Lincoln Day Remarks by Robert W. Ray

Monmouth County
February 10, 2002
Aberdeen, New Jersey

I thought I would use my three minutes to talk about why we’re here this evening and why it’s relevant to the work ahead in 2002.

One hundred and seventy years ago, at the age of 23, Abraham Lincoln began his first political campaign with the following simple words:

“I have no other [ambition] as that of being truly esteemed [by] my fellow [citizens], by rendering myself worthy of their esteem. How far I shall succeed in gratifying this ambition, is yet to be developed. I am young and
unknown to many of you. … My case is thrown exclusively upon the … voters….”

March 9, 1832
New Salem, Illinois

I suppose it’s true that we don’t make politicians like Abraham Lincoln anymore. But we remember him today – and it’s important that we do so – because he still points the way for our party and our country.

These are serious and sober times. But in a very real sense, in the modern era, great Americans like Lincoln are in danger of being forgotten. This year, for example, in Brooklyn, a new borough president from the other party removed from Borough Hall paintings of – in his words – “dead, white guys” who are no longer relevant. One of those paintings, you might have read, was a portrait of Abraham Lincoln’s boyhood hero, George Washington.

And here, in New Jersey, the latest version of the Department of Education’s history curriculum leaves out Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, as well as the Pilgrims and the Mayflower.

This is obviously political correctness to the “‘nth degree,” but even worse, it sends the horrible message that we honor great men like Lincoln because they’re “dead, white guys.” Not so. We honor Lincoln today because his ideas – which speak to all of us – have stood the test of time.

And so, from that first campaign 170 years ago, to later campaigns, then on to the presidency, and through the Civil War, Lincoln’s words are as relevant today as when they were first spoken. Here’s some of what he said to the people of New Jersey and Pennsylvania in a series of speeches in 1861:

    • “I have never had a feeling politically that did not spring from the sentiments embodied in the Declaration of Independence. … I have often inquired of myself what great principle or idea it was that has kept [our country] so long together. … [T]here must have been something [even more than National Independence] that [our forefathers] struggled for. … [It was] that something that held out a great promise to all the people of the world [for] all time to come…. It was … that sentiment in the Declaration of Independence which gave liberty, not alone to the people of this country, but, I hope, to the world, for all future time. It was that which gave promise that in due time the weight would be lifted from the shoulders of [everyone]. This … sentiment [is] embodied in the Declaration of Independence.”

February 21, 1861
State Senate, Trenton

February 22, 1861
Independence Hall, Philadelphia

That’s what our soldiers are fighting for now in Afghanistan and it is what we strive for here at home as well.

What can we do to heed Lincoln’s example? Throughout his professional life, Lincoln never forgot one simple lesson. As he said,

    “If you once forfeit the confidence of your fellow citizens, you can never regain their respect and esteem.”

Our party has a great opportunity in New Jersey this year. United, we can achieve great things. We can recover this economy; we can reform education, ensure corporate responsibility and rebuild market confidence; and we can restore the strength of our military.

I believe in reform and results. All of this, and more, is possible. But it starts with leadership that is worthy of being esteemed. What we need in New Jersey is new leadership with renewed energy by those who are young and the young at heart.

My fellow Republicans, I leave you with this. If President George Bush can restore honor and dignity to the Oval Office, then we can have — and deserve — principled, ethical and trustworthy leadership for New Jersey in the United States Senate.

I look forward to the debate in the months ahead – the battleground of ideas and results rather than the paralysis of investigations and scandal.

Monmouth Republicans can lead the way, and I am pleased to count myself among you.

Thank you.

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