compromising his beliefs.
I found Lincoln’s example a timely reminder and challenge to engage and build meaningful relationships with those whose views may differ from mine.
While much of the information I found written about President Lincoln spoke of his
character and contributions to the country, I also came across a few things about him that I like to call little treasures. They helped me remember that in the midst of his greatness and accomplishments, he was still human and shared similarities with all of us. One of those little treasures was the following:
“his little dog Jip…was never absent from the Presidential lunch. He was always in Mr. Lincoln’s lap to claim his portion first, and was caressed and petted by him through the whole meal.”
As I was reading that quote, I happened to be on a plane to Puerto Rico and quickly typed it on my laptop and smiled. The man sitting next to me asked if I was a student or a professor, as I had to be one or the other typing so fast. I explained to him that I was adding some fun details to my Lincoln Day speech that I had prepared for the Maryland General Assembly.
Although he and his wife lived in Ohio and are from Puerto Rico, he was actually very familiar with Maryland. He is a priest and his students were at St. Mary’s. He then shared how he loved President Lincoln and had just finished reading a book about him. He told me so many fascinating details about the President’s life, and when I asked what his favorite thing about him was, his response left me smiling from ear to ear.
He told me that his favorite thing about Lincoln was that he was President for all humankind and was even known for respecting those who didn’t agree with him. I had to smile, because that was so close to my favorite quote that I had already typed and was actually said by a Reverend. The Reverend stated: “let us resolve to carry forward the policy which he so nobly began. Let us do right to all men.”
While there are many things in the past that are so inspiring to reflect on, it was beautiful to see how even sitting on a plane on the way to Puerto Rico, I could have such a wonderful conversation with a priest and his wife because of President Lincoln. His legacy still brings people together and inspires them in everyday life.
In closing, I am truly honored to be a part of this legislature, as we work together to carry on the legacy of Lincoln and, in his words, maintain “that form and substance of government, whose leading object is to elevate the condition of men—to lift artificial weights from all shoulders—to clear the paths of laudable pursuit for all—and to afford all an unfettered start and a fair chance in the race of life.”