FEBRUARY 14, 1947
NEW YORK, Thursday—As Abraham Lincoln, whose birthday was celebrated this week, has always seemed to me the epitome of our ideal of democracy, I want to pay a tribute to his memory. It is a curious thing that so many of our great men who lived in periods of crisis were often subjected to vitriolic attacks during their lives and even after their deaths. Usually, however, they had a loyal and devoted following among the majority of the people, and this following gained as the years went by. Today it would be hard to find anyone who would write some of the things which were written to or about George Washington by contemporaries or near contemporaries—or about Thomas Jefferson or Abraham Lincoln.
It is fortunate that there is nearly always this majority of the people who recognize the true worth of a great leader in spite of the groups or individuals who may attack him.
There is a painting of Lincoln over the mantelpiece in the state dining room in the White House which, I have always thought, gives extraordinary insight into his character. It was painted by George P. A. Healy, who painted portraits of many of the 19th century leaders both here and abroad. To me, his portrait of Lincoln is one of his greatest successes, because it brings out Lincoln's gentleness and humor, the strength of the man in repose. It does not emphasize his awkwardness nor the characteristics which made it easy for the cartoonists of his day to make cruel fun of this great man.
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In the lives of our great men, we can see the development of the ideals for which we have striven in this country of ours. The ability of each man to go forward depended on what had been done by his predecessors. And in years to come, I think we will see that the era through which we have recently lived is one which has contributed to the growth of the United States and to its capacity for leadership in a democratic world.
Since the war, we have suffered the usual reaction. We see this exemplified today in the attacks on a man like David Lilienthal. But I believe he will win out, because no one could live by the credo he recently enunciated and not serve his country well.
The appearance of such an organization, for instance, as the Columbians in Georgia is a sign of the slump which comes when people are weary after a war. But this will not last. Sooner or later, the people of this country will realize that they have an obligation to carry the torch of democracy, not only on their own behalf but on behalf of the world. Is our way of life and our form of government worth preserving? Then we must work for its constant improvement, and must prove its worth by its services to the world.