Remarks at a Wreath-Laying Ceremony at the Lincoln Memorial

February 12,1981

Ladies and gentlemen:

Of the millions who come to this city each year, there is always a stop to be made here at the base of the Reflecting Pool and a statue to be seen, of a backwoodsman who became a lawyer, a Congressman, and a President. It is said that by standing to one side of this statue there can be seen the profile of a man of strength and wisdom and by standing on the other side the profile of a man of compassion. These two views of Lincoln symbolize our own memory of him today: Lincoln, the national leader who in a time of crisis called his countrymen to greatness; and Lincoln, the man whose grace, compassion, and earnest commitment is remembered in countless biographies, folktales, and poetry.

Yet, there is more left to us of Lincoln than the ceremony, the monument, or even the memory of his greatness as a leader and a man. There are words, words he spoke and that speak in our time or to any time, words from the mind that sought wisdom and the heart that loved justice.

Today do our national leaders agonize over the dilemma between doing what is practical and what is right? Let us have faith in the right, that it makes might, Lincoln wrote, and in that faith let us to the end do our duty as we understand it.

Or do we ever fear failure of the defense of principle? ``I am not bound to win,'' Lincoln said, ``but am bound to be true. I am not bound to succeed, but I am bound by what light I have.''

Do we sometimes question the commitment upon which this Nation was founded, the belief in the uncommon wisdom of the common people, the belief that in their right to render a final verdict on this Nation's course? ``I appeal to you constantly,'' Lincoln said on his way to assume the Presidency, ``bear in mind that not with politicians, not with a President, not with the office seekers, but with you is the question, `Shall the liberties of this country be preserved to the latest generation?' ''

In Lincoln's life there is ample testimony of the depth of his mind, to the compassion of his heart, to the breadth of his virtue, and above all, to the value of putting country above self-interest. But for today I will say only of him what he said so well of those who had fallen at Gettysburg, that the memory of his life and death are greater than any written or spoken tribute could ever be, the memory of Lincoln that belongs to us, but it belongs never only to us, for as it was said in the hour of his death, ``Now he belongs to the ages.''

Thank you.

Note: The President spoke at 12:20 p.m.