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  • Writer's pictureBill Stauffer

Gratitude Friday 3/29/24 – Our Hallowed American Memorial to Unfinished Work: The Lincoln Memorial

It is Spring and in DC, Cherry Blossom season is upon us. When I think of DC, I reflect on the Lincoln Memorial. One of the most hallowed grounds in America to many, including me. Over the years, I confess that at every instance I have had the opportunity to visit it has been emotional for me. It reflects the heart and soul of our nation and the battle that we continue to have to forge unity out of a sea of differences around the highest of human ideals. The rift of the civil war is visible to the east from the steps of the Lincoln memorial and the west of the monument. So much of our history has ties to the pursuit of human rights, and perhaps no place signifies this as much as the Lincoln Memorial.


To the east across the refection pool and Capitol Hill. The Washington Monument is roughly halfway between the memorial and the seat of our government. The stones that make up the Washington Monument  are made from two different colors of marble. Construction on the monument stopped in 1855 as the monument commission ran out of money and did not move forward for 20 years. It did not resume until after the civil war. The era of our deepest division is visible in the monument to our first President. This is symbolic. The cause of the civil war started at our formation and still echoes to this very day. Slavery and the devaluation of people conflict with our highest ideals of equality.


To the west of the monument up on the Hill lies Arlington National Cemetery. The home at the top of our most venerated military cemetery has familial ties to Martha Washington and Confederate General Robert E Lee. At one point, the confederacy held this ground overlooking DC and our Capitol. That is how close the war was to our seat of government. We can hear, feel and see those divisions in our current era. It brings me hope that we have faced such challenges to the core of our national identity and the values we aspire to and have overcome them to heal and carry the grand experiment forward. We have done so before.


On this day in 1867, Congress first authorized funding for a Lincoln memorial. Its location and proposed design took many forms. The original proposed design was a multi-tiered, 36-figure, bronze sculpted monument with Lincoln signing the Emancipation Proclamation. A later design was a pyramid. The fascinating history of what was proposed and did not get built is documented in our national archives. It took another 40 years before we moved forward. There are a lot of really great qualities of representative government, but speed and efficiency are not among them.


The last time I visited it, there was a lot of construction. The monument is getting a major upgrade in preparation for the United States Semi Quincentennial, which we will celebrate on July 4th, 2026. Readers can correctly identify that I am a patriotic American. I am not so because I have a simplistic rose-colored view of who and what we are. I am patriotic because I have looked at our complicated and twisted history enough to see that despite our deep flaws, we strive to become a better version of ourselves. As the engraving in the South Chamber, the Gettysburg Address reads:


Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.


But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate—we can not consecrate—we can not hallow—this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth. —Abraham Lincoln


Grateful to live in a nation with high ideals even though, like all humans we have deep flaws, we aspire to be and do better. One of my fondest memories of being in this space was sitting there watching the sun go down and speaking with an advocate about how to correct a discriminatory policy against persons with addiction about a decade ago. We found a fix and resolved a significant injustice. It seems a fitting memory as this has been the gathering site for civil rights across our modern history. I am grateful for having a reminder of our struggles and how we can overcome our flaws and divisions.

What are you grateful for today?

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