Dan Arnold is a Trustee with the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency
Lincoln’s Illinois leadership legacy
What would the world look like without Lincoln?
This summer I hope you consider staying put here in Illinois, the most important state in the nation. Maybe even one of the most important places in the world.
My reason is simple: Without Illinois there would be no America as we know it today. In fact the world would look a whole lot different.
That’s because Illinois gave us a one-of-a-kind country lawyer, our native son — and arguably not only the greatest president in our nation’s history, but perhaps one of the greatest statesman and orators the world has ever known: Abraham Lincoln.
For starters, if not for Lincoln, our beloved United States of America would likely be two separate countries, one of which might still either be populated by slaves or an apartheid state.
That dividing of our nation could have altered world history. The outcome of World War I would be in doubt. The Nazis and Imperial Japanese could have won World War II. Communism may have enslaved the planet. We might never have reached the moon. Or invented the computer. And America would never have become the global leader in entertainment, intellectual capital, science, the arts, finance, inventions and industry. In short, we would not be the superpower we are today.
Indeed, if not for Lincoln, America would not be what the Old Railsplitter himself called “the last best hope of earth.” The dream of the founding fathers would have died at Fort Sumter.
And now on the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War, the most extraordinary legacy of the sixteenth President sits in the White House: The 44th President, Barack Obama, the first African American President of the United States of America who won the popular and electoral vote in an election inconceivable back then.
To me, it’s no accident that the coming anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation coincides with Barack Obama’s presidency. And it’s no coincidence both men come from Illinois. This is a land where great leaders are born and bred. Illinois instills in its citizens a belief in hard work, morality, education, self-reliance, community, patriotism, history, problem-solving and American leadership. Interestingly, both men came to power during times of crisis, polarization and cynicism. My hope is that our current president will also succeed and prevail.
I’m not a native of Illinois. I landed here in 1976 as an 18-year old kid with few prospects. However, the Land of Lincoln afforded me a great many opportunities and allowed me to thrive as a successful businessman. I may never repay my debt of gratitude to Illinois, but at the very least, I can become a vocal and impassioned ambassador on behalf of this amazing state.
As Trustee for the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency (IHPA), I’m charged with promoting and preserving our state’s heritage. My pride in Illinois only deepened when I was granted the humbling honor of being allowed to see and touch the original Gettysburg Address and Emancipation Proclamation.
As I held those precious documents, I was struck by the pivotal role the people of Illinois played in that war between the states. Yes, we provided troops and much needed provisions to the Union Army. But we provided the one man who could keep our nation whole in that bloody struggle for freedom.
During this year-long commemoration of the Civil War Sesquicentennial, I encourage you to go to Springfield. Take your family, your friends and tour the state senate chambers where President Obama began his meteoric rise to the White House. Visit the Old Capitol Building where Lincoln delivered his famous “House Divided” speech. Head to the Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum and muse about the next library dedicated to a great leader from Illinois. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Don’t wait.
Remember: Were it not for Lincoln, America today would be most likely “a house divided.” We would never have stayed a united country, with all citizens able to enjoy the most basic of freedoms as mandated in the Constitution. The bottom line is this: Lincoln gave us the gift of one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
We as a nation will prevail, of that I am certain. History says it’s so. And that’s due in no small measure to the statesmen that have come out of this state, our state, Illinois, whether born or nurtured here: Lincoln, Grant, Reagan, Obama.
For more information on Abe Lincoln historical sites, check out www.enjoyillinois.com, www.visit-springfieldillinois.com, www.civilwar.org/150th-anniversary or www.lookingforlincoln.com.
Dan Arnold is a Trustee with the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency and President of Road Ranger, LLC based in Rockford.