On this day, the 200th birthday of Abraham Lincoln, many comments will be made about President Lincoln’s greatness. Of all the deeds attributed to him, however, the most enduring is simply this: Abraham Lincoln saved the United States.
Although there are four faces on Mount Rushmore, perhaps only George Washington has such a legacy and such mythical status as Abraham Lincoln. On and around the Washington Mall, there are tributes to many presidents and heroes, but Lincoln and Washington are commemorated here in the highest order with President Washington’s monument at the pinnacle of America’s most famous public green, while President Lincoln’s memorial anchors the mall’s western-most point, providing the foreground for the dramatic sunset over the Potomac.
The word iconic has become a platitude in our language, so much so, that lesser figures of celebrity and notoriety have been called icons and the abuse of the word has deflated its meaning. However, Abraham Lincoln is truly an American icon. He is on our penny and our five-dollar bill. Cities are named after Lincoln as is the most famous bedroom in the home of American presidents. Universities are named after him and the notion of a log cabin upbringing immediately brings to mind the humble beginnings of our sixteenth president. Without Abraham Lincoln, Lincoln Logs would just be sticks. Oh, and he saved the United States. Happy 200th birthday, President Lincoln.
Lincoln Symposium, Monday, February 16
To help celebrate Lincoln's birthday, the National Portrait Gallery is hosting a scholarly symposium this Monday, February 16. Produced in conjunction with NPG’s exhibition “One Life: The Mask of Lincoln,” the program will consist of four lectures that will examine various aspects of Lincoln and his times.
The speakers and topics are David C. Ward, the exhibition curator on “‘Vaulting Ambition’: Lincoln’s Self-Fashioning,” Alexander Nemerov on “The Flame of Lincoln,” Michael E. McGerr on “The Embarrassment of Lincoln’s Nationalism” and Marcia Brennan on “Tragic Dreams and Spectral Doubles: The Metaphysical Lincoln.”
The symposium is Monday, February 16, from 9am to noon, in the museum’s Nan Tucker McEvoy Auditorium. Information on visiting the museum is available here. The symposium is free and open to the public.
Listen to historian David Ward discuss the upcoming Lincoln symposium (5:38)
For more on Lincoln, be sure to see to the online exhibition for “One Life: The Mask of Lincoln.” The exhibition is part of a yearlong Smithsonian-wide celebration of the bicentennial, exploring the life and times of the nation's most mythic and transformative president.
Abraham Lincoln / Alexander Gardner, 1865 / Albumen silver print / National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution