Abraham Lincoln

A young Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln (1809 – 1865) was the 16th president of the United States, serving from March 1861 to April 1865. He was a complex character. Many have argued that he was the greatest US president.  I greatly respect and admire him, though I don’t agree with a couple of his major decisions.

He was a physical giant: 6 foot 4 inches tall. (Remember, at that time the average American male was probably 5 foot 7 inches.) And he was a mental giant. I was deeply moved by his Gettysburg Address.

The Gettysburg Address is a speech that U.S. President Abraham Lincoln delivered during the American Civil War at the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery … in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania on the afternoon of November 19, 1863, four and a half months after the Union armies defeated Confederate forces in the Battle of Gettysburg, the Civil War’s deadliest battle. It remains one of the best known speeches in American history

Here’s a bit about Lincoln’s speech in The Civil War documentary by Ken Burns.

Of the hundreds of documentaries I have watched, nothing comes close to The Civil War. It is a masterpiece. I believe that anyone who wishes to understand what the US is about, has to know about that great catastrophe, and Ken Burns has the best introduction to it.

Talking of introductions, here’s how Burns introduces the first part of the series:

It was in the series that I came across one of Lincoln’s early speeches: the Lyceum Address. Here’s the part that I like best. It’s lightly edited:

Shall we expect some transatlantic military giant to step the ocean and crush us at a blow? Never! All the armies of Europe, Asia, and Africa combined … could not by force take a drink from the Ohio or make a track on the Blue Ridge in a trial of a thousand years. At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer. If it ever reach us it must spring up amongst us; it cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen we must live through all time or die by suicide.

As an economist, I would have said, “destruction of a large nation is entirely endogenous.” Or as the historian Arnold Toynbee said, “Civilizations die from suicide, not by murder.”

Burns selected a lovely, haunting piece as the title music. The Ashokan Farewell by Jay Unger. I thought that it may have a connection to the Emperor Ashoka and his abjuration of war. But actually it’s named after a reservoir:

“Ashokan Farewell” is a piece of music composed by the American folk musician Jay Ungar in 1982. For many years it served as a goodnight or farewell waltz at the annual Ashokan Fiddle & Dance Camps run by Ungar and his wife Molly Mason, who gave the tune its name, at the Ashokan Field Campus of SUNY New Paltz (now the Ashokan Center) in Upstate New York. The tune was used as the title theme of the 1990 PBS television miniseries The Civil War. [Wiki]

I wrote to Jay Unger in August 2011 to tell him about Ashoka.

Hello Jay & Molly,

I love your “Ashokan Farewell” immensely. When I learned the name of the song, I thought it referred to Emperor Ashoka, who fought the terrible war known as Kalinga and seeing the devastation became a Buddhist. Now I know that Ashokan refers to a place, but it somehow seems appropriate to me that your song could as well refer to the sadness that Ashoka felt when he saw the suffering he had caused and repented.

Unger replied, “I had similar thoughts after reading the story of Ashoka. Thanks for writing. Jay.”

So here’s the song. I hope you like it.

Author: Atanu Dey


6 thoughts on “Abraham Lincoln”

  1. I am fascinated by the history of the US since the time Mayflower landed the pilgrims on east-coast. I got hold of a dvd collection called “The History of Us”. It is good.
    Now I crave something more, something better.
    Is there a good documentary, movie, video where I can watch more of the US history starting 1620? Thanks in advance for your recommendation.


    1. I cannot come up with a good answer to your question because what little history I know I learned accidentally. If I were interested in doing a somewhat deep dive into US history, I’d start with the wikipedia article on the history of the United States.

      My favorite history podcast is Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History. I searched that channel but he doesn’t have an episode on the early history of what’s now the United States.

      Just by the way, listen to the “Destroyer of Worlds” episode by Dan Carlin on YouTube.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Of that whole Ashoka became Buddhist after the war of Kalinga is very likely BS peddled in modern times by some communist historians. I remember Amartya Sen saying this in some event where he claimed Ashoka was a “great secular king”, Arun Shourie later pointed out that Ashoka was the first Indian king to actually have a ‘state religion’ and actively killing people over minor criticism of state religion.

    Ashoka had to kill 9 of his elder brothers in order to get the throne. By the time he became King, he was opposed by the Jains and Ajivaks who were influential and Buddhism was their rival, Ashoka than adopted Buddhism to counter these people. Ashoka’s own inscriptions mention this. The Kalinga war happened 10 years later and there is no actual evidence of Ashoka having any kind of remorse about the war.

    The song Ashokavandana, mentions that Ashoka would award one gold coin for one head of a jain monk. This lead to people hunting jains and accidenly someone very close to Ashoka got killed. Ashoka expressed remorse about that even and then apparently went full retard on non violence, destroying his entire wealth in promoting Buddhism.


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