Wednesday, February 11, 2009
Lincoln's 200th birthday
Of course, most with any sense know the name of Abraham Lincoln. To some, Lincoln freed the slaves. To others,Lincoln saved the union.
Yet, Lincoln was a far more complicated man than the caricatures of him we learn in history books.
Abraham Lincoln was a self made man. He was a man of complexity that abhorred both what we style now as big government and the institution of slavery. Yet, despite his stand against slavery, let there be no illusion that Lincoln saw blacks as his equals. He did not. Indeed, up to the time of his assassination, Lincoln wanted to send blacks back to Africa.
While such a stance by Lincoln can be seen as a great fault, his great skills outweighed such. One of Lincoln's great skills was laughing at himself and dealing with ridicule. If former President Bush and President Obama think they have it bad, they need only to look how Lincoln was considered a monkey and lampooned for his supposed stupidity by those in the northern newspapers who one would think would support his cause of keeping the union together. Yet, Lincoln learned to laugh at himself and did not flinch in his determination to keep the union together.
That determination to keep the union together would be tested beyond normal political lengths. Political rivals in Lincoln's cabinet conspired to keep him from election to a second term. Lincoln would lose a son to illness that drove his wife half mad. Lincoln would deal with Generals who slowly reacted to his orders as Commander in Chief. Lincoln would go through several Generals in charge of the War between the States before he found General Grant would actually be one that followed through on orders. Indeed, one of Lincoln's old generals would actually stand against Lincoln in Lincoln's effort to win re-election in 1864.
Lincoln won that election, only to have his second term cut short by the bullet of John Wilkes Booth. Lincoln's assassination was ironic. Lincoln was the one man in government who seemed likely to show his typical compassion to the South, yet, he was cut down by a man with Southern sympathies.
The fact that Lincoln's end was so ironic should not detract from what Lincoln was. Lincoln was the non church going man who appealed to God and religion in America's most trying times. Lincoln was the unlikely man who held together the nation through compassion and strength of character. The old rail splitter he was, Lincoln found a way to work with great Northern politicians to hold his will against the rebellious South. As such, Abraham Lincoln became known as the man who held the union together and moved it to the next level.
Lincoln did so surrounded in his cabinet by men who thought they were his betters. Lincoln did so by discouraging the malcontents among him for striking up war with the United Kingdom, who was pro South. "One war at a time, " Lincoln would caution the malcontents. Lincoln would also show remarkable acts of courtesy and compassion in his role of commander in chief.
Where there greater Presidents of the United States than Lincoln? Perhaps. Was there any President who understood his moral duty as President and did everything he could to live up to it, damn the political consequences? No. As we celebrate the 200th anniversary of the birth of Lincoln, we should remember Lincoln's courage of conviction at a time in which such was not convenient or popular.
It was not just the physical size of Lincoln that stood tall in American history. His physical height aside, in the most trying time of American history, Abraham Lincoln stood the tallest. He deserves whatever honors the nation sees fitting.