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SPRINGFIELD, Ill., Feb. 12, 1914 - In the years since Abraham Lincoln's martyrdom, tributes by the thousand paid to him on countless occasions have made him seem at times almost unreal.
Today, however, at special exercises commemorating the centennial of Lincoln's birth, Rabbi Stephen S. Wise, the principal speaker chosen by the Lincoln Centennial Association, brought the Lincoln image into a true perspective because of a picture of him as less godlike and more the concept of the highest standard of manhood.
Instead of following Lincoln we too often strive to make it appear that he is following us. Instead of emulating him we too often venture to appropriate him. Instead of sitting at his feet as disciples, and humbly heeding the echoes of his lips, we attribute to him our own petty slogans.Men and measures must not claim him for their own. He remains the standard by which to measure men. His views are not binding upon us, but his point of view will always be our inspiration. He would not be blindly followed who was open-minded and open-visioned. He did not solve all the problems of the future, but he did solve the problem of his own age. Ours is not to claim his name for our standards but his aim as our standard.
Lincoln is become for us the test of human worth, and we honor men in the measure in which they approach the absolute standard of Abraham Lincoln.
In his lifetime Lincoln was maligned and traduced, but detraction during a man's lifetime affords no test of his life's value nor offers any forecast of history's verdict. It would almost seem as if the glory of immortality were anticipated in the life of the great by detraction and denial whilst they yet lived. When a Lincoln-like man arises, let us recognize and fitly honor him. There could be no poorer way of honoring the memory of Lincoln than to assume, as we sometimes do, that the race of Lincoln's has perished from the earth, and that we shall never look upon his like again.
One way to ensure the passing of the Lincoln's is to assume that another Lincoln can nevermore arise. Would we find Lincoln today, we must not seek him in the guise of a rail-splitter, nor as a wielder of a backwoodsman's axe, but as a mighty smiter of wrong in high places and low.
I have sometimes thought that the noblest tribute paid to the memory of Lincoln was the word of Phillips Brooks in Westminster Abbey when, pointing out that the test of the world to every nation was - show us your man - he declared that America names Lincoln. But the first word spoken after the death of Lincoln is truest and best - the word of Secretary of War Stanton, standing by the side of that scene of peace - "Now he belongs to the ages."
It was a verdict and prophecy alike, for Lincoln is not America's, he is the world's; he belongs not to our age, but to the ages; and yet, though he belongs to all time and to all peoples, he is our own, for he was an American.