The name of Abraham Lincoln is famous throughout the land. Cities, highways, and monuments are named after him. His face has been seen for a century on the penny...and now, on a commemorative coin as well. In 2009, the bicentennial year of Lincoln's birth, the United States Mint will produce the silver dollar described in the Abraham Lincoln Commemorative Coin Act of 2006.
The son of a Kentucky farmer, Lincoln had an honesty and intelligence that led him through a career in law and politics to the presidency. His firm belief that all men are created equal was crucial in the movement to abolish slavery.
He showed great courage during the Civil War. He showed great kindness in his plans for reconstructing the South afterward, "with malice toward none, with charity for all." Yet his life was taken by an assassin's bullet on April 14, 1865, just days after the war ended.
President Lincoln had spoken at the dedication of a cemetery for Civil War soldiers at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, in 1863. Lincoln's speech at Gettysburg is seen as one of the most beautiful and moving pieces of American literature. The last 43 words of this address are inscribed on the back of the Lincoln commemorative dollar:
"We here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; 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."
This part of the speech is surrounded by a wreath on the coin. The banner beneath it includes Lincoln's signature. The portrait of Lincoln on the front of the coin is based on the sculpture by Daniel Chester French that sits inside the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC.
Like Abraham Lincoln, Louis Braille was born in 1809. Braille, a citizen of France, invented a system of raised dots that allows blind people to read and write.
At the age of three, Louis had an accident in his father's workshop. He was using an awl (a tool for making holes), but his hand slipped, resulting in his losing sight in one eye. Then the injured eye became infected and the infection spread to his other eye. He was completely blind by the age of four.
Braille received a scholarship to the Royal Institute for Blind Children in Paris when he was 10. Most of the teaching there was done by voice, but there were also books printed with large, embossed letters that the students could feel with their fingers. Still, they were very hard to read.
When Louis was 12, a captain in Napoleon's army visited the school. Captain Charles Barbier de la Serre had invented a system he called "night writing" so that soldiers could send messages at night. They could read these messages in the dark without having to light a match, which might alert the enemy. The groups of 12 raised dots stood for sounds rather than letters.
Braille thought the system could be simpler. He experimented for several months until he came up with a system that used only six dots. The system we call Braille today, adapted to languages all over the world, is basically the same system that Louis settled on when he was just 15. At the time, he made the raised dots by hand, pressing the paper with an awl, the same tool that had led to his blindness.
The design on the back of the Braille silver dollar includes actual Braille letters. This is the first coin ever that can be read by a person who can read Braille. Below the letters BRL (which stand for "Braille" in Braille code), a child is shown reading a book with his fingers beside a bookcase labeled "Independence." On the front, a portrait of Louis Braille faces forward.
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