In Search of America: Transatlantic Essays, 1951-1990

By Marcus Cunliffe | Go to book overview

9
The Doubled Images of Washington and Lincoln

Each year on the anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's beautiful little Gettysburg battlefield dedication, Gettysburg College now offers a Fortenbaugh Lecture dealing with Lincoln's involvement in the Civil War or in other matters. My contribution was delivered there in November 1987. The lecture was illustrated with about fifty slides. I hope it does not suffer unduly in print when deprived of this quantity of visual support.

Two identical nuclear-power aircraft carriers are currently under construction at Newport News, Virginia, at a conjectured cost of $3.5 billion apiece. They are proclaimed to be the biggest and the best of their kind. It seems altogether appropriate that they are to be named the Abraham Lincoln and the George Washington.1 For, to all appearances, Lincoln and Washington (or Washington and Lincoln? In many contexts the order is reversible) loom over the rest of American history and even today are omnipresent images. Washington is on the dollar bill and on the twenty-five cent coin. Lincoln has pride of place on the lowly penny and the modestly substantial five-dollar note. Theirs are the monuments, lined up along the same axis as the Capitol, that greet the visitor to the District of Columbia -- itself named in honor of the nation's first President. The recent Vietnam Memorial is deliberately angled to point in one direction to the shrine of Lincoln and in the other to the soaring obelisk of the Washington Monument.

____________________
1
Washington Post, September 26, 1987, All.

-177-

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