Thursday, January 29, 2009

A New Birth of Freedom: Abe's Honest Words by Doreen Rappaport and Kadir Nelson

Abraham Lincoln is my name,
And with my pen I wrote the same.
I wrote in both haste and speed,
And left it here for fools to read.

The things I want to know are in books. My best friend is the man who'll git me a book I ain't read

In both of these earliest writings of Abraham Lincoln, his love of reading and writing and his noted sense of humor shine forth. In her timely Abe's Honest Words: The Life of Abraham Lincoln Doreen Rappaport, award-winning author of Martin's Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. has put together a compendium of his own words at pivotal moments in his lifetime in a moving tribute to Lincoln, whose two-hundredth birthday is honored this year. Here are Lincoln's own thoughts when, as a very young man, he traveled down the Mississippi to New Orleans and witnessed a slave auction in progress:

"Twelve Negroes, chained six and six, strung together like so many fish on a trotline, being separated forever from their childhood and friends, their fathers and mothers, their brothers and sisters, from their wives and children, into perpetual slavery."

We also hear the consummate drive that Lincoln brought to his own self-education:

"Upon the subject of education, I view it as the most important subject which we as a people can be engaged in."

But Lincoln's time in the White House was mostly taken up with issues of war and the end of slavery. Although the decision to issue the Emancipation Proclamation, with all its implications for the war and peace to follow, came hard, Lincoln's mind was at last firmly fixed:

"I never, in my life, felt more certain that I was doing right than I do in signing this paper. My whole soul is in it.... In giving freedom to the slave, we assure freedom to the free."

And in the second inaugural address came a message to the future nation which has haunted and inspired us to this day:

"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."

Abe's Honest Words: The Life of Abraham Lincoln pairs Lincoln's well-known but still striking words with Kadir Nelson's strong and stunning illustrations which visually echo the President's thoughts perfectly. Of all the many good books for children on Honest Abe, this one stands out artistically and thematically as an extraordinary portrait of our most honored president through his own powerful words.

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  • My favorite Lincoln quotation is, "A man is about as happy as he makes up his mind to be."

    Read that in one of the bios I've read of him. Words to live by.

    By Blogger Hucbald, at 4:47 AM  

  • Apparently Abe's grasp of 'hope' and 'change' was lacking:

    "How many legs does a dog have if you call the tail a leg? Four. Calling a tail a leg doesn't make it a leg."

    By Blogger smitty1e, at 7:50 AM  

  • I am an Abe Lincoln fan and enjoy his wisdom. I'm not a fan of his comments such as this, that are a bit too clever:

    "I never, in my life, felt more certain that I was doing right than I do in signing this paper. My whole soul is in it.... In giving freedom to the slave, we assure freedom to the free."

    If President Lincoln wanted to give complete freedom to the slave, he could have made the Emancipation Proclamation apply to slaves in the border states of the United States not in rebellion, but he chose not to do so at that time. Grand words, but empty

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:24 AM  

  • "In giving freedom to the slave, we assure freedom to the free."

    He didn't say he was giving freedom to all slaves, Anarchus. It was a calculated political move, yes, intended to help the war effort. (Trying to free all the American slaves at once, as the Radical Republicans urged him to do, would have hindered the war effort; as you point out, there were slave states fighting for the Union side.)

    Lincoln said, many times, that his overriding goal was not to free slaves, but to preserve the Union. Nonetheless, he certainly knew that, once some slaves had been freed en masse by the Federal Government, the door was open to freeing them all.

    The good work doesn't have to happen all in one day, or all by the same person. I'm perfectly willing to give FDR credit, at least in part, for winning World War II, even though it ended on Truman's watch; and I give credit to Ronald Reagan for delivering the deathblow to the Soviet Union and ending the Cold War, even though the end came on GHWB's watch. Similarly, Lincoln didn't write the Thirteenth Amendment, but he saw it coming, and was instrumental in making it happen.

    Lincoln was heroic and larger than life in many ways, but he wasn't superhuman, and he was very much a man of his times. Personally, one of my favorite Lincoln quotes is when he looked up at a White House waiter and said mildly, "If this is coffee, please bring me some tea; but if this is tea, please bring me some coffee."

    Daniel in Brookline

    By Blogger Daniel in Brookline, at 10:23 AM  

  • Dear Daniel in Brookline,
    I applaud your comment in toto.

    I especially liked the coffee and tea quotation. It reminds me of his ironic remark about finding out what Grant was drinking and giving it to the other generals.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:09 PM  

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