return to A Short Bio

OCRed from a manuscript from Edward Thelen (my father) written before his death in 1954.

We Need a Lincoln

Recent published articles charge that we are forgetting and allowing our children to forget our early national heroes and their patriotic deeds.

If this is true, then our children are being deprived of the inspriation of those wonderful men who have made this nation possible. Unless we have pride in our nation and in our history and in our heroes, we can the easier become prey to foreign-isms and propaganda. Our children should particularly be well acquainted with Abraham Lincoln, our 16th President, and be subject to his inspiration.

Since my assignment to speak to you, I asked several recent high school graduates as to their knowledge of this great man. It may be that they were modest, but they seemed to have less knowledge than I had at their age, of Lincoln. I am wondering how much information do you and I, the average people of our community, have of this great man, so that we can really appreciate his greatness. Through the fleeting years, it is possible that we have forgotten things we :should know about him, except perhaps his Gettysburg address, which many of us had to memorize when we were in grade school. At that early age, we could not appreciate that it was, and is, a masterpiece, and we certainly could not appreciate all it's full wonderful meaning.

At various times in the past, I have been impelled to read biographies of Lincoln. I find them fascinating reading and decidedly worth while. I am beginning to realize, from a study of our history and our Constitution, what a wonderful nation we have, and the terrific sacrifice entailed by the brave men, in it's formation. I suggest that type of reading to all of you and I assure you that it will make us all better citizens.

May I refresh your memory of Lincoln's early life, in giving you a very brief summary?

He was born in Kentucky in 1809 in a pioneer environment. His people were very poor. He had little formal schooling. In his late teens he made two trips by flat boat to New Orleans, where he was shocked by the institution of slavery. He was reading everything available and studying. He could have easily succumbed to the crudeness of his environment, but he seemed to have a vision for himself and carried on with his ideals. He tried running a store, but failed in his effort. It took him some fifteen years to pay off his debts. The people respected him for his honesty, his kindness and were amused with his story telling. As a man he was six feet four inches tall, tremendously strong, but very gawky and homely, with a look of sadness in his eyes. In his middle twenties, he was elected to the Legislature of his State, where he served three terms, for six years.

He served one term of two years in Congress. When he was twenty-eight, he became a practicing attorney and was moderately successful in that field. He saw slavery as a threat to Democracy. A became famous as a speaker against the spread of slavery and engaged in debate with Stephen Douglas, and in 1856. he threw his support to the new Republican party. In 1860 he made a lecture tour in the East, where his talks against slavery gained much attention and respect. In that year, at the age of fifty-one, he was elected President on the Republican ticket.

It was as President, that he proved his greatness. It was then that he was faced with the problems of a country torn by secession and the problem of slavery. Shortly after his Inauguration, the South seceded to form the Confederacy. Fort Sumter was fired upon. Lincoln determined to keep the Union intact. He called for volunteers, who responded with "we are coming father Abraham", but the nation was not prepared for war. There was constant bickering and little cohesion. His armies, due to poor inept leadership, were defeated in four major campaigns, before the tide turned. Meanwhile, he was being derided as no President was derided, but his sincerity and honesty were never doubted. By his tact and his knowledge of people, he was able to save some border States from seceding to the South. There was the danger of English intervention to add to his troubles. Then he showed his statesmanship by issuing his proclamation emancipating the slaves. The war itself, was terrible in toll of life and suffering. These were but a few of the problems facing Lincoln at that time, He suffered particularly because of the loss of life, and the decisions he had to make regarding the war and regarding the state of the Nation were enough to break any man, but through it all, he retained a noble humility and showed infinite love for his fellow man.

The tide turned in June of 1863, when southern forces were defeated at Gettysburg. Soon there was the news of the surrender of the southern forces at Vicksburg to Grant. In November of 1863, Lincoln was called upon to make the dedication of the cemetery at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. There were many dignitaries at the dedication. A very polished man by the name of Edward Everett, made the main speech. He talked for an hour and fifty-seven minutes. Then Lincoln was called upon for dedicatory remarks. His address took three and one-half minutes. At the time it did not receive much attention, but has since become for the masterpiece which it is. I will refer to this speech later.

The question arises, "what does this great man mean to us as of today, ninety-one years since he was martyred?" The answer is, that we still need his example and his inspiration, his calm judgment and his great heart, The noble thoughts and the warning expressed in his famous Gettysburg address have living meaning today as they did in 1863. Let us consider our national picture of today in the light of what Lincoln said in that address.

He spoke of our nation being "conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal." We are still that nation so conceived and so dedicated but we are forgetting and allowing our children to forget the stress and turmoil in the forming of that nation and it's Constitution. We are forgetting that men fought and died for the liberty and the freedom which we are now enjoying and taking for granted. We are forgetting the words of Patrick Henry and the intensity of his feeling when he said, "Give me liberty or give me death." That nation so conceived and so dedicated is the first of it's kind in history and is still the example and the beacon light of all liberty loving people. Let us not forget nor lose pride in it's noble history.

In Lincoln's time, the nation was in danger and in grave peril. This he expressed in his address in the following words, "Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure."

Do we realize that in our generation our nation has been involved in two world wars and the Korean war, in each one of which we fought against oppressors and in all of which, had those oppressors won, this nation would have been imperilled? Because these wars were fought on foreign soil, we may not have realized our danger to the full and we may have been less appreciative of the sacrifices of our soldiers. When we truly realize the situation we know we fought those wars in the cause of freedom. The Civil war, terrible as it was, did not end the strife between individual rights of man on one side and despotism on the other. That war is unending. The world picture of today is shocking us to the fact we are still in such a war, "testing whether our nation can long endure." It may become a more terrible war than any previous one. We now call it a "cold war", a war of lying "propaganda", a "war of ideas", a "war of brutal brain washing". It could develop into a 'world suicidal atomic war." Our enemy is Communism which now has a large part of the world in it's evil power and seeks to engulf the whole world in it's slavery.

Lincoln spoke of our Government as a "government of the people, by the people and for the people." How beautifully does he tell us that we, the people are the Government. How beautifully does he remind us that we as individuals must realize a personal responsibility to keep alert against the dangers to our form of Government, dangers of apathy, greed, ignorance and forgetfulness, No other type of Government gives it's citizens so much but for it's existence has to demand so much.

As citizens we cannot be apathetic toward maintaining our government and our liberty. Like the "boys in blue" and the "boys who died since", we must be prepared to give our lives, if necessary, to maintain that nation, as did our heroic fathers. We must keep Faith with our honored dead.

Truly now as never before, Lincoln's words have living meaning.

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