March 2009

One way ticket.

It was a cold, drizzly February morning in Springfield. The rain made a rhythmic, high speed tapping sound against the silk umbrellas of the 15 or so close friends and family who came to bid their farewells.

This was a bittersweet parting. One of dreams, duty, and a journey to the unknown.

A tall, lithe, but somewhat gawky gentleman reached for his bags and nodded gently to his wife that it was time.


The chimney funnel locomotive was getting closer, signaling its arrival, until finally, with a screech of the breaks and several huffs, the engine settled to a halt, like a tired but loyal dog melting into the floor for a long nap.

“All aboard!” the conductor called out. It was 8:00 am on February 11, 1861, and President Elect Abraham Lincoln stepped up to board the train that would take him to Washington, where he would begin his term as the 16th President of the Unites States.


As he boarded the train, he paused and turned to his entourage of friends and family. He reflected on his parting speech, given just moments ago, when he said, “I now leave, not knowing when, or whether ever, I may return, with a task before me greater than that which rested upon Washington.” Somehow, I think he suspected what we know is how this story ends in the Ford Theater 4 years and 2 months later.

Even his mother, was later documented as having said, “I knowed when he went away, he wasn’t coming back alive.”


The train ride to Washington was scheduled to stop in 5 states, and include 20 speeches, communicating his message of commitment to the future of this country, and in hopes of uniting a country just divided.


With rumors of assassination threats, and the known fact that he only received 40% of the popular vote to elect him to office, this was an unpopular president facing a grim future. Within weeks of his election, 7 states secede from the union, and 5 more followed soon thereafter.


My intent of this story is to ask you to consider Lincoln’s position and ask yourself if you could do what he did. If you saw the opportunity to pursue a dream and fulfill your principled beliefs for the greater good of your country, even if it meant that most people were not supportive of you, and some even wanted to see you dead for it, would you pursue that dream? If the future of that path were a deep mystery, would you get on that proverbial train and try to make your dream real?


While considering this question myself, I learned some interesting things about Lincoln.




As you may know, his life carried much adversity to his doorstep.

·        Two of his siblings died at early ages.

·        He lost several attempts to run for office in Illinois before winning a seat on the General Assembly.

·        The store he purchased failed and he was left with a very large debt to pay. Two of his sons died at early ages.

·        He suffered from clinical depression, as did his wife after the loss of their second son.

·        While in office in Illinois, he was even challenged to a duel after offending a state auditor. — I knew there was a reason to not want to be audited.


Lincoln’s strong beliefs about humanity, life and morals were influenced at an early age.

When he was 7, he shot a wild turkey and felt so bad about it that he never hunted again.

In 1841, while travelling for business as an attorney, he saw 12 slaves chained together, which influenced his beliefs against slavery.


In spite of his strong beliefs on slavery, my iconic hero-ization of Lincoln was tarnished slightly when I read his surprising and shocking views conveyed in the Lincoln Douglas debates while campaigning for the presidency.

Lincoln Douglas debates August 21, 1858 – on the subject of slavery: “If all earthly power were given me, I should not know what to do, as to the existing institution (of slavery). My first impulse would be to free all the slaves, and send them to Liberia,—to their own native land.” “We cannot, then, make them equals.” My reaction to these quotes was to ask if Lincoln was a racist. And then I wondered about our iconization of heroes. Do we expect too much of those whom we make out to be heroes or place on that perfect, mythologized pedestal? Is it enough that his stepping on that train was the beginning of a fight that eventually took a giant step towards the very equality that idyllically represents the United States’ values that strive towards the belief that all men and women ARE equal as citizens and humans?


620,000 Americans in the Union or Confederacy died in the 4 year Civil War, making it the bloodiest, deadliest war in our country’s history. Abraham Lincoln surely did not anticipate that outcome when he became president.


So I ask again. Would you get on that train in the name of your beliefs and sense of duty to your country?


A quote from Jonathan Livingston Seagull, by Richard Bach, comes to mind that I believe might convey the feelings of Abraham Lincoln and those of a person with deep conviction to pursue their vision. It reads, “When you come to the edge of all the light you have known, and are about to step out into darkness, Faith is knowing one of two things will happen; There will be something to stand on, or you will be taught to fly.”

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