Remarks at the Birthplace of Abraham Lincoln, Hodgenville, Kentucky.
Senator Cooper, my fellow citizens:
Long have I looked forward to an opportunity to visit this Shrine, which is so truly American. Now, never in my wildest moments did I picture in my mind this kind of occasion. I saw myself driving up in an ordinary jalopy, and stopping with my family to look and visit this great spot.
I am truly honored by the courtesy you show me in being here today, that I may greet you and bring a word of welcome from your far-off Capital, Washington.
I think I could best express my feelings about Lincoln in this way. In my office in the White House I have sketches of four great Americans on the wall: one is--and the oldest--Benjamin Franklin; George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Robert E. Lee.
Abraham Lincoln has always seemed to me to represent all that is best in America, in terms of its opportunity and the readiness of Americans always to raise up and exalt those people who live by truth, whose lives are examples of integrity and dedication to our country.
I would like to speak about two or three characteristics of Lincoln that I think most of us could now remind ourselves, possibly with profit. He was a great leader. I would like to remind you of the methods he used in leadership. You can find no instance when he stood up in public and excoriated another American. You can find no instance where he is reported to have slapped or pounded the table, and struck the pose of a pseudo-dictator, or of an arbitrary individual.
Rather, the qualities he showed and exhibited were forbearance in the extreme--patience. Once he called upon General McClellan, and the President went over to the General's house--a process which I assure you has been reversed long since--and General McClellan decided he did not want to see the President, and went to bed.
Lincoln's friends criticised him severely for allowing a mere General to treat him that way. And he said, "All I want out of General McClellan is a victory, and if to hold his horse will bring it, I will gladly hold his horse."
This means one thing: Lincoln's leadership was accomplished through dedication to a single purpose, the preservation of the Union. He understood deeply the great values that unite us all as a people, Georgia with New York, and Massachusetts with Texas--California with Florida. He knew that there were divisive influences at work, but he knew also they were transitory in character--they were flaming with heat, but they were made of stuff that would soon bum itself out.
The true values of America, he understood, are enduring, and they hold us together. And so he was patient. He was forbearing. He was understanding. And he lives today in our hearts as one of the greatest that the English-speaking race has produced, and as a great leader. Yet never did he fall into the false habit of striking a Napoleonic attitude at any time and under any provocation.
We remember his words because they still mean for us, and still explain to us, what this great country is: the greatest power on God's footstool that has been permitted to exist. A power for good, among ourselves, and in all the world. And he--this great Lincoln--was the one who did so much to give us the opportunity to live at a time when that would be so. When America's leadership in the world is necessary to the preservation of freedom and of liberty in that world, just as his presence in the sixties was necessary to the preservation of liberty and freedom and union of this Nation.
Thank you again for the great honor you do me for coming out here. I cannot tell you how happy I am, at last, to have the opportunity of coming to the birthplace of Lincoln, a man who for me--like for all of you--has been an idol since the days of my first memories.
Thank you, and goodbye.
Note: The President spoke at noon.
Dwight D. Eisenhower, Remarks at the Birthplace of Abraham Lincoln, Hodgenville, Kentucky. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/233769