Lincoln Bicentennial Thoughts
History is composed of a continuous stream of interconnected people and events. The history of the United States has been made by famous figures and by countless unknown persons, each of whom have played their part and contributed to the whole. A powerful connection for us today to these people and events of our past are the places associated with them that remain as tangible links.
As the Lincoln Bicentennial approaches, the National Park Service, as steward of many of these historic places, will have a unique opportunity to share not only the story of this remarkable American but to show how the sites we preserve embody the concept of the interconnectedness of history. Not only do clearly Lincoln related sites (Lincoln Home National Historic Site, Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial, Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Site) have a role in telling the story but so to do seemingly non-Lincoln related sites.
Our desire to honor and remember our past leaders is apparent by looking at other presidential sites (Adams National Historic Site, Harry S. Truman National Historic Site). What these individuals did and how it affected the country often times continue to have ramifications for our lives today. George Washington (George Washington Birthplace National Memorial) assisted with the birth of the nation. Abraham Lincoln managed to see it through its moment of crisis. Theodore Roosevelt (Sagamore Hill National Historic Site) helped it emerge as a world power in the early 20th century. Franklin D. Roosevelt (Franklin D. Roosevelt National Memorial) and Harry S. Truman (Harry S. Truman National Historic Site) led it through the fire of a conflict that engulfed the globe. Each of these men learned from their predecessors; preserving sites associated with them now help us to, in turn, learn from them.
Our need to remember and learn from the national tragedy that was the Civil War, and the defining moment of Abraham Lincoln's life, has led to the preservation of many battlefields and monuments designed to acknowledge the sacrifices that were made in the name of liberty and justice (Gettysburg National Military Park, Antietam National Battlefield).
A number of historic sites within the National Park System recognize the achievements of black Americans (George Washington Carver National Memorial, Frederick Douglass National Historic Site) and the struggle for equality (Little Rock Central High) that has continued since the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation, the ratification of the 13th Amendment, and the abolishment of slavery. Lincoln's role in these key events was significant.
Other sites within the system celebrate technological achievements such as the completion of the transcontinental railroad (Golden Spike National Historic Site) and the first successful airplane flight (Wright Brothers National Memorial). Lincoln was a firm believer in the importance of new discovery and invention stating on one occasion that "Man is not the only animal who labors; but he is the only one who improves his workmanship. This improvement, he effects by Discoveries, and Inventions." Those NPS sites that recognize the accomplishments of ingenious individuals (Edison National Historic Site) and the sweat and toil of hard-working determined groups of people (Lowell National Historical Park, Saugus Iron Works National Historic Site) connect that belief of Abraham Lincoln to the broader spectrum of American history.
As a young boy, thirsting for knowledge, Abraham Lincoln read about the Founding Fathers and the sacrifices of the early patriots whose struggle for independence resulted in the country that he would lead as the 16th President of the United States. As he later stated, "I recollect thinking then, boy even though I was, that there must have been something more than common that those men struggled for." Several sites within the National Park System preserve the battlefields where the struggle took place (Saratoga National Historical Park, Valley Forge National Historical Park) and the places associated with the leaders of the struggle (Boston National Historic Park, Charles Pinckney National Historic Site).
Not only was Lincoln impressed with the struggle of the patriots, but with the ideals for which they were fighting. The notions of liberty and equality embodied in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were to be the touchstones of his political career. "I have never had a feeling politically that did not spring from the sentiments embodied in the Declaration of Independence." Sites such as Independence National Historical Park and Brown V. Board of Education National Historic Site, commemorate the expression of these ideals that Lincoln believed in so strongly.
Each of these sites, and many others, can be connected to the life of Abraham Lincoln in some way. But, even more than that, they serve as connections to ideals, beliefs, and experiences that, collectively, make up our national history and heritage. They are our links to Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, the struggle for civil rights, the inventions, discoveries and accomplishments of the past, and to the ideas and values that make us Americans. Through them we are connected to the past and to each other.
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