Herbert Hoover photo

Address at Lincoln's Tomb in Springfield, Illinois.

June 17, 1931

Governor Emmerson, my dear fellow citizens:

The people of Illinois are the trustees of the Nation for the care of the remains of one of our greatest Americans. In the discharge of this trusteeship this memorial was erected some 57 years ago. The people of the State have taken a just pride in the restoration and its beautification. When it was dedicated, another great citizen of Illinois, the 18th President of the United States--Ulysses S. Grant--made the address on that occasion. It is proper that a President of the United States should take part in its rededication at this time.

Over 2 million people, I am informed, have registered their names at this shrine since its erection, and thus this, the tomb of Lincoln, has become a shrine to all Americans.

The instinct of our people with the passing of time sifts out those men and those events and those places which become the marks on the national road of progress. The stone and the marble of all of our great national shrines are more than physical reminders of the mighty past of our country and the great deeds of America. They are symbols of things of the spirit. Through the men and deeds they commemorate they renew our national ideals and our aspirations. It is a refreshment of the national soul to assemble in these places and to direct the thoughts of our people to these occasions and to recall the men and their deeds which builded the Republic. It is an awakening of pride in the glories of the past and an inspiration to faith in the future. These are the springs which replenish that most sacred stream of human emotions-Patriotism.

Nothing that we may say here can add to the knowledge or devotion of our people to the memory of Abraham Lincoln. Nothing we may do can add to his stature in history. All that words can convey has long since been uttered by his grateful countrymen.

This is an occasion of sentiment rather than an occasion of words, for we cannot by expression in words convey those great things of the spirit which inspire a nation.

We gather here today that we of our generation may again pay tribute to the man who not only saved the Union and gave freedom to a race but who recreated the ideals and inspirations of American life.

A nation in its whole lifetime flowers with but a few whose names remain upon the roll of the world in after generations. Lincoln after all these years still grows, not only in the hearts of his countrymen but in the hearts of the peoples of the world.

It is not new, yet it is eternally true, to state that Lincoln made a universal appeal to the minds and hearts of men. His every aspiration was for the unity and welfare of his country. He became a triumphant force in achieving that ideal, because he saw the problems of his time not only from the standpoint of the statesman but of the average citizen whose outlook he understood and whose trials and hopes he shared.

No man gazes upon the tomb of Lincoln without reflection upon his transcendent qualities of patience, fortitude, and steadfastness. The very greatness which history and popular imagination have stamped upon him sometimes obscures somewhat the real man back of the symbol which he has become. It is not amiss to reflect that he was a man before becoming a symbol. To appreciate the real meaning of his life we need to contemplate him as the product of the people themselves, as the farm boy, the fence builder, the soldier, the country lawyer, the political candidate, the legislator, and the President, as well as the symbol of union and of human rights.

Time sifts out the essentials of men's character and deeds, and in Lincoln's character there stands out his patience, his indomitable will, his sense of humanity of a breadth which comes to but few men. Of his deeds those things which remain in the memory of every schoolchild in America are the preservation of the Union, the emancipation of the slaves, the infusion of the new conception of popular government. Those are the transcendent services for which he is enshrined by his countrymen. In these accomplishments Lincoln not alone saved the Union, emancipated a race, and restored the Government to the people, but made the United States a power so potent in the world as to turn the tide of human affairs.

It is fitting that we should rededicate his hallowed resting place, that we should thus recall to every American mind and heart the contribution which Lincoln made to the greatness of our Nation. But it was Lincoln himself whose insight and splendid expression illuminated the true purpose of our assembly at national shrines. It was he who at Gettysburg called upon the people not so much to mourn the dead as to honor them by a rededication of themselves to the service of their country. He said in that memorable address: "It is for us the living rather to be dedicated here... to the great task remaining before us." That should be our purpose and resolve today.

The six decades which have passed since Lincoln's death have written on the scroll of history changes bewildering in their variety, momentous in their consequences. They have broadened and enriched life beyond the imaginations of Lincoln's contemporaries. The years have not only yielded rich treasures, material and spiritual, but they have brought challenges to readjustment, both by government and individuals, to a changing world. Our country has become powerful among nations. It is charged with infinitely new responsibilities both at home and abroad.

What a poet has called the endless adventure, the government of men, discloses new and changing human needs from generation to generation. As we scan our history even since his day, who can doubt Lincoln's own words that our national heritage is "worth the keeping." And it was Lincoln who stated and restated in impressive terms that its keeping rests upon obedience and enforcement of law. There can be no man in our country who, either by his position or his influence, stands above the law. That the Republic cannot admit and still live. For ours is a government of laws and a society of ordered liberty safeguarded only by law.

The eternal principles of truth, justice, and right, never more clearly stated than by Lincoln, remain the solvent for the problems and perplexities of every age and of our day. It is to those who, like Lincoln, have made these principles serve the needs of mankind that the world pays its homage. At his shrine we light the torch of our rededication to the service and ideals of the Nation which he loved and served with the last full measure of devotion.

Note: The President spoke at 2:30 p.m. to a large audience assembled for the rededication ceremonies of the tomb. Before speaking, the President placed a wreath on the new sarcophagus marking Lincoln's burial spot.

In his opening remarks, the President referred to Louis L. Emmerson, Governor of Illinois.

A reading copy of this item with holograph changes by the President is available for examination at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library.

Herbert Hoover, Address at Lincoln's Tomb in Springfield, Illinois. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/211205

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