As I mentioned in my last post, the Government Printing Office celebrated its 150th birthday last Friday. Around here, we like to say that there were really two inaugurations on March 4, 1861 – President Lincoln’s and ours. Lincoln is also, as far as we know, the only sitting President ever to have visited GPO. Coincidentally, given these connections, a new book from the National Park Service (NPS) just hit my desk: Abraham Lincoln’s Journey to Greatness. Our 16th President is also special to the NPS. According to the introductory copy, it manages five National Park sites solely dedicated to Lincoln, four more with strong Lincoln connections, like Mount Rushmore, and a total of 47 “that include Lincoln and the Civil war stories as primary interpretive themes.” If you add in sites that deal in some way with slavery and Civil Rights stories, the total jumps to 75 – almost a quarter of all NPS sites!
I must say, though, that I wasn’t sure what to expect when I opened this handsome little volume. After all, hasn’t every Lincoln angle been covered by now? I should have paid more attention to the title. After a brief account of the Lincoln-Douglas debates and the election of 1860, the bulk of the book is an account of President-elect Lincoln’s train trip from Springfield, Illinois to Washington, DC – a literal “journey to greatness.”
In addition to brief descriptions of his welcomes to various cities along the way, the book includes quotations, such as numerous comments on his determination to preserve the Union and cogent remarks on immigration to the German Industrial Association of Cincinnati, Ohio. It also features classic vignettes from his trip, including his salute to Grace Bedell of Westfield, New York who, in a letter to candidate Lincoln, had suggested he grow a beard (“The President left the car, and the crowd making way for him, he reached her, and gave her several hearty kisses, and amid the yells of delight from the excited crowd, he bade her good-bye.”) My favorite of these, because it’s a reminder of the slyly humorous man sometimes overshadowed by the solemn national icon, is his appearance at the Leaman Place, Pennsylvania: “Loud calls being made for Mrs. Lincoln, Mr. L. brought her out, and said he had concluded to give them ‘the long and short of it!’ This remark – with the disparity between the length of himself and wife – produced a loud burst of laughter, followed by enthusiastic cheers as the train moved off.”
Abraham Lincoln’s Journey to Greatness is a great way to look at Lincoln the man and the statesman as he began what still remains the most trying period in the history of the Republic. When I finished it, I was ready to rally round the flag! You can find a copy of this new book here or find it in a library.