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Lincoln’s Birthday … And First Inauguration

February 12 is the birthday of Abraham Lincoln, who is routinely voted by historians to be the best — or, at worst, the second-best — president in American history, depending on how George Washington is polling.

The Library has Lincoln’s papers as well as any number of things the president and Mary Todd Lincoln possessed, including the pearl necklace and bracelets that the first lady wore to their first inaugural ball. Log-splitting Abe was a man of such modest means that he had to buy them on layaway from Tiffany’s in New York. Also, one of the most requested things to see in the Library (it’s a single collection) is the contents of his pockets when he was assassinated.

There are also stunning documents in his hand, including the Gettysburg Address, as well as the working drafts and final copies of his memorable inaugural speeches. Both contributed lines that still resonate in the national consciousness. In the second, given during the waning weeks of the Civil War, there was “with malice toward none,” a call towards national healing.

In the first inauguration, some states were already seceding when Lincoln took office. In this speech, trying to hold a fragmenting nation together, he concluded with a passage about the shared bonds of all Americans: “The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

As you’ll see in the short video above, the Library holds these and other documents of the Lincoln administration, in its faults and glories. It’s a highlight reel of one of the Library’s most important collections and a cornerstone of American history. It’s something worth thinking about on the birthday of one of the nation’s most important citizens.

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