Inspired by our annual Lincoln’s Ideas Forum, where we examine and discuss Lincoln’s legacy and what it means today, we posed the question to staff: how has Lincoln’s legacy impacted your life?
Read our answers below:
Lincoln’s legacy affects my life every day in large and small ways, but one of the most significant is his 1864 immigration act – our country’s first. Without the systems and processes that come from the legacy of that 19th century accomplishment, there might not have been the policies in place that enabled my extended family to come to the United States from Cuba less than a century later.
Lincoln’s ability to surround himself with people with differing beliefs, values, backgrounds, and opinions has impacted my life. On his daily commute to the Cottage, he encountered ordinary citizens, wounded soldiers, politicians, and self emancipated men, women, and children. His Cabinet included former rivals and others with opposing views. I think Lincoln was a good listener. In a time where people feel so divided, I think it’s a good time to listen.
Lincoln’s efforts to keep the nation united during the Civil War means the town I grew up in is part of the United States of America. It might otherwise not have been!
On May 15, 1862, Lincoln established the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Two and a half years later, in what was to be his last annual message to Congress, Lincoln said: “The Agricultural Department, under the supervision of its present energetic and faithful head, is rapidly commending itself to the great and vital interest it was created to advance. It is precisely the people’s Department, in which they feel more directly concerned than in any other. I commend it to the continued attention and fostering care of Congress.”
My mother’s side of the family emigrated from Western Germany to the U.S. in the early 1880s. (Hello, 1864 Act to Encourage Immigration, too). Her great grandfather, Peter Klotzbach established a dairy farm in upstate NY in 1883, starting a long line of Klotzbach dairy farmers that are still in Pembroke, NY today. My mom has many stories from childhood about growing up on a farm, and how hard her father worked. I’ll never forget the look on all of our faces when as children — probably sitting in a pile of presents — she told me and my siblings that my grandpa never took a day off, and even worked (milking the cows) on Christmas. I can’t imagine that the establishment of the USDA, which completely transformed American farming, didn’t have an impact on my great great grandfather’s livelihood, my great grandfather’s livelihood, my grandfather’s livelihood, and in turn, impacting my entire family.
Lincoln founded the Department of Agriculture; my wife Beth now works for the US Forest Service (a department within the USDA). [Editor’s note: it’s also the only major land agency not in the Department of the Interior]
President Lincoln and his family moved to the Cottage, in part, to grieve the loss of their little boy. That Lincoln sought solace in a quiet place, and comfort in the company of friends and family during immense personal tragedy, inspires me.
Something I value that Lincoln pushed for during his time as president was his Act to Encourage Immigration. I find this part of his legacy very important to me and is something that has influenced my family. My great-grandparents (on my mother’s side) immigrated to the United States within the first decade of the 20th century. They came here for a better life, and for better opportunities. They left Italy and Norway, and they were able to find a home here. Lincoln valued immigration and the people who would help to build the United States, just like my family. Without his initial push to accept these individuals, the immigration of my great-grandparents, and others, could have turned out differently.
Lincoln has impacted my life through his actions of self-care, which didn’t include glasses of wine and bubble baths. Lincoln moved to the Soldiers’ Home to find peace of mind during the most tumultuous time in American history. Recently, I followed his example by practicing meditation. I wanted a way to manage my stress to be better person for myself and others. Taking a timeout to process my thoughts and feelings has enabled me to make more reasoned decisions at work and at home.
Because Lincoln risked everything to save the Union, I have a deep loyalty to this country. The other day, I was discussing the royal wedding with my boyfriend. We debated the point that Megan Markel might give/is giving up her American citizenship to marry Prince Harry. My boyfriend teased me and suggested that I would give up my citizenship to be a princess (more importantly, marry the good looking prince). As I thought about this idea, I realized that I don’t think I could give up being an American. I’m a fiercely loyal person, and working here has shown me how much Lincoln struggled to keep “the last best hope on earth” intact. His legacy of saving the United States from itself has impacted my life because even though I may travel the world, I wouldn’t want to call any other place home. Additionally, even if I don’t like the elected leaders, I still won’t move to Canada (Sorry, Canadians!).
Growing up in relatively-rural Southwestern Virginia, Lincoln’s establishment of the US Department of Agriculture in 1862 hits close to home. I lived within just a few minutes of Virginia Tech, a university with renowned farming, agricultural, food science, and forestry programs. Virginia Tech also sponsored the local FFA chapters in the county’s schools and I spent several years participating in competitions involving debate, livestock judging, and forestry. My time with FFA also gave me the opportunity to take several leadership and ethics courses – with Lincoln’s ethical principles and commitment to equality regularly coming up – which are topics that I’ve continued to study formally and informally ever since. I also have a great appreciation for my friends and family members that did make the decision to pursue agricultural degrees and focus on improving access to food for citizens of the United States and abroad.
Another Lincoln connection: Virginia Tech was founded as a Land Grant college in 1872, ten years after Lincoln signed the Morrill Act that provided funds for such colleges.
Like my colleagues, I could talk about the specific pieces of legislation passed during Lincoln’s administration that have impacted me and my family. (After all, like so many Americans, my family immigrated to America post-1864). But on a personal level, I have always viewed Lincoln as a great role model and American hero. Even at a young age (such as in the above photo), I’ve been a fan of the Great Emancipator. So guess it was destined that I’d work at President Lincoln’s Cottage, a home for Lincoln’s brave ideas.