Monday, February 15, 2016
Year 4-Day 46: Today, I am grateful for Abraham Lincoln's wisdom, character and example.
"Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power." - Abraham Lincoln
I love Abraham Lincoln. Of course...growing up in Illinois, "The Land of Lincoln", and living so close to Springfield and New Salem, my interest has never wavered.
I still learn stories I hadn't known before. Abe Lincoln was not perfect...none of us are...but his actions spoke louder than his entertaining words. He had a depth of character we rarely see in leadership today.
Not far from our little town...in the village of Metamora...is a bronze statue. It shows Abraham Lincoln walking with an elderly woman, Melissa Goings. Mrs. Goings, at the age of 70, stood trial at the Metamora courthouse with Lincoln served as her counsel in October 1857. She was charged with murdering her husband, 77-year-old Roswell Goings, by hitting him with a piece of firewood to the back of the head on April 14,1957. He had tried to strangle her. Her sentence, if convicted, would be death by hanging. That was the law.
You can read an essay on the story at the Metamora Historical society website: http://www.villageofmetamora.com/?hiscourt It will give you more details and slightly different versions of the story that have been passed down in folklore. A wise person once told me that "there are two sides to every story and the truth lies somewhere in the middle." Sage advise to live by. Still...a pretty clear picture starts to come into focus.
Abraham Lincoln was fascinating because of his strength of character and convictions were delivered with wit and country wisdom. Few knew what had hit them until it was over when encountering Lincoln in a courtroom or a debate. I don't know why he took the Goings case. Perhaps, because there were no laws in the day protecting battered women with self defense pleas. He was not afraid to be unpopular. He was more concerned with doing what was right.
Side note...when the judge set Melissa Goings bail...her deceased husbands relatives were part of the donors who helped bail her out. It speaks volumes to Roswell's horrid reputation.
The community felt compassion and pity on Melissa. Roswell was a known wife beater in a day that was tolerated. No laws to protect her and no hero to save the day...until Abraham Lincoln accepted the job as co-counsel on her case.
During the trial, Judge Harriot revoked Melissa's bail. At that point, she became the sheriff's responsibility, to get her to and from the courtroom. Lincoln was thought to be concerned that the judge was eager to get the trial over and feared no real justice would be served. At the court's recess...Abraham Lincoln and Melissa Goings took a walk. Mrs. Goings never returned to the courtroom.
The sheriff said he thought Mr. Lincoln had her. Mr. Lincoln felt the sheriff was in charge of watching her. Bottom line - she never returned. The judge was not happy, but Lincoln was never found to be in contempt of court. Someone...likely a community of someones... helped her escape. I don't know that she was never seen in Metamora again.
The unhappy judge felt perhaps Lincoln had sent her on the run. He was confronted and this was his response:“Your honor, I did not chase her off. She simply asked me where she could get a good drink of water, and I said…Tennessee has mighty fine drinkin’ water.” The courtroom erupted in laughter. He was not held in contempt of court or charged with any crime.
Fact: The state's attorney never signed a warrant for her arrest.
Fact: When Lincoln last returned to Metamora in 1958 in the midst of his Senate debates and the state's attorney dismissed the charges against Melissa Goings.
Lincoln loved the law. He loved to study it. He was passionate about the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Still, he loved people more. The laws made to defend the innocent did at times fail. Melissa Goings was not "innocent" but neither was she a murder to be held to the laws of that day.
Lincoln's knowledge, wit, wisdom...and his faith...strengthened his backbone. In the case of Melissa Goings, a woman had endured tyrannical abuse of the very one who took an oath to love and cherish her. Roswell had broken his marriage vows. The law failed to provider her any protection during her marriage...or in her trial. The community and her in-laws felt she had served her sentence in her years of her marriage to a horrible man. Even the deceased man's relatives seemed to support her act of self defense. Was justice served?
The law is black and white...but it isn't simple. I think Abraham Lincoln is remembered so fondly because he was able to wrestle words. He used words to defend those who could not defend themselves. He did not deny his failing or short comings. He used humor to diffuse where he could.
He was a master communicator and avidly read the word of God, as it was a part of his speech without even thinking about it. In debates...when looking for a response... he would quote scripture are truths read in God's word.
To bring it home - Jesus spoke clearly and it is repeated in the gospels that we are to care for widows and orphans. Perhaps, it was Jesus response to the church leaders ready to stone a woman for adultery...within the law of the day...
John 8:2-11: "Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery.
5Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” 6This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. 7And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.”
8And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. 9But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. 10Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”"
If you want to test a man's character...or a woman's...give them power. Love and justice are both a part of God's character. If we love Him with our whole hearts, we will not likely find ourselves in as many tough spots. But, life happens and evil is present. The rain falls on the just and unjust. It is important to remember that love is a choice and grace is a gift.
Today, I am grateful for Abraham Lincoln's wisdom, character and example..and His knowledge of God's word that made him a master communicator.