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Honoring the Fourth, saving the nation: How Lincoln marked our foundational holiday

As a rising politician, like most men of his time, Lincoln lauded the founders. Their names, he predicted, would be “revered and sung, and toasted through all time.” But his own political hero, the Great Compromiser, Senator Henry Clay, appealed to Lincoln by emphasizing conciliation despite or perhaps precisely because Clay “never gave a Fourth of July oration.” That was an unusual credit for Lincoln to cite, but it reminds us that where he was concerned, patriotism meant not self-congratulation, but pursuit of a more perfect Union. Clay, like Lincoln, “loved his country” not only “because it was his country,” but because it stood “the glory of human liberty” and “human right.”

Harold Holzer

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