Celebrating Lincoln on Law Day: A Great Lawyer-President
When he established Law Day on May 1, 1958 as “a day of national dedication to the principles of government under law,” President Dwight Eisenhower sought to highlight for all Americans that our very freedom as a nation depends upon our continuing commitment to the rule of law. As he expressed it in the following year’s official proclamation for Law Day, “Free people can assure the blessings of liberty for themselves only if they recognize the necessity that the rule of law shall be supreme and that all men shall be equal before the law.”
Each year, when we observe Law Day, we celebrate this principle of the rule of law and recognize the contributions of the women and men who work on behalf of our system of law and justice.
This year, as Americans celebrate the bicentennial of Abraham Lincoln’s birth, we honor him on Law Day with the theme “A Legacy of Liberty—Celebrating Lincoln’s Bicentennial.” Regarded by many as our nation’s greatest and most eloquent president, Lincoln devoted much of his adult life to the practice of law. He was our quintessential lawyer-president.
Lincoln’s background in the law informed both his actions and his oratory. Reflecting 50 years ago on the sesquicentennial of the president’s birth, cultural historian Jacques Barzun perceptively commented, “Something of Lincoln’s tone obviously comes from the practice of legal thought. It would be surprising if the effort of mind that Lincoln put into his profession had not come out again in his prose.” Grounded in his practical and principled understanding of American law and adhering to his own strong sense of moral clarity, we celebrate Lincoln today as a great leader who sought to preserve our national union and helped free millions from, in his own words, “the yoke of bondage.”
President Obama frequently notes the impact that Lincoln has had on him personally and on our nation. He acknowledged this debt when he announced his candidacy for the presidency—in Lincoln’s home of Springfield, Illinois: “Through his will and his words, he moved a nation and helped free a people. It is because of the millions who rallied to his cause that we are no longer divided, North and South, slave and free. It is because men and women of every race, from every walk of life, continued to march for freedom long after Lincoln was laid to rest, that today we have the chance to face the challenges of this millennium together, as one people—as Americans.”
This Law Day we encourage all Americans to renew their understanding of Abraham Lincoln. Celebrate in schools, courthouses, workplaces, and communities the impact he has had on our nation and on our democracy. By continuing the conversation on Lincoln and liberty, we can all ensure that the legacy of this great lawyer-president endures.
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Editors Note: For a print-quality photo of ABA President H. Thomas Wells, please click here.