Wednesday, May 12, 2021

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Watchman on the Wall: The rail splitter

Loraine Joy | Community Columnist

Books are powerful! They forge the minds of youth; they inspire dreams. In this day of the Avengers, people are looking for heroes. They read comic books and go to movies. I look to the past to find the real heroes. Ordinary men and women who have done extraordinary things.

As a 10 year old, lying on my stomach in front of the fireplace, reading stories, I was impressed with the “Rail Splitter,” Abraham Lincoln, Honest Abe, the sixteenth President of the United States. A voracious reader, he had borrowed a book from a neighbor, promising to return it at a certain time. He walked all night to return it on time. Another borrowed book was damaged by rain. When he returned that book, he offered to pay the farmer. Having no money, he would work off the damage. The farmer determined the book was worth 75 cents, and Lincoln could work for 25 cents a day. Lincoln worked three full days to pay his debt, and the beloved book became his.

Lincoln, 6’4’, lanky, not terribly good looking, became famous as one of the greatest lawyers of the United States. His honesty in the courtroom was so famous he was nicknamed “Honest Abe.” Raised by a devout Christian mother, he devoured Pilgrim’s Progress and the Bible, committing large portions to memory. And he was hated! Scorned! Ridiculed! Why? He became President! He wanted to change things. He wanted to right wrongs.  In 1861 there were multiple political parties, and Lincoln only garnered 39.8% of the popular vote. Reactions were so negative, they had to smuggle him into the White House with a disguise. They ridiculed his education, his looks. The Gettysburg Address was scorned. Chicago Times reported, “The cheek of every American must tingle with shame as he reads the silly flat dishwatery utterances of a man who has to be pointed out to intelligent foreigners as the President of the United States.”  Faced with Civil War, the American public was on edge, so they blamed Lincoln for everything that was going wrong.

The deluge of criticism had taken its toll. Lincoln himself said, “I would rather be dead than, as President thus abused in the house of my friends.” Accused of prejudice, of pursuing personal ambition, of being a dictator, Lincoln’s response was, “Do good to those who hate you and turn their ill will to friendship.”  His friend Leonard Swett recalled, “He never judged men by his like, or dislike for them. If any given act was to be performed, he could understand that his enemy could do it just as well as any one. If a man had maligned him, or been guilty of personal ill-treatment and abuse, and was the fittest man for the place, he (Lincoln) would put him in his Cabinet just as soon as he would his friend.”

The Emancipation Proclamation freed slaves. Let God be the Judge of the Rail Splitter.

— Loraine Joy is a small business owner and Arbuckle resident. Contact Loraine at musicandmore@mac.com.

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