Today is one day in the history of our democracy. It is an important day of civic duty and profound consequences. Yet whatever happens on this Election Day, this week, this year, this lifetime, there is no silver bullet. There is no quick fix, no easy path toward the greater freedom, justice, and democracy we hold as ideals. The work of a democracy belongs to each of us, not to one person.
In a speech in Indiana in 1861, Abraham Lincoln emphasized this idea, saying, “I wish you to remember now and forever, that it is your business, and not mine; that if the union of these States, and the liberties of this people, shall be lost, it is but little to any one man of fifty-two years of age, but a great deal to the thirty millions of people who inhabit these United States, and to their posterity in all coming time. It is your business to rise up and preserve the Union and liberty, for yourselves, and not for me. I desire they shall be constitutionally preserved.”
The point is not that the presidency is unimportant, but that the U.S. President is one temporary, albeit powerful, servant to the people. Lincoln underscored his temporariness before continuing, “…I appeal to you again to constantly bear in mind that with you, and not with politicians, not with Presidents, not with office-seekers, but with you, is the question, ‘Shall the Union and shall the liberties of this country be preserved to the latest generation?'”
The preservation of the Union, which by design assumes it is never perfect but must be continually made more so, is the issue that faces us not only in each election, but in every day of our civic life.
Erin Carlson Mast
CEO & Executive Director
President Lincoln’s Cottage