On Monday, February 15, Delegate Steve Arentz delivered the annual Lincoln Day Address to the Maryland House of Delegates. The text of his address, as prepared, is below.
Delegate Steve Arentz
Good evening Ladies and Gentlemen. It is my pleasure to give the Lincoln Day speech in the General Assembly. Abraham Lincoln is one of the most highly regarded presidents in our history and today we celebrate him.
I have always admired our 16th president and his accomplishments – from his storied rise in politics, to his historic deeds as president in a time of great heartache for our young country. Recently, I read the account of his death, The Killing of Lincoln, by Bill O’Reilly and was given more insight into the man that we all know as Honest Abe. He knew of the dangers he faced as president. He knew of the rumors of assassination and still continued to do the things he knew needed to be done despite the great risk that ultimately resulted in his death at the hands of a group that so feared him.
The celebration of this day would not be complete without the reciting of the Gettysburg Address delivered by Lincoln on November 19, 1863.
To preface, it is important to understand Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address was never intended to be the headline. The keynote speaker of the day, State Representative Edward Everett, spoke for nearly two hours. Lincoln followed Everett and was just to speak briefly about the tragic loss of life at Gettysburg, over 8,000 Union and Confederate soldiers. However two minutes and 272 words later Lincoln transcended Everett. In that short time Lincoln not only paid tribute to those lives lost; he reaffirmed some of America’s most sacred principles. He truly was a master Orator. The irony of that day though is that Lincoln himself didn’t even realize the magnitude of his words – believing that they would be forgotten in lieu of the sacrifices made on the Gettysburg battlefield. And while he was correct that the Gettysburg battlefield would never be forgotten, nor would the lives that were sacrificed by both the Union and the South, he misunderstood how his words would forever form one of the most memorable and important speeches of our great nation. So here goes:
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war.
We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that this nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate — we cannot consecrate — we cannot hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract.
The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced.
It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
Earlier that year on January 1, 1863 he penned his final draft of the Emancipation Proclamation. With it, Abraham Lincoln was credited with freeing the slaves. He was the Great Emancipator. That he did so is amazing, but how he did it, is just as significant.
There is much we all can learn from his style and demeanor. When you read about Lincoln what is mostly conveyed is his rather simple upbringing and his continued drive for success. He was not a man that relied on others being less capable than him, but one that needed to be as good as he could be. He once said, “Whatever you are, be a good one.”
But maybe better evidence of his drive for success can be found in Lincoln’s little-known wrestling career. Historians have only found one recorded loss by Lincoln in 12 years. Isn’t it funny how someone with such skill in the ring wrestled with some of the nation’s most important issues?
I can only imagine being alive his time and surrounded by such a divisive decision that had to be made. I watch us in this body wrestle with whether it is ok to smoke pot in public or not, much less having to manage a country divided so deeply on a single issue.
I would like to hope that there is a Lincoln amongst us. A good leader who talks little, listens to people and can be guided by them without being threatened. His process was well orchestrated. He would listen; if it made sense he would let them proceed.
If he was uncomfortable with what was being suggested he would focus, direct, or point people to what he viewed as the proper path rather than ordering. He was a master at directing others by implying, hinting, or suggesting.
Even Lincoln’s critics couldn’t help but acknowledge and compliment his leadership style. Newspaperman Horace Greeley who was often at odds with the president and his administration, once wrote “He was not a born king of men but a child of the common people, who made himself a great persuader, therefore a leader, by dint of firm resolve, patient effort, and dogged perseverance. He slowly won his way to eminence and fame by doing the work that lay next to him – doing it with all his growing might – doing it as well as he could, and learning by his failure, when failure was encountered, how to do it better. He was open to all impressions and influences, and gladly profited by the teachings of events and circumstances, no matter how adverse or unwelcome. There was probably no year of his life when he was not a wiser, cooler, and a better man than he had been the year preceding. And while Greeley’s words alone do Lincoln’s leadership style justice, there are many other stories that help us understand how great Abraham Lincoln was.
Lincoln was a war-time president that knew you needed to understand what your people were going through to continually ask them to do their jobs. He spent much of his time among his troops. He was constantly informed with what was going on in the war. One story references General John C. Fremont. In relieving him of duty, Lincoln wrote to his successor General David Hunter, “General Fremont is losing the confidence of men near him, whose support any man in his position must have to be successful.” Lincoln continued, “His cardinal mistake is that he isolates himself, and allows nobody to see him; and by which he does not know what is going on in the very matter he is dealing with.” Lincoln’s letter not only alerted General Hunter as to why he relieved Fremont, it offered advice to Hunter on how Lincoln expected the job to be handled.
Lincoln could not sit by and let people bring the news to him, he would discover first-hand what was going on around him. Lincoln realized that people were a major source of information and he intended to stay close to that information. His hands-on approach allowed for him to act swiftly and decisively, winning battles and saving lives. His open door policy as president constituted an exemplary model for effective leadership. People work harder, smarter, and are more loyal if they are involved.
Lincoln would visit his Secretary of War nearly every day and even spent nights at the telegraph office awaiting news of the war. He genuinely cared what people thought, continually seeking them out for their opinion. He was good-tempered always with a kind word or a good story. People liked him, he was approachable and sincere. He understood that “people like a compliment.” Often during the war he would ride his horse along the lines to visit his Generals and troops, always with a kind word and frequently telling them of his vision for America. Lincoln truly believed in preaching and reaffirming his vision. This was important not only for him but for a country mired in turmoil and uncertainty.
However, Lincoln didn’t just talk to people, he had an innate ability to actually understand them as well. He found space that he could work with and opened the door.
From left: Edwin M. Stanton, Salmon P. Chase, Abraham Lincoln, Gideon Welles, Caleb B. Smith, William H. Seward, Montgomery Blair, and Edward Bates.
Prior to being elected president, He met Edwin Stanton, his would-be Secretary of War, while working on a legal case. Stanton insulted the then attorney by commenting “he looked like a giraffe.” Later after Lincoln was elected President, Stanton commented that, “the President had no token of any intelligent understanding”. Despite all of this, Lincoln still appointed him his Secretary of War. Stanton accepted. He enthusiastically and quickly proved Lincoln correct in his selection. As time passed Stanton found that under a somewhat surly exterior existed an honest, devoted, and thoroughly capable administrator. Lincoln’s trust in Stanton became a constant. After Lincoln’s death Stanton muttered “Now he belongs to the Ages.” For more than 10 days after Lincoln’s death Stanton went to Lincoln’s son Robert’s room to talk and spent the first few minutes weeping and not saying a word. He truly grew to love and respect his President.
Lincoln had a similar experience with his Secretary of State, William H. Seward. Prior to the inauguration Seward resigned. Lincoln, appealing to Seward’s patriotic duty, convinced him to stay. He later found the President to be firm, dedicated, and resourceful with a distinct mind of his own.
Early on Seward had sent out memos outlining a policy towards the South. On two occasions he suggested the President start a war with England, first to unite the North and South and then after the British vessel Trent was captured with two Confederate commissioners on board. Lincoln held firm, saying that, “If such policies were to be instituted, I must do it.” And followed the Trent example with a simple and firm statement of “One war at a time”.
Before I finish I would like to recite the words inscribed on the Lincoln Memorial. “In this temple, as in the hearts of the people for whom he saved the union, the memory of Abraham Lincoln is enshrined forever.” Those words could not be more fitting. It is truly a tragedy that a man of such leadership left our nation so soon. However, we can all take solace in the fact that his legacy still lives on over 150 years later. It must, if that government, OUR government of the people, by the people, and for the people will never perish from the earth.