TIME Environment

Obama’s Florida Visit Takes Climate Change Fight to the Front Lines on Earth Day

President Obama speaks during a press conference at the White House in Washington, DC, April 17, 2015.
Jim Watson—AFP/Getty Images President Obama speaks during a press conference at the White House in Washington, DC, April 17, 2015.

"It’s about protecting our God-given natural wonders, and the good jobs that rely on them"

President Obama traveled to Florida on Wednesday to highlight the impact of climate change on the American economy. The choice of Florida, where sea levels are rising rapidly and state officials aren’t allowed to discuss climate change, brings Obama to the front lines of the debate over how to address the changing environment.

Obama’s Earth Day speech at Everglades National Park portrayed climate change as an issue with real-world effects that are relevant beyond the community of environmental activists. The site is a key source of drinking water for more than a third of Florida’s nearly 20 million people and tourism at the park provides a significant boost to the local economy, Obama said in his speech.

“This is not a problem for another generation. Not anymore,” Obama said. “This is a problem now. It has serious implications for the way we live right now. Stronger storms. Deeper droughts. Longer wildfire seasons.”

The visit comes one day after the White House announced measures to support national parks and prepare communities across the country for storms caused by climate change.

Obama’s decision to make his speech in Florida brings him to the nexus of the fight against climate change in the U.S. While the state’s natural treasures and densely populated communities face the pressure of rising sea levels, many in the state do not believe in climate change. State employees have been banned from even using the term “climate change” while working in their official capacities. (Obama seemed to take the Florida state government to task directly for its policy prohibiting discussion of climate change, saying “climate change can’t be omitted from the conversation.”)

“Southeast Florida is really ground zero on climate change and sea level rise in particular,” said Christina DeConcini, director of government affairs at the World Resources Institute. “There’s a disconnect there. It seems if you were an elected official in the state of Florida, it would be incumbent on you to protect your constituents.”

To be sure, there’s a lot to protect. The southern Florida region, most threatened by rising sea levels, is home to real estate valued at more than $130 billion, as well as two nuclear power plants, 74 airports and hundreds of public schools, according to a government report. And then there’s the threat to the Everglades, which helps support the state’s $80 billion tourism industry.

In Miami and the surrounding area, much of the preparation for rising sea levels and other climate change effects has fallen into the hands of local initiatives, at least in part because the state government has been largely unresponsive. The Southeast Florida Regional Compact, a partnership between four counties in the Miami area, has developed tactics to manage streets that regularly flood with water, identify vulnerable transportation systems and prepare to relocate communities that may be especially affected by climate-related disasters.

“These four counties said, ‘you know what sea level rise and the consequences need to be dealt with together. The water doesn’t respect county boundaries,” said Colin Polsky, director of the Florida Center for Environmental Studies. “I can’t say there’s zero collaboration with the state, but it’s kind of chilling if state officials feel like they can’t even use the words climate change.”

Obama’s speech on Wednesday seemed to be an implicit challenge to presidential contenders Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush. The two Florida Republicans, a Senator and former Governor, respectively, have expressed doubt about man-made climate change, despite the clear evidence of climate change in their own backyards.

Aside from challenging Republicans on climate change, Obama touted his plan to reduce America’s carbon emissions by at least 26% by 2025. The commitment has been portrayed as key to fostering an international agreement on this issue at this December’s U.N. climate talks in Paris.

But even a landmark carbon emissions agreement won’t be enough to stop sea levels around Florida from rising in the short term, Polsky said.

“There’s already enough warming that we committed to our atmosphere based on the past couple hundred years of emissions,” he said. “We could stop emissions tomorrow and the ice would continue to melt.”

TIME Environment

Meet the Organizers of the Very First Earth Day

How a troupe of twenty-somethings mobilized millions of Americans to speak out on the environment

“It sounds as if the land has gone mad, and in a way some of it has—mad at man’s treatment of his environment.” When LIFE Magazine reported on the first Earth Day, which took place on April 22, 1970, it captured the burgeoning energy of a nascent environmental movement and the young men and women driving toward change.

The magazine’s focus was less on the pollution that threatened the planet than on the faces of the movement determined to curtail it. Senator Gaylord Nelson, a Democrat from Wisconsin, had conceived of an environmental campaign that employed tactics, like the teach-in, of the anti-war movement. But he needed a group of budding young activists to organize it from the ground up.

Nelson enlisted Harvard graduate student Denis Hayes as national coordinator. Hayes brought on classmates Andrew Garling, who would coordinate the Northeast, and Stephen Cotton, who would manage the media campaign. Arturo Sandoval, a Chicano activist, joined the team to manage the Western effort, along with Bryce Hamilton to organize high school students and Barbara Reid to coordinate the Midwest.

The paths they took to their cramped Washington, D.C., headquarters varied widely. Reid, who had worked on Robert Kennedy’s campaign and then for the Conservation Foundation, was the only one with solid credentials in the movement. Hayes, who would go on to be a pioneering influence in solar power, grew up in the forests and streams of southwest Washington but focused his prior activism on the Vietnam War, as did Garling. Cotton came up as a student journalist during the civil rights movement, and Sandoval had organized Chicano students and laborers to fight against discrimination.

From a dingy office above a Chinese restaurant, the team orchestrated a history-making event. When the day they’d been working toward finally came, 20 million Americans took to the streets to rally for a more earth-conscious society, and the modern environmental movement was born. As dire as the problems that faced the environment were, Hayes maintained an optimistic outlook. As he told LIFE, “There’s no survival potential in pessimism.”

Liz Ronk, who edited this gallery, is the Photo Editor for LIFE.com. Follow her on Twitter at @LizabethRonk.

Read next: This Is the App You Need to Download for Earth Day

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TIME politics

Once a Liberal Icon, Jefferson’s Now Claimed by Both Left and Right

Thomas Jefferson
Hulton Archive/Getty Images circa 1790: engraving of American statesman Thomas Jefferson

The horrible human tragedy and deceit on which the fortune of Cecil Rhodes rests

History News Network

This post is in partnership with the History News Network, the website that puts the news into historical perspective. The article below was originally published at HNN.

Thomas Jefferson has been problematic for historians and divisive for culture warriors. An idealist who crafted language that remains beautiful and enduringly quotable, he has more recently stood in for the persistence of states’ rights and racial injustice. He has, however, never lost the universality expressed by Mikhail Gorbachev during a pilgrimage to Monticello, when the Russian affirmed that as he was conceiving reform in the Soviet Union he recurred to a college text that expounded Jefferson’s political principles.

Jefferson is a featured player in the political memory game as it has been practiced in America over the last century. Every country needs its national origins story. Ours, wearing the garb of American exceptionalism, has given generations a narrative, dating to 1776, that pronounces the moral worth of the founders and their humane principles. In this project, Jefferson is the principal author of the ingenious, hopeful script that we commemorate on select holidays and reintroduce in times of war or perceived danger. As “democracy’s muse,” he alternately soothes and buoys a militarily strong yet frustrated, disoriented nation marked by social contradictions. It is that phenomenon which I examine in my new book. I cover reimagined Jeffersons across the presidencies of the modern era, in debates on Capitol Hill, and among the columnists and popular authors who have aimed to bring the concept of Jeffersonian democracy up to date.

The political Left “owned” Jefferson from the New Deal through the 1960s; yet Ronald Reagan, as much a Jefferson lover as any Democrat, went far in converting the eloquent founder to the conservative cause–where he has largely remained to this day. Curiously, it is only on the Right that we find those who deny the link between Jefferson DNA and the mixed-race offspring of Monticello slave Sally Hemings; on the Right it is thought that plantation sex is a diminution of founding “greatness” and a threat to the moral underpinnings of the founding narrative.

Franklin D. Roosevelt was integrally involved in the planning and execution of the Jefferson Memorial, which he dedicated on the Virginian’s 200th birthday, April 13, 1943. Thousands gathered to witness the event. “Thomas Jefferson believed, as we believe, in man,” the president said on that day. Enlisting Jefferson in the ongoing struggle against Hitler, he continued: “He believed, as we believe, that … no king, no tyrant, no dictator can govern for them.” In conclusion, FDR explained the choice of the quote that wraps around the interior of the dome, which expressed “Jefferson’s noblest and most urgent meaning.” It reads: “I have sworn before the altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.”

It was actually a line Jefferson had written in 1800 to Dr. Benjamin Rush, in reaction to the Christian Right of his day, which considered Jefferson an atheist and feared in a Jefferson presidency an abandonment of religious morals and imposition of non-belief. The recipient of the letter believed, unlike Jefferson, that Jesus was divine. The “altar of God” allusion was a subtle means to reach a man of faith, while stating that more suspicious men of faith need not fear his intrusion into anyone’s right of conscience. A few months after the letter to Dr. Rush, in his First Inaugural Address, the third president sent new signals, intentionally referring to Americans’ “benign” religion, “practiced in its various forms”; and he went on to say that the “blessings” of an “overruling Providence” needed only a “wise and frugal government” to complete the happiness of citizens in their new republic.

He spoke presidentially. The common invocation of “Providence,” like presidential recurrence to “God bless the United States of America” these days, was meant only to soothe. The historical Jefferson wrote most forcefully–and privately– about the dangers of “metaphysical speculations” and the need to employ reason to confront the “mischievous” dogmas repeated by ill-informed (or deceptive, manipulative) preachers.

Of course, not everyone regards the historical Jefferson with calm deliberation. Extracting Jefferson quotes has been a hobby of many over the years, and a major problem for single-issue politicians who have endeavored to translate their Jefferson into a spokesman for whatever they advocate. Public figures are guilty of removing the most emotionally resonant of the founders from historical context, and will often mingle legitimate phrases with invented ones. Monticello’s research department actively susses out spurious Jefferson quotes and posts explanations on its website. Channeling Jefferson during his unsuccessful run for the Republican nomination in 2012, Newt Gingrich told a questioning voter in New Hampshire that Jefferson, who grew hemp, would, if alive today, impose severe penalties for marijuana possession. Adoring Jefferson, Gingrich repeatedly decried the “radical secularists” who were ruining America.

I call this, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, “Jefferson abuse.” Of recent vintage, to complete the example of Jefferson’s religious views, is David Barton’s dramatic recovery of an evangelical Jefferson in his abortive book of 2012 (since pulled from the shelves by his publisher), titled The Jefferson Lies. Barton combined his stern rejection of Jefferson-Hemings liaison as a moral impossibility with his insistence that Jefferson had never advocated “a secular public square.” His Jefferson “regularly prayed, believing that God would answer his prayers for his family, his country, the unity of the Christian church, and the end of slavery.”

The “wise and frugal government” of Jefferson’s First Inaugural has become, since the 1980s, a touchstone for fiscal conservatives. At the Jefferson Memorial on July 3, 1987, President Reagan broadcast a “Jeffersonian” dictum, citing the magnetic founder’s hope for a constitutional amendment “taking from the federal government the power of borrowing.” For Reagan, big government posed a threat to liberty as granted by Jefferson and his cohort. Ironically, like Reagan, Jefferson was an enemy of spending who ran up a sizeable debt.

Distortion of the historical Jefferson reminds us that people believe what they want to believe. Our democratic politics actually depends on a mass psychology that advances through artful manipulation. We may protest the “long train of abuses” (to quote from the Declaration) that attach to statements made in Jefferson’s name; but he continues to occupy a privileged position as we converse with the past and seek to reconcile it, somehow, with our relatively disorganized present. Whoever “owns” Jefferson (or the collective founders) takes themselves to be inheritors of America’s essential ideals.

Andrew Burstein is the Charles P. Manship Professor of History at Louisiana State University. His most recent book is Democracy’s Muse: How Thomas Jefferson Became an FDR Liberal, a Reagan Republican, and a Tea Party Fanatic, All the While Being Dead.”

MONEY Financial Planning

The Danger of Mixing Politics and Investments

U.S. Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) (L) makes a point to Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) during the presidential debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York October 15, 2008.
Jim Bourg—Reuters U.S. Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) (L) makes a point to Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) during the presidential debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York October 15, 2008.

Believing that the country is headed in the wrong direction doesn't always translate into a good investing strategy.

Looking at a chart of the S&P 500’s performance from 2007 until now gives you a totally different perspective on the market decline of 2008-09. What an opportunity that was, right?

In hindsight, it’s easy to recognize that March 2009 was a bottom. I won’t bore you with stats on how much the market has gone up since then, because you already know it’s a lot.

We financial professionals find it easy to recall historical market data, but how often do we recall the politics that might have contributed to the decline in the first place?

Not too long ago I had the pleasure of meeting a man who had traveled extensively but was considering settling down given his advanced age. He had asked that I take a look at his portfolio because he was considering changing his “investment guy.” He mentioned that he had taken a significant hit in 2009 and that he had not fully recovered, so he wanted me to review his portfolio and advise him on what he should do now in order to have enough during retirement.

Soon after we started talking, it became apparent that he was of the belief that the country had been heading in the wrong direction since 2008. His portfolio appeared to have been built around an assumption that the market would collapse beyond its 2009 low.

Whether or not it was a good investment decision at the time would depend on a number of factors. In hindsight, however, it wasn’t a good strategy after March 2009.

Did his “investment guy” share his political views as well, continuing to believe that the country would come to an end? I don’t know. What is certain is that the client’s portfolio suggested that he was expecting a significant decline.

I recall having a similar conversation soon after 2009 with a couple who made it clear to me that they were not confident that American capitalism would survive. They shared with me their displeasure about the political environment at the time and felt that the country was in decline.

I began telling them they should ignore news reports and turn off their television because in the long run, that information would have no bearing on their investments

They looked at me as if to say I was misinformed, and politely walked out of my office.

As financial professionals, we all have our own political views, because we’re human. Some are in alignment with our clients’ views, and some might be to the left or right. But does that mean we should allow our political views to dictate our financial planning advice?

Over the years I’ve learned that my personal political views have very little to do with the advice I extend to my clients. Regardless of whether or not I agree with clients or potential clients, my goal is to remain neutral and apolitical. I focus on just the facts as best as I can.

Bottom line, my political views are irrelevant when it comes to planning and providing advice that would allow my client to navigate the financial noise.


Frank Paré is a certified financial planner in private practice in Oakland, California. He and his firm, PF Wealth Management Group, specialize in serving professional women in transition. Frank is currently on the board of the Financial Planning Association and was a recipient of the FPA’s 2011 Heart of Financial Planning award.

TIME India

India’s Anticorruption ‘Common Man’ Party Expels Senior Leaders

Ajay Aggarwal—Hindustan Times/Getty Images Dissident AAP leaders, from left, Prashant Bhushan, Anand Kumar and Yogendra Yadav addressing a press conference at the Press Club of India in New Delhi on April 15, 2015

Prashant Bhushan and Yogendra Yadav had spoken out against party chief Arvind Kejriwal

India’s perennially tumultuous Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) found itself embroiled in controversy yet again this week, expelling four members including two co-founders late Monday night.

The populist anticorruption party said in a statement that founding members Prashant Bhushan and Yogendra Yadav had been ejected for “gross indiscipline and antiparty activities,” the BBC reported. Two other senior politicians, Anand Kumar and Ajit Jha, were also banned.

The AAP, created on the back of a path-breaking national movement against graft in government, has swung between dramatic highs and unfortunate lows ever since its inception. Its leader Arvind Kejriwal resigned as New Delhi’s chief minister in February 2014 after just 49 days at the helm, staging a bizarre sit-in in the process, but roared back into power a year later after a near-whitewash of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party.

The internal discord that culminated in Bhushan and Yadav’s expulsion began soon after the February elections; both leaders were systematically removed from various decisionmaking bodies over the past few months after speaking out against Kejriwal’s reported authoritarian tendencies.

“All dreams of a movement have been shattered by a small coterie and a dictator,” Bhushan, a lawyer by profession, told news channel NDTV. He added that he didn’t feel a sense of personal loss, but expressed deep regret.

“How would you feel if someone drags you and throws you out of your own house?” Yadav asked reporters.

TIME White House

Lincoln’s Assassination—And Caesar’s

Abraham Lincoln
Michael Smith / Getty Images Portrait of Abraham Lincoln taken on the day of his inauguration in 1861

Both Lincoln and his assassin misread the lessons of history

History News Network

This post is in partnership with the History News Network, the website that puts the news into historical perspective. The article below was originally published at HNN.

When John Wilkes Booth shot Abraham Lincoln in Ford’s Theater 150 years ago, on Good Friday, April 14, 1865, he saw himself as an actor in a time-honored drama – Brutus stabbing Julius Caesar in the Capitol in Rome on the Ides of March. Via Shakespeare’s famous play, Caesar’s killing inspired the plot against Lincoln – and leaves an uncanny echo today in New York’s Central Park. It’s a strange story about Booth and his family, the first family of the American theater, and their obsession with Brutus. And it’s a cautionary tale about drawing the wrong lessons from history.

Booth was all but fated to compare himself to Brutus. Both his father and a brother were named Junius Brutus Booth; Booth himself played Brutus on stage and called it his favorite Shakespearean role. Just a few months before the assassination, in 1864, Booth and his two brothers played in a benefit performance of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar in New York City. Booth played the part of Mark Antony, but another stage beckoned.

Booth thought that Lincoln was a tyrant and that he himself was a liberator. Booth’s act was heinous; his judgment, skewed, if fitting for a Confederate sympathizer. Everything that Booth thought about Brutus, Caesar and political assassination was wrong. Yet if Booth was a lousy historian he was a faithful student of Shakespeare. The Bard makes Brutus into a noble Roman and downplays the conspirators’ squalid calculations of power and privilege. Nor did Booth consider that Brutus unleashed the dogs of war – against himself.

If Booth misread the lessons of history so did Lincoln. Lincoln thought he was a peacemaker. In his Second Inaugural Address five weeks earlier he called for “charity towards all,” “bind[ing] up the nation’s wounds,” and achieving “a just and lasting peace.” But civil war lights fires that do not die out when the battles end. And the shooting stopped only five days earlier, on April 9, 1865, when Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox.

Like Caesar before him, Lincoln wanted to mingle freely with his fellow citizens. He should have put safety first. Instead he went to Ford’s Theatre on the night of April 14 guarded by only one Washington city policeman, and that man had left his post when the assassin struck. Lincoln died the next morning, April 15.

By killing Lincoln, Booth changed history even more than Brutus did. Caesar’s assassins did not save the republic. They paved the way for Augustus – a kinder master than Caesar but still a master. Booth deprived the nation of the best hope for racial harmony and reconciliation. Vice-President Andrew Johnson, who replaced Lincoln, was a Southerner, a former slave owner and white supremacist. His disastrous presidency set back the nation for a century and still haunts us today. Yet Booth never intended Johnson to succeed Lincoln. He wanted to disrupt the government by sending fellow conspirators to kill Johnson too as well as Secretary of State William H. Seward. But Seward survived an attack and Johnson’s would-be killer lost his nerve and never struck.

If that is one irony of history here is another. The Booth brothers’ benefit performance of November 1864 successfully raised funds for a statue of Shakespeare. Dedicated in 1870, the statue still stands in New York’s Central Park. Few of those who admire it realize that it is an unwitting monument to political assassination.

And few of those who hear Shakespeare’s stirring lines in Julius Caesar consider how different historical events were from the play. The real tragedy is not the death of Brutus or Caesar but society’s failure to settle differences peacefully, by ballots rather than bullets – or daggers. Poetry inspires us to good deeds and bad. History teaches us the sober and complex truths that we ought to live by.

Barry Strauss teaches history and classics at Cornell. He is the author of “The Death of Caesar: The Story of History’s Most Famous Assassination(Simon & Schuster: March, 2015). Follow him on Twitter @barrystrauss.

TIME politics

Gary Hart: Dare We Call It Oligarchy?

President George Bush, U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY), former U.S. President Bill Clinton, former U.S. President George H. W. Bush, and former U.S. President Jimmy Carter walk through the crowd during the funeral for Coretta Scott King at the New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Lithonia, Ga. on Feb. 7, 2006.
Jason Reed—Pool/Getty Images President George Bush, U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton, former U.S. President Bill Clinton, former U.S. President George H. W. Bush, and former U.S. President Jimmy Carter walk through the crowd during the funeral for Coretta Scott King at the New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Lithonia, Ga. on Feb. 7, 2006.

Gary Hart is a former United States Senator.

If the presidency were to pass back and forth between two or three families in any Latin American nation we would call it an oligarchy

The lobbying/campaign finance/access matrix has corrupted American politics, divided our nation, and is well down the road to creating a system of political oligarchy.

Our Founders created a republic and, being keen students of the history of republics beginning with Athens, they knew that placing special and narrow interests ahead of the common good and the commonwealth was the corruption that destroyed republics. They feared this kind of corruption as the greatest danger to America’s success and survival.

By this standard, today’s American Republic is massively corrupt. Every interest group in our nation has staff lobbyists and hires lobbying firms. Thousands of lobbying firms now penetrate the halls of Congress as well as all State capitols and city halls. Those same lobbying firms collect funds for election and re-election campaigns. In exchange, they have access to legislatures and administrations, those who write the laws and make the regulations.

Worse still is the fact that, upon leaving office, Senators and House members are now becoming lobbyists and using their friendships and contacts to make millions of dollars. There are at least four hundred or more who have done so in recent years. Few if any of the Senators with whom I served in the 1970s and 80s ever became lobbyists.

With its monumentally wrong-headed Citizens United decision, the U.S. Supreme Court has now sanctioned this corruption and eliminated any chance for control of campaign contributions.

We have created what came to be known in late 17th and 18th century England as a division between the Court and the Country. The Court is composed of networks of political office holders and insiders, their lobbying and finance contacts, the policy centers which they inhabit between administrations, the offices they rotate in and out of, and a deep sense of shared entitlement, power, preference, and prerogative. The Country is all the rest of us.

It would be comical if it were not so tragic that the fashion of the day is to decry the evil of “Washington” by those already there and desperately seeking to stay in the middle of it.

The net affect of the money machine — lobbyists, fund raisers, and campaign consultants — is to severely narrow the field of those who can compete for office, especially national office. If the national presidency were to pass back and forth between two or three families in any Latin American nation we would call it an oligarchy.

But if those families can use carefully built political networks to raise a billion, or perhaps it is now multiple billions, of dollars to seek the presidency, what hope is there for the new voice, the fresh ideas, the innovative policies to address new 21st century realities?

If the corruption of our Republic by interests groups and their money, governance by a Court of rotating insiders, and fresh blood strangled from the political process is the ultimate product of a deck stacked against the Country, we are in for a precarious time in American history.

We will have created a political system and some form of government new in our history. But it will most surely not be the Republic of our Founders hopes and dreams.

Gary Hart, a former United States Senator, is the author of the The Republic of Conscience to be published July the 4th.

Read next: Chelsea Clinton Gets Ready to Take the Stage

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TIME politics

That Moment When a Senator’s Phone Plays ‘Let It Go’ at a Hearing

Even members of Congress can't let it go!

While Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack was testifying in front of the Senate Finance Committee Thursday, he was interrupted by Sen. Pat Roberts’s ringtone, which is “Let It Go” from Frozen.

Vilsack stopped talking and smiled while the 78-year-old Republican from Kansas tried to quickly turn off the device during this “Congress and U.S. Tariff Policy” hearing.

Looking at the cabinet member, Roberts said “just let it go,” prompting laughter from others in the room.

He tweeted that the ringtone is for his grandchildren, while also digging the current administration:


TIME remembrance

Why It Makes Sense to Pair Lincoln and Mandela

Abraham Lincoln, (1809-1865), April 1865.
Print Collector/Getty Images Last photograph of Abraham Lincoln, (1809-1865), taken April 1865.

They called him the Lincoln of Africa. It is little wonder that modern journalists would make such a connection

History News Network

This post is in partnership with the History News Network, the website that puts the news into historical perspective. The article below was originally published at HNN.

When Nelson Mandela died in 2013, news headlines called him “the Lincoln of Africa.” It is little wonder that modern journalists would make such a connection. Even today, 150 years since his untimely death at Ford’s Theatre, Abraham Lincoln’s legacy still looms large throughout the world. The comparison of these two men is an apt one. Both fought to bring freedom to their respective countries. Of equal importance, both sought to bring healing and unity to populations that were viciously divided over matters of race and social inequality.

In his second inaugural address in 1865, Lincoln famously called for “malice toward none” and “charity for all.” But he also implored his fellow citizens to act “with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right” to “strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds,” and “to do all which may achieve and cherish a just, and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.” In calling for adherence to “the right” and a “just” peace, Lincoln was demanding that Americans admit the wrong of slavery and turn away from their national sin. Only then could the nation be at peace with itself and the world.

Nelson Mandela echoed these sentiments in his own inaugural address in 1994. “We commit ourselves to the construction of a complete, just and lasting peace,” he declared. Moreover, Mandela hoped to build a “society in which all South Africans, both black and white, will be able to walk tall, without any fear in their hearts, assured of their inalienable right to human dignity—a rainbow nation at peace with itself and the world.”

Like Lincoln, Mandela hoped to offer charity and forgiveness for his adversaries—but they, too, had to repent of their wrongs. Rather than punish his former white oppressors in mass trials, Mandela established a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Those who had inflicted the Apartheid regime upon black and Colored South Africans would confess their sins, and those who had suffered would forgive. There would be malice toward none and charity for all.

Mandela was not the first prominent South African to appeal to Lincoln. In the classic novel, Cry, the Beloved Country (1948), Alan Paton employed Lincoln as a symbol of hope and equality, reconciliation and transformation. One central figure in the novel has four pictures in his study—one of Christ on the cross, one of Lincoln, and two depicting outdoor scenes. On one bookcase near the Lincoln picture are “hundreds of books, all about Abraham Lincoln.” The power of Lincoln’s speeches transforms several characters in the novel. If only more South Africans—in real life—could have read his words. In 1948, South Africa was careening toward Apartheid. Lincoln offered a better path, but the leaders in Pretoria ignored the better angels of their nature. Much bloodshed and injustice would soon follow.

As a young man in the 1940s, Nelson Mandela had his own unique encounter with Lincoln. While a student at the University of Fort Hare, Mandela joined a drama society that put on a play about Lincoln. The leading role went to another student who was appropriately named Lincoln Mkentane. Mandela played John Wilkes Booth. How strange to think of a young Madiba portraying one of the world’s most notorious villains! Yet Mandela took a particular lesson and inspiration from the experience. “My part was the smaller one,” he wrote in his memoir, Long Walk to Freedom (1994), “though I was the engine of the play’s moral, which was that men who take great risks often suffer great consequences.”

At first glance, Mandela could have been describing Booth—“the engine of the play’s moral”—who died twelve days after taking a great, if still somewhat cowardly risk, by shooting President Lincoln from behind in a dark theater. But of course Mandela was actually talking about Lincoln.

Lincoln took “great risks” to save the Union and free the slaves—to make the nation, as he once put it, “forever worthy of the saving.” On George Washington’s birthday in 1861, Lincoln declared at Independence Hall that he “would rather be assassinated on this spot than to surrender” the principles of the Declaration of Independence. Those principles, Lincoln said, gave “liberty, not alone to the people of this country, but hope to the world for all future time. It was that which gave promise that in due time the weights should be lifted from the shoulders of all men, and that all should have an equal chance.”

Lincoln would die for those ideals on April 15, 1865. A century and a half later he continues to serve as a symbol of America’s founding principles of liberty, equality and government by consent. But his modern connection to other great leaders like Mandela reveals how his legacy has spread, “not alone to the people of this country, but hope to the world for all future time.”

Jonathan W. White is teaches American Studies at Christopher Newport University. His latest book is “Lincoln on Law, Leadership, and Life” (March 2015).

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