Memorial Day 2013

When I looked down at stamps I purchased from the post office last year, I realized these four stamps succinctly summarized the American experience: Freedom, Liberty, Equality and Justice Forever.

USPS StampsLiving in America is one of the greatest privileges in the world on this Memorial Day like the others that have come before, we must recognize the price of a freedom comes at a high cost. Memorial Day is a federal holiday which falls on the last Monday of each May, origins of the holiday stem from the American Civil War to commemorate the Union and Confederate soldiers who lost their lives during the war. Into the 20th century Memorial Day has been used to honor all Americans who have died while serving our country.

While diplomacy should always be the first course of action, sometime there is no alternative to warfare. In the Afghanistan War 2,226 US soldiers have been killed defending our country from a fundamentalist regime. We are lucky that we are isolated from much of the world’s problems: unrest in the middle-east, brutal dictators in Africa committing genocide, and totalitarian regimes.

It is not our politicians that provide this isolation but it’s our troops that allow us to live the way we do. This is why it is unfortunate that many of soldiers are not getting the help and support they need to re-enter civilian society. According to a study released by the Department of Veterans Affairs which examined suicides from 1999 to 2010 there were 22 deaths a day on average. Posttraumatic stress disorder also affects many veterans who persistently re-experience the traumatic events they encountered on the battle field, overwhelming their ability to cope.  Many veterans have been waiting to get government benefits in the form of compensation, medical benefits, and job assistance. It’s unacceptable our veterans have to wait so long to get help, thankfully veterans and military charities have stepped in to help where they can, but there is still more to be done.

A. Lincoln

“I now leave, not knowing when or whether ever, I may return with a task before me greater than that which rested upon Washington.”

– A. Lincoln, Farewell address at Springfield, Illinois, February 11, 1861.

Last year I saw the movie “Lincoln”, which covered the closing months of the Civil War and the push by Lincoln to pass the 13th amendment. After I saw the movie I read a biography on Lincoln by Ronald C. White, “A. Lincoln”, and I plan on reading “Team of Rivals” by Doris Kearns Goodwin. Having lived in the great state of Illinois for almost 5 years, I passed car tag after tag with the phrase, “Land of Lincoln”, so I think learning more about our 16th president was in order. On Wikipedia, Lincoln’s profession is listed as a lawyer, he was so much more than just a lawyer in fact Lincoln had several careers, storekeeper, postmaster, surveyor, congressman, inventor, self-taught lawyer, and of course twice elected president. Born in Kentucky to a frontier family that later moved to Indiana, and then finally to Illinois, Lincoln was no stranger to living in different places.

In the late 1840s and 1850s, Lincoln road the Illinois circuit as a lawyer by horseback, as many towns in Illinois were too small to support full-time legal officials. Later horseback travel would be replaced by the railroad that allowed Lincoln and Stephen Douglas to transverse the state of Illinois debating each other which is now known as the famous Lincoln-Douglas debates. Without the railroad Lincoln and Douglas would not have been able to debate each other at far ends of the state. Lincoln ended up traveling over 3,400 miles by train, 600 miles by carriage, and 350 miles by boat, during the debates.

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Lincoln beat the favorite for the 1860 republican nomination for president, William H. Seward, who was previously the governor of New York and was currently serving as a Senator from New York. The well-traveled and well educated Seward was also anti-slavery was so convinced he would win the nomination he left the United States for a eight-month tour of Europe. This was not unusual presidential candidates did not actively campaign at the time, instead the campaigning was done by surrogates and supporters across the United States. This would be unimaginable today; this would manifest itself in John McCain and Barack Obama staying home while the campaign was underway, there were no debates between the candidates either. It seems a big driving factor behind this was that is was not physically possible to visit all the states in the union in a timely manner.

During his presidency Lincoln utilized the newspaper to spread his speeches and policy, newspapers at the time associated themselves politically with one of the major political parties. It should be pointed out that Lincoln put so much effort in writing his speeches, he prepared for weeks often researching topics, examining facts and looking for inspiration from famous speeches and texts.

A few things that interest me about Lincoln was how he approached problems, whenever Lincoln faced a problem he would write his thoughts down on paper, and jotted down the upside and downside to the topic at hand. Lincoln valued logic and approached things very analytically. When choosing his cabinet, Lincoln did not shy away from people he disagreed with, in fact Lincoln appointed three members of his cabinet that had previous ran against him for the 1860 republican presidential nomination. He also appointed a southern democrat which at the time supported slavery. While Lincoln knew he was president, when he wrote out his choices for his first cabinet, he wrote his name within the list, not above the list. We will never know the true reason Lincoln did this, but we can speculate. However one thing we don’t have to speculate about is that Lincoln and his cabinet members were willing to do what was in the best interest of the country, put aside their differences and worked together to save the country.

Lincoln       Stanton
Seward       Chase
Bates          M.Blair
Dayton       Welles

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Lincoln remains the only president to hold a US patent, creating a device that was intended to help boats navigate shallow water. (http://www.google.com/patents/US6469)

LincolnPatent

Lincoln never one to back away from a challenge and issued the emancipation proclamation which freed slaves in confederate states, Lincoln also signed the confiscation acts of 1861 and 1862 which allowed the seizure of confederate property for the war effort, and allowed African-Americans to participate in the war as soldiers.

The one the thing that frustrated Lincoln the most during the civil war was his generals they always either fought too cautiously or complained incessantly to the President until he found Ulysses S. Grant, who was neither. Lincoln realized that he had to try and get the 13th amendment through congress before the end of the war or justification for the amendment might go away. Unfortunately Lincoln would die shortly after the civil war was won, and before the 13th amendment would be ratified.

One of the reasons why Lincoln remains to me perhaps the best president in US president is the personal sacrifices he endured, two of four children would die while he was alive. His marriage to Mary Lincoln suffered because of his dedication to keep the Union together. During the Civil War, Lincoln had many sleepless nights and was never truly happy until the Civil War ended (April 9, 1865) and was killed shortly after (April 15, 1865), Lincoln being the last causality of the Civil War.