Denver Bar Association
February 2009
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The Faces of Lincoln

by Mark Fogg

One of my favorite celebrity quotes comes from actor Robert Redford. When asked why he had not had plastic surgery, he responded, "because it sucks the soul out of your face."

There are probably few faces in American history that would have benefited more from plastic surgery than President Lincoln’s, but that abominable result would have deprived us of one of the great etchings of our history. His face reflects the character of an experienced trial lawyer, the adversity and sorrow of our most dire hour, and the greatness of a soul capable of grasping the essence of the American experience.

The month of February marks the 200th birthday of President Lincoln. In addition, several events are scheduled to honor Lincoln on Law Day, May 1. Colorado Governor Bill Ritter recently appointed a commission to help coordinate and promote these events. He was kind enough to appoint a lawyer recommended by the bar association for the commission, Kato Crews.

Though the celebrations will be in May, I could not let February come and go without writing something about Lincoln. He is a personal hero of mine — as he is for many lawyers. The different facets of this great and tragic figure speak to me in several important ways about the meaning of our profession.

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First and foremost, he represents the fact that, throughout history, lawyers have always stood at the center of the maelstrom in the protection of our freedoms and rights.

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Lincoln faced one of the most difficult periods of adversity in our nation’s history. Our challenges pale in comparison.

Lincoln also represents how lawyers consistently rise to the occasion to vanquish such perilous times. Our strength is rooted in a career of battling adversity.

Like the face of Lincoln, I love to watch the faces of older lawyers (which is increasingly beneficial every time I shave). The facial brush strokes trace a career of meaningful victories and devastating losses, and make me appreciate the dedication, tenacity and courage encompassed in a lifetime spent practicing law.

Lincoln’s face is one of the enlightened portraits of our society that uplifts the downtrodden and disfranchised in our country. A small museum at the base of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. features an exhibit of all of the demonstrations held in front of the Memorial over the years. Certainly the most well-known gathering was during the civil rights movement of the 1960s, when the Rev. Martin Luther King made his famous speech. That demonstration was just one of many organized by individuals such as immigrants, veterans and unions who felt they were being deprived of essential freedoms.

A few historians have questioned whether Lincoln truly saw the abolition of slavery as one of the important goals of winning the Civil War. Regardless, no one can contest that Lincoln is among the "better angels of our nature" in the ongoing quest for justice and equality.

Reflecting on Lincoln always reminds me of nights I’ve spent camping out under the stars in the great Rocky Mountains. When I can escape the day-to-day stress and doldrums of traffic, noise and frenetic activity, I sit back and gaze at the heavens. Here, I appreciate the vastness of the universe and its depth and inherent wisdom veiled behind everyday life. This quickly places me — and the rest of the world — into perspective. Fortunately, there is one way I can summon that perspective when I am trapped in my law office, with the door closed, working on the third or fourth motion of the day related to such high-minded things as requests for extension or discovery issues or, even worse, working on my billings. For such times, I have strategically placed a poster of Lincoln on the back of my door. It is a picture of the Lincoln Memorial with this quote from the Gettysburg Address: "…that this Nation under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."

Thank you, Mr. Lincoln, for letting me get a glimpse at the greatness behind the law and gaze at the heavens on the back of my door.


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