Saturday, July 14, 2012


In the course of history, over the ages, we have seen many a great
leader stride the stage like a colossus, leaving their mark on the
sands of time. They have been known for stirring their people to cast
off the yokes  of superstition, ignorance, foreign rule, slavery and
many more evils which beset the world. Their speeches have an
electrifying effect  even centuries after they were first delivered ,
whether it be Mark Antony's "Friends, Romans and countrymen, lend me
your ears. The evil that men do liveth after them but the good is oft
interred with their bones "( funeral oration after Julius Caeser's


 Churchill's war time speech "I have nothing to
offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat."


Jawaharlal Nehru's speechon the midnight of 14/15th August 1947, " Long years ago, we made a
tryst with destiny, and now the time comes when we shall redeem our
pledge, not wholly or in full measure, but very substantially. At the
stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom. A
moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from
the old to the new, when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation,
long suppressed, finds utterance" 


Nehru's emotional speech on the evening of 30th January 1948 on hearing about Gandhiji's assassination:
"Friends and Comrades, the light has gone out of our lives and there is darkness everywhere. I do not know what to tell you and how to say it. Our beloved leader, Bapu as we call him, the Father of the Nation, is no more. Perhaps I am wrong to say that. Nevertheless, we will not see him again as we have seen him for these many years. We will not run to him for advice and seek solace from him, and that is a terrible blow, not to me only but to millions and millions of this country."                                   

 But by far the best remembered isthe memorial speech given by Abraham Lincoln at Gettysberg on 19th
November, 1963,in honour of the soldiers who laid down their lives in
the civil war. This is what he said :-

"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 that nation might live. It is altogether fitting
and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we
can not 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

The person who delivered this address was not a Harvard educated sauve
president of impeccable erudition  like Roosevelt, Kennedy or Obama,
but a lean and lanky person  with sunken cheeks, scraggy beard  and
unkempt hair who had never stepped on the portals of a college and was
once a backwoods man cutting logs of wood with his axe, living  in a

Childhood and early years

Abraham Lincoln was born to Thomas Lincoln and Nancy Hanks at
Hodgenville. Kentucky   on 12th February 1809. He was their second
child, the first being Sarah, his elder sister. Nancy could read and
write while Thomas was illiterate.   They built for themselves a log
cabin and tilled the soil where nothing grew before. It was here that
little Abraham spent seven years of his childhood. They then moaved to
Perry County, Indiana where his mother died of milk sickness at the
age of 34 when Abraham was only nine years old. Thomas married a widow
Sarah Bush Johnston who had three children by her first marriage. She
was a strong and affectionate woman with whom Abraham quickly bonded.
Though both his parents were  illiterate, Sarah encouraged Abraham to
read. It was while growing into manhood that he received his formal
education—an estimated total of 18 months—a few days or weeks at a
time. Reading material was in short supply in the Indiana wilderness.
Neighbors recalled how Abraham would walk for miles to borrow a book.
He undoubtedly read the family Bible and probably other popular books
at that time such as Robinson Crusoe, Pilgrims Progress and Aesop’s

In March, 1830, the family again migrated, this time to Macon County,
Illinois. When his father moved the family again to Coles County,
22-year-old Abraham Lincoln struck out on this own, making a living in
manual labour.  At six feet four inches tall, Lincoln was rawboned and
lanky, but muscular and physically strong. He spoke with a backwoods
twang and walked with a long-striding gait. He was known for his skill
in wielding an axe and early on made a living splitting wood for fire
and rail fencing. Young Lincoln eventually migrated to the small
community of New Salem, Illinois where he lived till 1837 and  over a
period of years he worked as a shopkeeper, postmaster, and eventually
general store owner. He impressed the residents with his character,
wrestled the town bully, and was lovingly called "honest Abe" It was
here that Lincoln, working with the public, acquired social skills and
honed story-telling talent that made him popular with the locals.
Lincoln who was  6 feet 4 inches tall and weighed 180 pounds was
drafted to fight  Black Hawk War  which broke out in 1832 between the
United States and Native Americans, the volunteers in the area elected
Lincoln to be their captain. He saw no combat during this time, save
for “a good many bloody struggles with the mosquitoes,” but was able
to make several important political connections.

After joining the Whig Party, Lincoln made an unsuccessful bid for the
Illinois legislature in 1832. He did not lose heart, and tried again
in 1834, 1836, 1838 and 1840 winning all the four times. He studied
law on his own in  his spare time and became a lawyer in 1836. he next
year Lincoln made a second flatboat trip to New Orleans. Afterwards he
moved to New Salem, Illinois, where he lived until 1837. While there
he worked at several jobs including operating a store, surveying, and
serving as postmaster. He impressed the residents with his character,
wrestled the town bully, and earned the nickname "Honest Abe."
Lincoln, who stood nearly 6-4 and weighed about 180 pounds, saw brief
service in the Black Hawk War, and he made an unsuccessful run for the
Illinois legislature in 1832. He ran again in 1834, 1836, 1838, and
1840, and he won all four times. Lincoln was a member of the Whig
Party; he remained a Whig until 1856 when he became a Republican.
Additionally, he studied law in his spare time  teaching himself by
reading Blackstone's commentaries on the laws of England.    He became
a lawyer in 1836.  Around this time, he is said to have met and became
romantically involved with a girl called Anne Rutledge. Before they
had a chance to be engaged, a wave of typhoid fever came over New
Salem and Anne died at age 22. Her death was said to have left Lincoln
severely depressed.

Marriage and political career

In Springfield in 1839 Lincoln met Mary Todd  a high spirited, well
educated woman from a distinguished Kentucky family.  Three years
later they were married and over the next 11 years had four children:
Robert (1843-1926), Edward ("Eddie") 1846-1850, William ("Willie")
1850-1862, and Thomas ("Tad") 1853-1871. Lincoln became a successful
attorney, and the family bought a home at the corner of Eighth and
Jackson in 1844.

In 1844, Abraham Lincoln partnered with William Herndon in the
practice of law. Though the two had different jurisprudent styles,
they developed a close professional and personal relationship. Lincoln
made a good living in his early years as a lawyer, but found that
Springfield alone didn’t offer enough work, so to supplement his
income, he followed the court as it made its rounds on the circuit to
the various county seats in Illinois.

In 1846 Lincoln ran for the United States House of Representatives and
won. While in Washington he became known for his opposition to the
Mexican War and to slavery. He returned home after his term and
resumed his law practice more seriously than ever. Early in 1851
Lincoln's father died.

Lincoln served one term (1847-49) as a member of the U.S. House of
Representatives, where he opposed the Mexican War--Whigs did
everywhere--as unnecessary and unconstitutional. This opposition was
not a function of internationalist sympathy for Mexico (Lincoln
thought the war inevitable) but of feeling that the Democratic
president, James Polk, had violated the Constitution. Lincoln had been
indifferent about the annexation of Texas, already a slave territory,
but he opposed any expansion that would allow slavery into new areas;
hence, he supported the Wilmot Proviso, which would have barred
slavery from any territory gained as a result of the Mexican War.

 His foray into national politics seems to be as unremarkable as it
was brief. He was the lone Whig from the state of Illinois, showing
party loyalty, but finding few political allies. He supported Zachary
Taylor for president in 1848. His criticism of the war made him
unpopular back home and he decided not to run for second term, but
instead returned Springfield to practice law. He did not run for
Congress again, returning instead to Springfield and the law.

Lincoln "was losing interest in politics" when the Kansas-Nebraska Act
was passed by Congress in 1854. This legislation opened lands
previously closed to slavery to the possibility of its spread by local
option (popular sovereignty); Lincoln viewed the provisions of the act
as immoral. Although he was not an abolitionist and thought slavery
unassailably protected by the Constitution in states where it already
existed, Lincoln also thought that America's founders had put slavery
on the way to "ultimate extinction" by preventing its spread to new
territories. He saw this act, which had been sponsored by Democratic
Senator Stephen A. Douglas, as a new and alarming development.
Lincoln vied for the U.S. Senate in 1855 but eventually threw his
support to Lyman Trumbull. In 1856 he joined the newly formed
Republican Party, and two years later he campaigned for the Senate
against Douglas. The main reason for this was the Supreme Court
decision in 1857  in the case of Scott v. Sanford, declaring African
Americans were not citizens and had no inherent rights. Though Abraham
Lincoln felt African Americans were not equal to whites, he believed
the America’s founders intended that all men were created with certain
inalienable rights. Lincoln decided to challenge sitting U.S. Senator
Stephen Douglas for his seat. In his nomination acceptance speech In
his speech at Springfield in acceptance of the Republican senatorial
nomination (June 16, 1858) Lincoln suggested that Douglas, Chief
Justice Roger B. Taney, and Democratic presidents Franklin Pierce and
James Buchanan had conspired to nationalize slavery. In the same
speech he expressed the view that the nation would become either all
slave or all free: "A house divided against itself cannot stand."

The underdog in the senatorial campaign, Lincoln wished to share
Douglas's fame by appearing with him in debates. Douglas agreed to
seven debates: in Ottawa, Freeport, Jonesboro, Charleston, Galesburg,
Quincy, and Alton, Ill. Lincoln knew that Douglas--now fighting the
Democratic Buchanan administration over the constitution to be adopted
by Kansas--had alienated his Southern support; and he feared Douglas's
new appeal to eastern Republicans now that Douglas was battling the
South. Lincoln's strategy, therefore, was to stress the gulf of
principle that separated Republican opposition to slavery as a moral
wrong from the moral indifference of the Democrats, embodied in
legislation allowing popular sovereignty to decide the fate of each
territory. Douglas, Lincoln insisted, did not care whether slavery was
"voted up or voted down." By his vigorous showing against the famous
Douglas, Lincoln won the debates and his first considerable national
fame catapulting him into national politics.  He did not win the
Senate seat, however; the Illinois legislature, dominated by
Democratic holdovers in the upper house, elected Douglas.

n 1860, political operatives in Illinois organized a campaign to
support Lincoln for the presidency. On May 18th at the Republican
National Convention in Chicago, Abraham Lincoln surpassed better known
candidates such as William Seward of New York and Salmon P. Chase of
Ohio. Lincoln’s nomination was due in part to his moderate views on
slavery, his support for improving the national infrastructure, and
the protective tariff. In the general election, Lincoln faced his
friend and rival, Stephan Douglas, this time besting him in a four-way
race that included John C. Breckinridge of the Northern Democrats and
John Bell of the Constitution Party.  Lincoln received not quite 40
percent of the popular vote, but carried 180 of 303 Electoral votes.

Abraham Lincoln selected a strong cabinet composed of many of his
political rivals, including William Seward, Salmon P. Chase, Edward
Bates and Edwin Stanton. Formed out the adage “Hold your friends close
and your enemies closer”, Lincoln’s Cabinet became one of his
strongest assets in his first term in office… and he would need them.
Before his inauguration in March, 1861, seven Southern states had
seceded from the Union and by April the U.S. military installation
Fort Sumter, was under siege in Charleston Harbor, South Carolina. In
the early morning hours of April 12, 1861, the guns stationed to
protect the harbor blazed toward the fort signaling the start of
America’s costliest and most deadly conflict.

Civil War

By the time of Lincoln's inauguration in March 1861, seven states had
seceded from the Union.Lincoln warned the South in his Inaugural
Address: "In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow countrymen, and not in
mine, is the momentous issue of civil war. The government will not
assail you.... You have no oath registered in Heaven to destroy the
government, while I shall have the most solemn one to preserve,
protect and defend it."

His conciliatory inaugural address had no effect on the South, and,
against the advice of a majority of his cabinet, Lincoln decided to
send provisions to Fort Sumter in Charleston harbor. The fort was a
symbol of federal authority--conspicuous in the state that had led
secession, South Carolina--and it would soon have had to be evacuated
for lack of supplies. On Apr. 12, 1861, South Carolina fired on the
fort, and the Civil War began.

Lincoln thought secession illegal, and was willing to use force to
defend Federal law and the Union. When Confederate batteries fired on
Fort Sumter and forced its surrender.. Four more slave states joined
the Confederacy but four remained within the Union. The Civil War had

Abraham Lincoln responded to the crisis wielding powers as no other
present before him. He distributed $2,000,000 from the Treasury for
war materiel without an appropriation from Congress; he called for
75,000 volunteers into military service without a declaration of war;
and he suspended the writ of habeas corpus, arresting and imprisoning
suspected Confederate sympathizers without a warrant. Crushing the
rebellion would be difficult under any circumstances, but the Civil
War, with its preceding decades of white-hot partisan politics, was
especially onerous. From all directions, Lincoln faced disparagement
and defiance. He was often at odds with his generals, his Cabinet, his
party, and a majority of the American people.

Democrats accused Lincoln of being a tyrant because he proscribed
civil liberties. For example, he suspended the writ of habeas corpus
in some areas as early as Apr. 27, 1861, and throughout the nation on
Sept. 24, 1862, and the administration made over 13,000 arbitrary
arrests. On the other hand, Lincoln tolerated virulent criticism from
the press and politicians, often restrained his commanders from
overzealous arrests, and showed no real tendencies toward becoming a
dictator. There was never a hint that Lincoln might postpone the
election of 1864, although he feared in August of that year that he
would surely lose to McClellan. Democrats exaggerated Lincoln's
suppression of civil liberties, in part because wartime prosperity
robbed them of economic issues and in part because Lincoln handled the
slavery issue so skillfully.

The Constitution protected slavery in peace, but in war, Lincoln came
to believe, the commander in chief could abolish slavery as a military
necessity. The preliminary Emancipation Proclamation of Sept. 22,
1862, bore this military justification, as did all of Lincoln's racial
measures, including especially his decision in the final proclamation
of Jan. 1, 1863, to accept blacks in the army. By 1864, Democrats and
Republicans differed clearly in their platforms on the race issue:
Lincoln's endorsed the 13th  Amendment to the Constitution abolishing
slavery, whereas McClellan's pledged to return to the South the rights
it had had in 1860.

The Union Army’s first year and a half of battlefield defeats made it
especially difficult to keep morale up and support strong for a
reunification the nation. With the hopeful, but by no means conclusive
Union victory at Antietam on September 22, 1862, Abraham felt
confident enough to reshape the cause of the war from “union” to
abolishing slavery. Gradually, the war effort improved for the North,
though more by attrition then by brilliant military victories. But by
1864, the Confederacy had hunkered down to a guerilla war and Lincoln
was convinced he’d be a one-term president. His nemesis, George B.
McClellan, the former commander of the Army of the Potomac, challenged
him for the presidency, but the contest wasn’t even close. Lincoln
received 55 percent of the popular vote and 212 of 243 Electoral
votes. On March 28, 1865, General Robert E. Lee, commander of the Army
of Virginia, surrendered his forces to Union General Ulysses S. Grant
and the war for all intents and purposes was over.

Lincoln won re-election in 1864, as Union military triumphs heralded
an end to the war. In his planning for peace, the President was
flexible and generous, encouraging Southerners to lay down their arms
and join speedily in reunion.

The spirit that guided him was clearly that of his Second Inaugural
Address, now inscribed on one wall of the Lincoln Memorial in
Washington, D. C.: "With malice toward none; with charity for all;
with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us
strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's
wounds.... "

Lincoln's victory in that election thus changed the racial future of
the United States..Reconstruction began during the war as early as
1863 in areas firmly under Union military control. Abraham Lincoln
favoured a policy of quick reunification with a minimum of
retribution. But he was confronted by a radical group of Republicans
in the Senate and House that wanted complete allegiance and repentance
from former Confederates. Before a political battle had a chance to
firmly develop, Lincoln was assassinated on Good Friday  April 14,
1865, by well-known actor and Confederate sympathizer John Wilkes
Booth at Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C. Lincoln was taken from the
theater to a Petersen House across the street and laid in a coma for
nine hours before dying the next morning. His body lay in state at the
Capitol before a funeral train took him back to his final resting
place in Springfield, Illinois.

A tearful nation paid homage and the poet Walt Whitman wrote his
beautiful poem 'O CAPTAIN, MY CAPTAIN'  which is a fitting elegy for
this great American patriot.

O CAPTAIN! my Captain! our fearful trip is done;
The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won;
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring:
   But O heart! heart! heart!
     O the bleeding drops of red,
       Where on the deck my Captain lies,
         Fallen cold and dead.

O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells;
Rise up—for you the flag is flung—for you the bugle trills;
For you bouquets and ribbon’d wreaths—for you the shores a-crowding;
For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;
   Here Captain! dear father!
     This arm beneath your head;
       It is some dream that on the deck,
         You’ve fallen cold and dead.

My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still;
My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will;
The ship is anchor’d safe and sound, its voyage closed and done;
From fearful trip, the victor ship, comes in with object won;
   Exult, O shores, and ring, O bells!
     But I, with mournful tread,
       Walk the deck my Captain lies,
         Fallen cold and dead.

No comments: