Lincoln’s words have lived on, thanks to their iteration by others as well as through their own intrinsic power. American political leaders, poets, playwrights, novelists, literary critics, theologians, journalists, and others have been inspired, challenged, and sometimes affronted by his sentiments.
Lincoln has also spoken—and continues to speak—to people throughout the world. Karl Marx judged him “the single-minded son of the working class.” Tomas Masaryk, the first president of Czechoslovakia, drew strength as “the Lincoln of Central Europe.” Racially mixed, republican Abraham Lincoln brigades fought in the Spanish Civil War. Mohandas Gandhi recognized in Lincoln a model of nonviolence. In Britain during the Second World War, his words stiffened resolve, while in Germany during the subsequent Cold War, West Berliners deployed Lincoln as a symbol of anticommunism and self-determination. At the same time, Ghanaians used him to legitimize liberation from British colonial rule and then to justify the new state’s use of massive force against internal enemies. Recently Desmond Tutu accepted the Lincoln Leadership Prize for his role in national reconciliation in South Africa. “Now he belongs to the ages,” whispered the grieving secretary of war, Edwin M. Stanton, when Lincoln breathed his last. His words could scarcely have been more prescient.