What Makes A Hero?

Hero:  A person who is admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities.

My heroes are people who did the right thing even when it was the difficult path.  It takes a lot of courage to stand up for what is honorable and just in the face of people who are telling you that you are wrong.  On our return trip from my book signing in Indiana two weeks ago, we stopped in Springfield, Illinois to pay homage to one of my heroes.

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Abraham Lincoln was my first hero.  He was born in Hodgenville, Kentucky but moved to Indiana when he was 7 years-old and lived there and worked on the family farm until he was 21.  He then moved to Illinois where he lived and worked as a lawyer and a member of the Illinois House of Representatives and the United States House of Representatives before he became President of the United States.

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In Indiana where I grew up, Abraham Lincoln’s birthday on February 12th was a state holiday and we learned about him every year in school.  I admired many things about Abraham Lincoln.  He was a farm boy with very little education (estimates are that he had 12 months or less of formal schooling) but he loved to read and he read everything he could get his hands on.

He started with the Bible and Shakespeare and read incessantly his entire life.  This incredible self-education gave him an intellectual depth and power that was later revealed in his writings and speeches and in his decisions as president to take the moral high ground and do what was right even if it was unpopular.  That’s my idea of a hero!

Abraham Lincoln

When I was a teenager, I memorized Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address because I was so moved by the words of our 16th president.  It was delivered on November 19, 1863 in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania at the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery.  Here is what he said that day:

“Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, upon this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that “all men are created equal.”

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of it, as a final resting place for those who died here, that the nation might live. This we may, in all propriety do. But in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow, this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have hallowed it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here; while it can never forget what they did here.

It is rather for us the living, we here be dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.”

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President Lincoln hated slavery and tried to hold our country together while seeking to change it, during the divisiveness of the Civil War between the states.  He issued the Emancipation Proclamation in January of 1863 which was a statement of policy against slavery, and then he threw the power of his presidency behind the 13th Amendment two years later.  This amendment abolished all slavery in the United States and was passed by Congress in January of 1865.

Emancipation Proclamation

As we get ready to celebrate our country’s 239th year of freedom and independence from England’s rule, here are the words of the 13th Amendment which made freedom for all people the law of our land:

“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

In Springfield, Illinois we saw the home on the corner of Eighth and Jackson Streets where Lincoln and his family lived until they moved to Washington.  Three of his four sons were born there and one, Edward Baker Lincoln, died while they lived there.

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President Lincoln died on April 15, 1865, just five days after the end of the Civil War.  It’s been 150 years since his death.  We visited Lincoln’s tomb in Oak Ridge Cemetery in Springfield, Illinois.  It is the second most visited cemetery in our country after Arlington National Cemetery in Washington D. C.

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Lincoln’s tomb sits alone on a hill in the center presiding over the entire cemetery.  It is the final resting place for President Lincoln, his wife, Mary, and three of their four sons.  (Lincoln’s oldest son, Robert is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.)  Lincoln’s tomb was designated one of the first National Historic Landmarks in 1960 and thousands of people visit each year.

Photo by Jeff Hull, Corinth, Texas

The monument above Lincoln’s tomb has a statue of him holding a copy of the Emancipation Proclamation.  In front of his tomb is a large bronze bust of Lincoln and it is a tradition for visitors to rub his nose for good luck.

Photo by Jeff Hull, Corinth, Texas

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There are actually two Lincoln tombs in Oak Ridge Cemetery.  The temporary receiving vault is down the hill from his final tomb and it was where his body was kept while the permanent tomb was designed and built.  The original mausoleum is open for viewing and many visitors have shown their admiration and appreciation by leaving Lincoln pennies on the floor in front of the spot where Lincoln’s body rested temporarily.  We too, left a penny when we visited.

Photo by Jeff Hull, Corinth, Texas

Here are some of my favorite Lincoln quotes:

“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”

“Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.”

“America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.”

“You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today.”

“Most folks are as happy as they make up their minds to be.”

“In the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.”

“Be sure you put your feet in the right place, then stand firm.”

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Author’s note:  There is also a distant connection in my family to the Lincoln family.  If you’ve read my book, you already know about it.  From The Button Box:

“My mother’s family lived in Springfield, Illinois for many years.  There was an old family story that a great aunt had worked as a seamstress for Mrs. Lincoln before Mr. Lincoln became president of the United States.  The button box, along with some very old, yellowed, handmade lace, had belonged to this aunt. Later, they were passed down through the family to my mother.

As we looked through the button box, my mother and I would touch the older buttons and wonder if some of them might have come from the dresses of Mrs. Lincoln.  One time, we even found a picture book about the Lincoln Family at the library, and spent hours with a magnifying glass and the button box looking to see if any of the buttons on her clothing matched those in our possession. We found one button that did, and that one was forever after called the “Lincoln Button.”

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“Heroes are made by the paths they choose, not the powers they are graced with.” ― Brodi Ashton



2 thoughts on “What Makes A Hero?”

  1. Mary Todd Lincoln was a very interesting lady. I’ll bet your relative could tell some stories. Check her out, I think Bill O’Reilly wrote about her. I always thought she was prim and proper and of course very subservient. Evidentially that’s not the case.

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