How Robert Burns' philosophy of egalitarianism, community and freedom influenced Abraham Lincoln – Angus Robertson MSP

This evening, many of you will be digging into a traditional Burns’ Night feast of haggis, neeps and tatties (or perhaps the evermore popular vegetarian haggis – don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it), and perhaps someone in the family will make a brave attempt to recite ‘Tae a Haggis’ while wielding the carving knife.

US President Abraham Lincoln was a fan of Robert Burns' poetry (Picture: Alexander Gardner/US Library of Congress via Getty Images)
US President Abraham Lincoln was a fan of Robert Burns' poetry (Picture: Alexander Gardner/US Library of Congress via Getty Images)

But it is not just in Scotland where tributes will be offered. Burns has made an enormous impact on people and places around the world.

Perhaps the most significant figure to be a Burns fan was the 19th century US President, Abraham Lincoln. He was known to have copies of Robert Burns’ poetry on his desk in the White House, and regularly cited poems to friends and family – indeed, he credits Burns’ poetry with helping him to woo his wife Mary.

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It is a fascinating subject to read and hear much more about. A podcast just released from the White House Historical Association – the organisation charged with enhancing the understanding and appreciation of the White House – is a great place to start.

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Their 1600 Sessions podcasts, hosted by association president, Stewart McLaurin, delve into every subject related to the White House and goings-on there, from wine to décor to behind-the-scenes stories from staff.

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This week’s podcast explores Lincoln’s relationship with Burns and Scotland. The episode featuring the Glasgow University historian and Burns expert Professor Murray Pittock, explores the similarities between Burns’ and Lincoln’s upbringing – both came from difficult farming circumstances – and how the ‘ploughman poet’s’ philosophy of egalitarianism, community and freedom influenced Lincoln in office.

Angus Robertson is the SNP MSP for Edinburgh Central and Constitution, External Affairs and Culture Secretary

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