A Message from CEO Carla Knorowski, Ph.D.:
Contrary to popular belief, our nation’s greatest export is not soybeans, cotton or thermoplastics, it’s Abraham Lincoln. Or so I’m theorizing. Consider this: There are more books and treatises written about Lincoln—approximately 18,000—than any other individual in the history of the world other than Jesus. One need only to witness Petersen House’s jaw-dropping more-than-three-story-high-column comprised solely of books about Lincoln to even begin to grasp this fact.
Lincoln’s story continues to globally captivate. He is the only American immortalized in a statue in China, as well as the only statue of an American in London’s Parliament Square. Each year, hundreds of thousands of guests come to visit the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. They come not just from all 50 states, but more than 100 countries on all seven continents—yes, even Antarctica. These visitors help us export the Lincoln story to their fellow citizens of the world. This is quite a feat for a President whose international travel was confined to stepping across the U.S.-Canadian border on a visit to Niagara Falls.
Petersen House's 34-foot tower of
books about Abraham Lincoln.
Lincoln’s contemporary, French-born, Italian General Giuseppe Garibaldi, once said of him, “You will pass to posterity with the name of the Emancipator…more enviable than any crown or any human treasure.” Said Russian philosopher Leo Tolstoy, “The greatness of Napoleon, Caesar or Washington is only moonlight by the sun of Lincoln. His example is universal and will last thousands of years.”
Not convinced? The U.S. Department of State boasts more than 1,000 documents penned by a variety of 19th century international dignitaries upon their learning of Lincoln’s passing. Many are quite touching and moving, a tribute to the man and his global influence especially when one considers he likely never met most of them as his focus was on domestic issues and he had no Airforce One to jet him around to world summits and diplomatic missions.
What we export is as much a symbol of who and what we are as a nation as are our founding documents and the ideals and principles contained therein. Lincoln’s exportability, begs the following questions, “What is his continued relevance as a 19th century president, in today’s 21st century?” How do Lincoln’s more than 150-year old views on freedom, democracy, slavery, leadership, human migration, translate today? How can we, as keepers of some of Lincoln’s most iconic documents and artifacts help continue to not only tell his history, but also his relevance in the 21st century?
These are important questions that you, our generous benefactors have asked and continue to ask as we work together in partnership to share his timeless legacy. Philanthropy demands and deserves social relevancy. As other presidential libraries and museums tackle issues such as global health, veterans’ rights, volunteerism, democracy, community activism and organizing among others, we, too, must continue to explore how our nation’s greatest export, Abraham Lincoln, continues to effectuate thought, discussion, debate and change on today’s most pressing issues. His story demands to be told not just for the sake of history, but for the sake of our contemporary nation and world, in which a little dose of Lincoln can go a long way to curing what ails us. As an export, he gives us the kind of incalculable surplus that doesn’t just benefit the United States, but the entire world.