Washington and Lincoln, by Martin W. Littleton

Washington and Lee University

Washington and Lincoln

By Martin W. Littleton

Note: Martin Wiley Littleton (1872–1934) was born in Tennessee and reared and educated in Dallas, Texas, where he practiced law beginning in 1893. In 1896 he moved to New York City where he held several prominent positions, including district attorney of Kings County and president of the Borough of Brooklyn. He was electd to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1911. (While Littleton was in Congress his wife, Maude, led a campaign to rescue Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, and organized the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation.) The following extract from an address given by Littleton in Buffalo, New York, is taken from American Oratory of To-Day, edited by Edwin DuBois Shurter (Austin, Texas, and San Francisco: South-West Publishing Company, 1910, pp. 150–53). It was printed subsequently in other books on oratory, including Grenville Kleiser’s Model Seeches for Practise (New York and London: Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1920; pp 182–86). A popular orator, Littleton contributed “The Confessions of an After-Dinner Speaker” to an issue of the American Magazine. Littleton apparently delivered the full address on Washington and Lincoln, entitled “The Two Great Leaders,” on other occasions, including once to the Abraham Lincoln Association’s Lincoln Banquet in Springfield, Illionois, on 11 February 1911. Attending the same Banquet was President William Howard Taft, who delivered an accompanying address, “Abraham Lincoln.”


Formerly of the Dallas, Texas, Bar; now of New York city

(Extract from an address on the occasion of the celebration of Washington’s Birthday by the Ellicott Club of Buffalo, New York, February 22, 1906.)

The strongest thing about the character of the two greatest men in American history is the fact that they did not surrender to the passion of the time. Washington withstood the French radicalism of Jefferson and the British conservatism of Hamilton. He invited each of them into his cabinet; he refused to allow either of them to dictate his policy. His enemies could not terrify him by assault; his friends could not deceive him with flattery. In this respect he resembled in marked degree the splendid character of Lincoln.

The single light that led Lincoln’s feet dong the hard highway of life was justice; the single thought that throbbed his brain to sleep at night was justice; the single prayer that put in whispered words the might and meaning of his soul was justice; the single impulse that lingered in a heart already wrung by a nation’s grief was justice; in every word that fell from him in touching speech there was the sad and sober spirit of justice. He sat upon the storm when the nation shook with passion. Treason, wrong, injustice, crime, graft, a thousand wrongs in system and in single added to the burden of this melancholy spirit. Silently, as the soul of the just makes war on sin; silently, as the spirit of the mighty withstands the spite of wrong; silently, as the heart of the truly brave resists the assault of the coward, this prince of patience and peace endured the calumny of the country he died to save.

Lincoln blazed the way from the cabin to the crown; working away in the silence of the woods, he heard the murmur of a storm; toiling in the forest of flashing leaf and armored oak, he heard Lexington calling unto Sumter, Valley Forge crying unto Gettysburg, and Yorktown shouting unto Appomattox. Lingering before the dying fires in a humble hut, he saw with sorrowful heart the blazing camps in Virginia, and felt the awful stillness of slumbering armies. Beneath it all he saw the strained muscles of the slave, the broken spirit of the serf, the bondage of immortal souls; and beyond it all, looking through the tears that broke from a breaking heart, he saw the widow by the empty chair, the aged father’s fruitless vigil at the gate, the daughter’s dreary watch beside the door, and the son’s solemn step from boyhood to old age. And behind this picture he saw the lonely family altar upon which was offered the incense of tears coming from millions of broken hearts; and looking still beyond he saw the battle-fields where silent slabs told of the death of those who died in deathless valor. He saw the desolated earth, where golden grain no more broke from the rich, resourceful soil, where the banned wheat no longer rose from the productive earth; he saw the South with its smoking chimneys, its deserted hearthstones, its maimed and wounded trudging with bowed heads and bent forms back to their homes, there to want and to waste and to struggle and to build up again; he saw the North recover itself from the awful shock of arms and start anew to unite the arteries of commerce that had been cut by the cruel sword of war. And with his gentle hand, and as a last act of his sacrificial life, he dashed the awful cup of brother’s blood from the lustful lip of war and shattered the cannons’ roar into nameless notes of song.

Then turn to the vision of Washington leaving a plantation of peace and plenty to suffer on the blood-stained battle-field, surrendering the dominion over the princely domain of a Virginia gentleman to accept the privations of an unequal war—the vision of patriotism over against the vision of greed.

Oh, my friends, we must live so that the spirit of these men shall settle all about our lives and deeds; so that the patriotism of their service shall burn as a fire in the hearts of all who shall follow them. The Constitution which came from one, the universal liberty which came from the other, must be set in our hearts as institutions in the blood of our race, so that this Government shall not perish until every drop of that blood has been shed in its defense; and we shall behold the flag of our country as the beautiful emblem of their unselfish lives, whose red ran out of a soldier’s heart, whose white was bleached by a nation’s tears, whose stars were hung there to sing together until the eternal morning when all the world shall be free.

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