My admiration for Abraham Lincoln is enormous. I have endeavored to read about him, and have found a few great books about his political acumen, his belief system, his character and his drive to become something great.
His wont to experience life, and to do something great drove him. I found that revelation about his life very telling in addition to his particular philosophy and mental nimbleness and courage. In order to be great, you have to pursue greatness, things don’t just fall in your lap.
Often in politics, people who seek political office are criticized as trying to gain power, and so they are disparaged for making decisions in life that would help them reach those goals. The same is said of co-workers who seek management jobs; they are accused of sucking up to the boss, or worse, and it’s always the person who is too afraid of, or unwilling to pursue greatness that will attribute bad intent on those who go for it. Of course there are always going to be people who seek political office just for power, but there are those, like Abe Lincoln, who knew he had a purpose in life, and he sought power and did great things, and the nation should be grateful.
There is another practice among political observers that is just as damaging to good people as the criticism of ambition, and it is the tendency to refuse to see the good in a man if he happens to like, or work with, someone who has opposing views. To cure that type of thinking, I suggest that people read Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin. Now, the people who really need to read it, are the ones who won’t simply because Goodwin is a liberal. But no matter, she is an excellent historian with a terrific ability to tell the story of Lincoln, his political abilities, and his hodge-podge cabinet.
Abe liked to entertain people. He had stories he would tell from his life and things he adapted from jokes that captivated everyone around him. It’s a shame all we have is photographs of him without expression, for others have told of the brightness of his face when engaged in the telling of a story or a chance to joke around. His easy ability to draw the attention of everyone was something he worked on, ever since he was a child. He liked to make people laugh, he liked to be the center of attention, and when he was not, he drew in upon himself. But this is the way of great thinkers, at least many of them.
His philosophy of life and death could have been the reason he sought greatness. He was of the belief that nothing happens when you are dead. It was in stark contrast with most of the Christian beliefs at the time. No heaven, no hell, you just die, and it’s over. Perhaps it is this way for a great many people never to be thought of again except by their immediate families. But Abe Lincoln would live forever. We remember him all the time, every year for over 150 years, and he is loved by everyone (except the secessionists and Ron Paul maniacs who can go jump off a cliff.)
Lincoln’s God-given talent for seeing right and wrong and focusing on it, and trying to convince people of it, using their own beliefs and where they were coming from within the discussion was such a marvelous ability. It’s the type of ability political consultants dream of in candidates. But he didn’t just come by it naturally, he studied, he read, he learned, and he prepared thoroughly for all endeavors. Some say he was disingenuous in his beliefs, but that is wrong. He worked at convincing people.
There are some negative things that happened during Lincoln’s administration. Lincoln-haters like to complain of the size and scope of government during his presidency, and of the spending bills and taxation, and they don’t like to be reminded that states started to secede before he took office, and that he had made it clear that the union must be kept together. The Civil War was years in the making by those who defended slavery as a moral good, and whose belief systems included the belief that black men, women, and children were not human, but pieces of property. When the southern states threatened and then began to secede, and when the south fired upon the north, there was no recourse except war. Without a union, there is no country.
Some believe that Lincoln wasn’t really opposed to slavery. They cite certain things he said and did, like when he considered sending the black population back to Africa, or when he wrote to a newspaper editor, Horace Greely of New York, that the war was about saving the union and not so much about slavery, writing,
“If there be those who would not save the Union, unless they could at the same time save slavery, I do not agree with them. If there be those who would not save the Union unless they could at the same time destroy slavery, I do not agree with them. My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union; and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union. I shall do less whenever I shall believe what I am doing hurts the cause, and I shall do more whenever I shall believe doing more will help the cause. I shall try to correct errors when shown to be errors; and I shall adopt new views so fast as they shall appear to be true views.”
But often it is the same people who claim secession is the right of every state, who then argue that Lincoln wasn’t opposed to slavery. Why they make that argument, I cannot tell, because long before Lincoln was president, he picked up the argument that many of our founders used in objection to slavery. He protested against those, while a representative in the Illinois legislature in 1837, who tried to make abolitionist societies illegal, citing pro-slavery argumentation as though slavery itself could never be abolished. He introduced a constitutional amendment, when he reached the House of Representatives 13 years later, to abolish slavery in Washington D.C. He spoke out against the Dred Scott decision, and then, in 1854, Lincoln just totally slayed the idea that slavery is a moral good, by showing how those who argued for the proliferation of slavery into new territories knew that slavery was wrong by their own actions. I encourage you to read the Peoria speech aloud. His ability to read people and bring forth what they themselves will not admit makes this a very powerful speech against slavery.
Here is what I believe is the best part of Lincoln’s Peoria speech:
“But, however this may be, we know the opening of new countries to slavery, tends to the perpetuation of the institution, and so does KEEP men in slavery who otherwise would be free. This result we do not FEEL like favoring, and we are under no legal obligation to suppress our feelings in this respect.
Equal justice to the south, it is said, requires us to consent to the extending of slavery to new countries. That is to say, inasmuch as you do not object to my taking my hog to Nebraska, therefore I must not object to you taking your slave. Now, I admit this is perfectly logical, if there is no difference between hogs and negroes. But while you thus require me to deny the humanity of the negro, I wish to ask whether you of the south yourselves, have ever been willing to do as much? It is kindly provided that of all those who come into the world, only a small percentage are natural tyrants. That percentage is no larger in the slave States than in the free. The great majority, south as well as north, have human sympathies, of which they can no more divest themselves than they can of their sensibility to physical pain. These sympathies in the bosoms of the southern people, manifest in many ways, their sense of the wrong of slavery, and their consciousness that, after all, there is humanity in the negro. If they deny this, let me address them a few plain questions. In 1820 you joined the north, almost unanimously, in declaring the African slave trade piracy, and in annexing to it the punishment of death. Why did you do this? If you did not feel that it was wrong, why did you join in providing that men should be hung for it? The practice was no more than bringing wild negroes from Africa, to sell to such as would buy them. But you never thought of hanging men for catching and selling wild horses, wild buffaloes or wild bears.
Again, you have amongst you, a sneaking individual, of the class of native tyrants, known as the “SLAVE-DEALER.” He watches your necessities, and crawls up to buy your slave, at a speculating price. If you cannot help it, you sell to him; but if you can help it, you drive him from your door. You despise him utterly. You do not recognize him as a friend, or even as an honest man. Your children must not play with his; they may rollick freely with the little negroes, but not with the “slave-dealer’s children”. If you are obliged to deal with him, you try to get through the job without so much as touching him. It is common with you to join hands with the men you meet; but with the slave dealer you avoid the ceremony—instinctively shrinking from the snaky contact. If he grows rich and retires from business, you still remember him, and still keep up the ban of non-intercourse upon him and his family. Now why is this? You do not so treat the man who deals in corn, cattle or tobacco.
And yet again; there are in the United States and territories, including the District of Columbia, 433,643 free blacks. At $500 per head they are worth over two hundred millions of dollars. How comes this vast amount of property to be running about without owners? We do not see free horses or free cattle running at large. How is this? All these free blacks are the descendants of slaves, or have been slaves themselves, and they would be slaves now, but for SOMETHING which has operated on their white owners, inducing them, at vast pecuniary sacrifices, to liberate them. What is that SOMETHING? Is there any mistaking it? In all these cases it is your sense of justice, and human sympathy, continually telling you, that the poor negro has some natural right to himself—that those who deny it, and make mere merchandise of him, deserve kickings, contempt and death.
And now, why will you ask us to deny the humanity of the slave? and estimate him only as the equal of the hog? Why ask us to do what you will not do yourselves? Why ask us to do for nothing, what two hundred million of dollars could not induce you to do?
But one great argument in the support of the repeal of the Missouri Compromise, is still to come. That argument is “the sacred right of self government.” It seems our distinguished Senator has found great difficulty in getting his antagonists, even in the Senate to meet him fairly on this argument—some poet has said
“Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.”
At the hazzard of being thought one of the fools of this quotation, I meet that argument—I rush in, I take that bull by the horns.
I trust I understand, and truly estimate the right of self-government. My faith in the proposition that each man should do precisely as he pleases with all which is exclusively his own, lies at the foundation of the sense of justice there is in me. I extend the principles to communities of men, as well as to individuals. I so extend it, because it is politically wise, as well as naturally just; politically wise, in saving us from broils about matters which do not concern us. Here, or at Washington, I would not trouble myself with the oyster laws of Virginia, or the cranberry laws of Indiana.
The doctrine of self government is right—absolutely and eternally right—but it has no just application, as here attempted. Or perhaps I should rather say that whether it has such just application depends upon whether a negro is not or is a man. If he is not a man, why in that case, he who is a man may, as a matter of self-government, do just as he pleases with him. But if the negro is a man, is it not to that extent, a total destruction of self-government, to say that he too shall not govern himself? When the white man governs himself that is self-government; but when he governs himself, and also governs another man, that is more than self-government—that is despotism. If the negro is a man, why then my ancient faith teaches me that “all men are created equal;” and that there can be no moral right in connection with one man’s making a slave of another.”
Lincoln says other things in the speech that truly offend certain people who cannot understand the thinking of the time and how his views were not popular. But the people who would be offended are few. History tells us Lincoln was a great man by word, deed an action. If those who cannot see that ever become the majority, the nation is truly doomed.
Happy Birthday Mr. President, I wish I had known you, and had been able to laugh at your jokes and marvel at your mind. As it is, I will always remember you with a swollen heart for the goodness that you showed, and the nation you saved.