Thursday, February 11, 2010

L is for Lincoln

(If you haven’t read “K” yet, I recommend you do so before reading this post)

“When people speak of great men, they think of men like Napoleon – men of violence. Rarely do they think of peaceful men. But contrast the reception they will receive when they return home from their battles. Napoleon will arrive in pomp and in power, a man who’s achieved the very summit of earthly ambition. And yet his dreams will be haunted by the oppressions of war. William Wilberforce, however, will return to his family, lay his head on his pillow and remember: the slave trade is no more.” – Lord Charles Fox

For those of you who haven’t seen the movie “Amazing Grace,” what you just read is the quote given by Lord Charles Fox (played by Michael Gambon) at the end of the film, when William Wilberforce successfully (and peacefully) puts an end to slavery in Britain. The film was set in 1833, and it is based on a true story.

About 30 years later, on the American continent, another group of slaves were set free. And the champion of their freedom was a man named Abraham Lincoln: A man that I have revered from the time I was a young boy. Both William Wilberforce and Abraham Lincoln essentially ended their political careers (and lives) with the abolishment of slavery. However, the irony that I present to you is that Abraham Lincoln is far more like Napoleon than William Wilberforce, regardless of what you have likely been told throughout your life.

I’ve always been taught that Lincoln was akin to our founding fathers. Like them, he was a patriot who fought for liberty with valor. He was the Great Emancipator, and the man who saved the country in its darkest hour. However, after recently studying more about Mr. Lincoln, I have sadly found him to be something else. I recognize full well that if somebody were to tell me this even one year ago, I would have shrugged them off as a loon. Some might call any notion that Lincoln is anything other than a saint a conspiracy theory, not to be taken in the least bit seriously. I know this because I thought the exact same thing. My view had always been that Lincoln set the slaves free, and there is nothing nobler a man can achieve. However, I believe that view blinded me from the real Lincoln.

Any candid look at undiluted history proves Abraham Lincoln is not like our founding fathers in the least bit. They wanted smaller, less powerful government, while he wanted bigger, more powerful government. They wanted the government to serve the people, and he wanted the people to serve the government. Our founding fathers held individual rights to be the most precious things we have, while Abraham Lincoln viewed his mission to “save the union” (and the union itself) far more important than anyone’s individual rights.

I am writing this post because I hold our founding fathers in very high esteem, and I believe the Constitution is an inspired document that was designed for the wellbeing of all mankind. I am writing this post because I want people to understand that the government our founding fathers created was drastically altered by Abraham Lincoln, and because the Constitution has slowly come to mean next to nothing in our nation today—a precedent that President Lincoln established more than anyone. I am writing this post because I want people to see that slavery was not why Lincoln fought the Civil War (and even if it was, slavery could have been ended peacefully as it was in multiple other countries; see Wilberforce, William). I want people to see that the good Lincoln accomplished has given politicians justification to duplicate the bad he did without consequence, and that the implications of this justification explain a lot of our nation’s problems. Finally, I want people to see that Lincoln did save the union, but only after he nearly beat it to death with a crowbar.

I am not going to hash out my political opinions ad nauseam and try to undue a life’s worth of education you have likely endured. I am merely going to ask you to try to answer the following questions. And if you don’t know the answers, I encourage you to find them. And contrast what you find with what our founding fathers fought for. (Hint: Learn what historians who didn't name their son "Lincoln" have to say) And if you never cared for our founding fathers in the first place, or if you think the Constitution is outdated, you are excused from this exercise. Class is dismissed.

* What were Lincoln’s politics? For example, what platforms (economic and otherwise) did he campaign on? What were the political platforms of the Whigs (Lincoln’s first party of choice)?

* Lincoln never stated that the Civil War had anything to do with slavery. So, what were his reasons for going to war?

* Lincoln is lauded as a great politician. Why could he not resolve the conflict with the South peacefully? Did he want, or even try, to resolve things peacefully with the South?

* What were the reasons the South gave for seceding in the first place? (Hint: It wasn’t slavery)

* Were Lincoln’s thoughts about secession (that it was forbidden by the Constitution) consistent with those of our founding documents and founding fathers?

* Many historians (for and against Lincoln) have referred to him as a dictator. What did he do that compelled this analysis?

* Were Lincoln’s actions prior to and during the war (his well-written speeches set aside) consistent with or contradictory to the Constitution?

* What were the reasons laid out by Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence for our founding fathers’ seceding from Britain and the rule of King George? Do Lincoln’s actions before and during the war share any similarities with those of King George’s?

* What were the long term results of Lincoln’s administration? What were the effects his administration had on state sovereignty, the power of the federal government, the checks and balances of the federal government, federal government’s involvement in the marketplace, and the Constitution?

* Why do many historians view the Emancipation Proclamation as a political gimmick (setting aside what it later became known as)? What were Lincoln’s views on African Americans? Could he be classified as a racist?

* If George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin met Abraham Lincoln in a tavern, which of the three would draw his sword first?


Today’s recommendation: Read the Declaration of Independence, and look for the specific grievances listed as reason for secession (and pay attention to how Jefferson stressed the independence of each individual state). Also, if you want to take your study another step further, read the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions of 1798. Also, I strongly recommend you not burn my house down for writing this post.


  1. Sounds like you and Christopher need to talk some politics. I think you two have been reading/thinking about some similar stuff.

  2. What was the book you read on Lincoln that gave you this insight? Did I miss that in your blog? I have started reading A Team of Rivals and I would like to read the one you told me about and compare the info in each. I appreciate you providing another viewpoint. The jury is still out for me, but it has given me plenty to consider. Thank you for your opinion.

  3. Amen! Our forefathers would be so sad and ashamed of what this nation has become. America was founded on solid Christian foundation, which is slowly being destroyed. God bless us all. Love mom

  4. Very interesting post. I visited Springfield, IL last summer and went to a lot of Lincoln sights, as you may know, Illinois prides itself as being the "Land of Lincoln". The Lincoln Presidential Museum is by far the coolest and most well made museum I have ever been to and while it is a celebration of the life of Lincoln, I came away with a similar impression as you did. Here are my feelings:

    1. Lincoln would not be nearly the hero he is today had he not been assassinated. The poor guy had immortality thrust upon him.

    2. Lincoln never claimed to be the things that we have attributed to his memory. I feel like the tone of your post was in a way accusatory of Lincoln himself. He is not the one who misled us as elementary school children, he never claimed the war was about slavery, and he was always clear that his goal was to maintain the Union at all costs.

    3. I think he deserves credit for preserving the Union and I honestly don't believe the South would have come back peacefully by the time Lincoln got to office.

    4. You compare him a lot to our Founding Fathers but I think that you could make similar blog posts about our Founding Fathers too. I think a lot of the perceived knowledge we have of them is just as skewed as the knowledge we have of Lincoln. Thomas Jefferson drafted the Constitution and then completely violated it by completing the Louisiana Purchase. To make the assertion that all our founding fathers were in favor of small government is a real simplification of the matter (James Monroe anybody?) I think history is just one of those things.

    It is so much easier to teach kids about historical figures by omitting true but confusing contradictory facts. We do it for our country and we do it for our church. And later on, it feels like every historian is a revisionist because we have what we think is a clear and pleasant picture of what really happened when really it is a whole lot more complicated. Leaders are humans and have many many sides to them. I think Lincoln was a very smart president, but honestly, he got very very lucky a number of times and then he got assassinated just when it counted. Instant immortality.

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  6. I see what you're saying on a few fronts. The founding fathers were anything but perfect, but at the same time I feel like the principals they fought for were divinely inspired. And, while others before made exceptions to the principals they fostered, Lincoln made a rule of it. Jefferson and others went contrary to the "founding principals" on occasion, while that was all Lincoln did.

    I also think the reason Lincoln is propped up unreasonably in history is partially because he was assassinated. But I think the bigger reason is because he introduced a still young country to censorship and, well frankly, dictatorship. He single-handledly changed the nature or the union, effectively assassinated the powers of the state, and set up a new status quo. He became the new George Washington (while ignoring Washington's precedent to refrain from acting like a king). Lincoln's henchmen who followed were only too eager to claim Lincoln saved the union and uphold his new government (that allowed for government officials to become very wealthy, very powerful men).

    My point for writing this was to do two things: 1) Introduce people to the idea that Lincoln was not a hero, and 2) Introduce them to the idea that Lincoln was just a dirty politician. I think you understand the first part, and I'd love to recommend you to some books that would help you see the latter.