Senator John M. Thurston said in part at a banquet of the Baptist Social Union, New York, on Lincoln’s birthday, in 1897:
"This is an entirely different gathering than that to which I have been recently accustomed. I come from a forty days’ session of a moot court, in which the question of silver has been discussed and passed upon without any hope of legislation. There I have been used to having my audiences rise and leave as soon as I began to speak.
"Mr. President, if I have any purpose to-night, it is to strengthen the belief in a Divine Providence; and if I have any further purpose in this time of wars and rumors of wars, it is to show that God Almighty has made nations for higher purposes than mere money making. I am to speak to-night of Abraham Lincoln, the simplest, serenest, sublimest character of the age. Seventy millions of people join in commemorating his greatness. It is not my purpose to review his life; that is too much a part of history. That history should be taught in every American public school and preached from every Christian pulpit. The story of Abraham Lincoln, citizen, President, liberator and martyr, should be in the heart of every American child. I prefer to speak of only one event in his history. Yet that event was the harbinger of a new civilization.
"Not long since, as I sat in a crowed court room, engaged in the trial of a case involving the title to a valuable tract of real estate, there came to the witness stand a venerable, white-haired negro. Written all over his old black face was the history of three-quarters of a century of such an existence as few persons have ever known. Born a slave, he had stood upon the auction block and been sold to the highest bidder; he had seen his wife and children dragged from his side by those who mocked his breaking heart; he bore upon his back the scars and ridges of the master’s lash. Now he came into a court of justice to settle, by the testimony of his black lips, a controversy between white men. When asked his age he drew himself proudly up and said: ‘For fifty years I was a chattel. On the first day of January, 1863, old Uncle Abe made me a man.’
"The act which set that old man free was the crowning glory of Lincoln’s life, for by it he not only saved his country, but emancipated a race. When Abraham Lincoln took his pen to sign the Emancipation Proclamation he knew that the supreme moment had come. He had known it years before, when he said: ‘A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe that this government cannot exist permanently, half slave and half free, but I do not expect this house to fall, this government to be dissolved.’
"God has always raised up a great leader for a great crisis. Moses, initiated into the sublime mysteries of the house of Pharaoh, himself a ruler and almost a king, let the children of Israel through the parted waters of the Red Seas into the wilderness in the strange hope of a deliverance. A shepherdess on the hills of France felt herself stirred at the sore trials of her race. Joan d’Arc, the savior of her country, was the instrument of God.
"Who can doubt that Providence put the preposterous notion of a round world into the head of the Genoese sailor? Who can doubt that Providence designed Christopher Columbus, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant each for his own mission? The Declaration of Independence was the Genesis of American liberty, but the gospel of its New Testament was the Emancipation Proclamation. Until the Emancipation Proclamation the tide of success set strongly against the Union shore. But afterward the soldiers of the Union marched steadily from Chattanooga to Atlanta and from Atlanta to the sea. From the time the flag of liberty became the flag of freedom and the Stars and Stripes no longer floated over slaves, the Union never wavered in its onward march.
"Almost a third of a century has passed away. Blue and gray they lie together beneath the sod. Heroes all, they fell face to face, brother against brother. But through the mingled tears that fall alike upon the dead of both sections, the eyes of all turn toward a new future under the old flag. To the North and South, to the white and the black, Abraham Lincoln was God’s special providence. What is the heritage to us? In his own words, ‘A government of the people, by the people, and for the people.’
"I wish that my voice could reach from one end of the land to the other while I tell what true Americanism is. I come from a State that has great local necessities, perhaps, as any other. The State of Nebraska put one star into the flag. The great State of New York put another. But when they set them there, they ceased to shine for themselves, but for the whole Union.
"What we need in this country is the Emancipation Proclamation and the Stars and Stripes at every polling place. We need a revival of the American flag. Let it float over every American battlefield, be taught in every public school. Set the Stars of the Union in the hearts of our children and the glory of the Republic will remain forever. It does not matter whether the American cradle is rocked to the music of ‘Yankee Doodle’ or the lullaby of ‘Dixie’ if the flag of the nation is displayed above it, and the American baby can be safely trusted to pull about the floor the rusty scabbard and the battered canteen, whether the inheritance be from blue or gray, if from the breast of a true mother and the lips of a brave father, its little soul is filled with the glory of the American constellation.
"The memory of Lincoln cannot perish. On freedom’s roll of honor the name of Lincoln is written first. His colossal statue stands on a pedestal of the people’s love, and in its protecting shadow, liberty and equality are the heritage of every American citizen."