News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Mike Lunsford

February 22, 2009

The Off Season: Lincoln’s words rightfully called ‘American scripture’

Opal Ford and the graduating class of 1926 were more fortunate in their educations than many students today. I say that because I own one of Ford’s books; it passes its days on my desk near other favorite things.

The book is a copy of “Selections from the Writings of Abraham Lincoln,” printed in 1922 by Scott, Foresman and Co. of Chicago. Written in its inside jacket cover in pencil and in a neat cursive hand was Opal’s name and class (she was a senior) and school (I have no idea where H.J.H.S. was located). She also playfully included a typical ditty of her day:

“Kiss me sweet,

Kiss me cunning,

Kiss me quick

For Papa’s coming.”

I don’t know who Opal Ford was; one of the cast of my brothers-in-law, Phil Cox, found her book for me on a secondhand bookstore sale table, and knowing I revel in such things, promptly handed over a few dollars for it.

He had no idea that I would come to treasure it because of Lincoln’s words, not because it is rare, for books like it can be easily found at most auctions and library sales. As a writer and history teacher, I can do no better than to study what Lincoln has left for us, and I wish that more of my students could find him as fascinating as I do.

It is ironic that one of our most poorly educated presidents — I mean that in a conventional sense for our last president had a degree from Yale — was the very best writer among them. Lincoln had virtually no formal education, yet he voraciously read newspapers, read and re-read the works of Shakespeare and Robert Burns, taught himself the law through Blackstone, and soaked in the cadences and poetry of the King James version of the Bible. He taught himself well.

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Mike Lunsford
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