Lincoln’s Life & Times: Reflections on His Birthday

Abraham LincolnOn the anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, it is interesting to look back at the man and at his use of language. As a historian and antique collector, I always find the study of history fascinating. Certainly, Steven Spielberg’s recent movie Lincoln has brought the man and his presidency into the spotlight at the moment. Many more people now know about his personality and his achievement.

What is less known, however, is some of the language that Lincoln used and the patterns of such language. Lincoln used the phrase, “In our hands” in various ways quite a few times, and the Shapell Manuscript Foundation has a number of their pieces that show this pattern.

In a letter that he wrote in Springfield on October 12, 1860 to William H. Seward, Lincoln wrote that it looks “as if the government is about to fall into our hands. Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana have surpassed all expectation, even the most extravagant.”

Later, in April of 1865, Lincoln went to the front to wait for Richmond to fall. The Secretary of War thought that Lincoln was putting himself in danger. Edwin M. Stanton wrote that Lincoln shouldn’t “expose the nation to the consequences of any disaster.” In reply, in a letter on display with the Shapell Manuscript Foundation, Lincoln wrote “Yours received. Thanks for your caution; but I have already been to Petersburg, staid with Gen. Grant an hour & a half and returned here. It is certain now that Richmond is in our hands, and I think I will go there to-morrow. I will take care of myself.” He wrote this on April 3, 1865 to the Secretary of War, Mr. Stanton, in Washington DC.

It is certainly interesting to see Lincoln’s repeated use of the phrase “In our hands” as we reflect on all that Lincoln did for the country on the anniversary of his birth.

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