An American president plays many roles. The great mystery of American history is how a man so poorly educated could have risen in a time of great national crisis to play all of the important roles so masterfully. Lincoln as President built the Republican Party into a strong national organization. Further, he rallied most of the northern Democrats to the Union cause which, considering the horrors of the Civil War, was a major accomplishment. Lincoln on January 1, 1863, issued the Emancipation Proclamation that declared forever free those slaves within the Confederacy. This transformed the War from a struggle to save the Union to a moral crusade to iradicate slavery. Lincoln never let the world forget that the Civil War involved an even larger issue. This he stated most movingly in dedicating the military cemetery at Gettysburg: "that 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." Lincoln won re-election in 1864, as Union military triumphs heralded an end to the war. In his planning for peace, the President was flexible and generous, encouraging Southerners to lay down their arms and join speedily in reunion. The spirit that guided him was clearly that of his Second Inaugural Address, now inscribed on one wall of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.: With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds.... " On Good Friday, April 14, 1865, Lincoln was assassinated at Ford's Theater in Washington by John Wilkes Booth, an actor,
who somehow thought he was helping the South. The opposite was the result, for with Lincoln's death, the possibility of peace with magnanimity died.
A major role of any president is party leader. While a partisan role, unless a president masters this role, he can acomplish very little in office. Lincoln as President built the Republican Party into a strong national organization. By mid-centurty there had been many opposition parties, primarily the Federalists and Whigs, but nither had endured. Lincolm help fashion the fledging Republican Party into a string national institution which would dominate American politics until Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal in the 1930s.
The election of 1860 is arguably the most monentous in the history of the American Republic. The Kansas-Nebraska Act had huge political consequences. It shattered the Democratic Party which had doinated American political life in the first half of the 19th century. Technological developments were beginning to affect politics, especially improvements in comminications--trains and the telegram. The Democratic Party was one of the few remaining institutions holding north and south together by the 1850s. While the South supported Douglas's Kansas Nebraska Act, when he later temporized with the Freeport Doctrine they turned against him. The Republican Party was formed (1854) out if the whigs and anti-slavery Democrats alientated by the Kansas-Mebraska Act. The Northern Democrats nominated Douglas for presiddent in 1860. The Southern Democrats refused to accept this and nominated a sectional candidate, John C. Brekenridge. This split in the Democratic Party guaranteed the election of Abraham Lincoln, the candidate of the new Republican Party. The election resulted in a major realignent in American politics. The brand new Republican Party would become the dominany force in American politics for the next 70 years.
President Buchanan took no measures against the Southern actions. At the time much hung on Virginia, by far the most important southern state. In addition many border states wavered. This was the situation President-elect Lincolm faced. Because of southern sympathy in Maryland, Lincoln had to virtually sneak into Washington for his inaguration March 4. There were multiple plans hatched to assasinate Lincoln before he reached Washington for his innaguration. One historians suggest that the plots were more serious than generally believed. [Waugh]
Lincoln on assuming the presidency faced perhaps the gratest national crisis confronted by any American president. The countey was falling to pieces as the train carrying Lincoln moved toward Washington. It was dangerous for Lincoln to even move through Maryland where there was great sympathy for the South. Previous presidents had gone to great efforts to placate the South. Lincoln never publically advocated abolition. There was no doubt among southern planters, however, where Lincoln's sympathies lay. Lincoln was careful, however, not to initiate histilities. This the Confederacy did at Fort Sumter launching the United States into the most dreadful war in its history.
Lincoln brilliantly rallied most of the northern Democrats to the Union cause which, considering the horrors of the Civil War, was a major accomplishment. One of the many mysteries of the Civil War is how Lincoln, with virtually no education or military experience (he served as a captain of miliia), and besadled with woefully incompetent generals, could have ran the Federal War effort so brilliantly. And how Jefferson Davis a West Point graduate, wat veteran and decorated hero, and Secretary of War with a highly competent corps of generals, could have ran the Confederate War effort so poorly. A good example is the firing on Fort Sumter in April 1861. The Confederacy by April was in control throughout the South. The Federal Government could only end the Rebellion by attcking the South. Such an attack would have put the blame for the War on Lincoln and the Federal Government. This would have affected support for the War in the North and surely would have caused at least one of the border states to join the Confederacy. It was the South, however, that attacked first, firing upon Fort Sumter. This brought a wave of support for the Federal Government and Lincoln from the northern states and helped hold all of the border states in the Union. Many such examples show Lincoln to have been a masterfull war leader. In defense of Davis, the organization of the Confederacy with each state unwilling to yield power to the Conderate Government inhibited war planning. Lincoln knowing virtually nothing of military matters and finding the moribund General in Chief Winfield Scott without energy or initiative, began reading books on military history from the Library of Congress. Lincoln's war leadership was not without flaws. The image he successfully projected to history is that his war leadership was limited to a search for a competent, aggressive general to use the Army of the Potomac to drive on Richmond. This is not true, but has over time deflected criticism. [Cohen]
Nothing shows the character of Abraham Linclon more than his choice and relationship with his cabinent. Some presidents have chosen cabinent members so that they could easily be dominate them. Abraham Lincoln on learning of his election and realizing the enormity of his responsibilities chose the luminaries of the Republican party, many who were better known and in many cases more renowned than Lincoln who at the time had only one term in Congress and two failed Senate races to prepare for the presidency. The people who he chose had doubts about Lioncoln's abilities and thought they should have been president. New York Governor Seward was chosen as Secreaty of State. Most had thought that Seward would win the nomination. Salmon P. Chase was chosen as Treasurer and Lincoln retained him even when he spokeill of him and planed to unseat Lincolm for the Rpublican nomination in 1864. An then after Chase failed, Lincoln nominated him for Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Stanton was chosen as Secetary of War despite personal slights as an Illinois lawyer. Stanton was with Lincoln when he died, saying, "And now he belongs to the ages".
Lincoln's insistance on announcing the Emancipation Proclamation in September 1862 was an act of great political courage. He could have easily delayed it until after the November election. Lincoln was under no illusion about the consequences. Some of the most rabid rascist verbage in American poltics ocuured during the campaign. While slavery had many opponents in the North, even among Abolitionists the doctrine of white supremecy was widely heald. Many in the North were apauled by the prospect that Blacks would sit in juries, go to schools with white children, and even vote. Others especially immigrants were concerned about competition over jobs. The Republicans were punished and punished badly in the November election. The Republicans managed to retain control of Congress, but not only lost seats in Congress, but in many state legislatures as well as races for govenors. The new Democratic legislature in Illinois, President Lincoln's home state, demanded peace negotiations. The new Democratic Governor of New York pledged to oppose emancipation.
Lincoln on January 1, 1863, issued the Emancipation Proclamation that declared forever free those slaves within the Confederacy. This transformed the War from a struggle to save the Union to a moral crusade to iradicate slavery. Some revisionist historians have asailed Lincoln for a variety of comments he made both before and during his presidency about blacks which are not poltically correct in our modern world. While Lincoln certainly grew as a political thinker over time. More importantly Lincoln's words and writings have to be viewed within the context that he was not speaking to ideal, but real audinces of Americans, many even in the north, with strongly racist views. [White] The writings of abolitionists sound better to our modern ears, but an abolitionists could have never been elected president.
Lincoln never let the world forget that the Civil War involved an even larger issue. This he stated most movingly in dedicating the military cemetery at Gettysburg: "that 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." The Gettysburg Address is probably the greatest speech ever delivered in the Ebglish language.
President Lincoln, while he is best known for the Civil War, was a strong supporter of free market capitalism because it created opportunities for people to build successful lives. His opposition to slavery was not just moral, but because he believed that every individual just benefit from the fruit of his labor and not be in effect stolen by others. Few presidents have played a more important role in building the modern American economic and financial systems.
Among his economic accomplishments to ensure that individuals benefited from the free market were 1) the Homestead Act (making sure that every American had access to land), 2) The Agriculture Act (helping to create extension services bringing that brought scientific advances to assist small farmers), 3) National Bank Act (helping to create a sound currency that individuals could have confidence i and stimulating commerce)., 4) The Pacific Railway Act (unifying the country by rail), and 5) Morrill Land Grant College Act (creating land grant colleges that offered advanced studies to th children of farmers and pursued research on issues affecting farm life).
President Lincoln understood as tragically President Obama does not, that the appropriate role of government is to establish rule of the game so individual can benefit by the opportunities created by free market capitalism, not to redistribute wealth, a policy that not only does not work but damages both the economy and the very people such policies are designed to assist. It should not be forgotten that the 2007 financial crisis resulted from the Government's well-intenioned efforts to help poor people buy houses. And who suffered most from the outcome--low income people.
The 1864 presidential election settled the fate of the Union. Battlefield losses and the success of the Federal aval blockade had by 1864 reached a level that the Confederacy was no longer sustain. There was no longer any hope of a Confederate battlefield victory. Their only hope was to draw out the War hoping that the northern public would not have the stmoache to sustain the War. The Democratic candidate, General George McClellan was clearly willing to come to terms with the Confederacy. It looked like Lincoln would lose the election. Sherman's victory at Atlanta weeks before the election seems to have turned the tide of public opinion and Lincoln was elected with a mandate to achieve victory on the battlefield.
Lincoln won re-election in 1864, as Union military triumphs heralded an end to the War. In his planning for peace, the President was flexible and generous, encouraging Southerners to lay down their arms and join speedily in reunion. The spirit that guided him was clearly that of his Second Inaugural Address delivered in March 1865. It is now inscribed on one wall of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.: With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds.... " Only Lincoln could have delivered that speech. At the time the Federl Army had all but won the War. He was not boastful or castigating the South. The speech was really a sermon in which Lincoln lays the blame for the War not on the South exclusivly, but on a national sin. Frederick Douglas listened in the croud. He had been disppointed by the First Inagural, but said of the Second Inagural, "This is not a state paper. It is a sermon." [White]
On Good Friday, April 14, 1865, Lincoln was assassinated at Ford's Theatre in Washington by John Wilkes Booth, an actor, who somehow thought he was helping the South. The opposite was the result, for with Lincoln's death, the possibility of peace with magnanimity died. One of the great unanswered question in American history is how Reconstruction would have been different. Andrew Johnson claimed to be following Lincoln's policies. The Republicans in Congress were apauled by Johnson's policies. The question is whether Lincoln would have allowed Ku Klux Klan terrorism to succeed in establishing white racist state governments that denied blacks the vote and basic civil rights.
Cohen, Eliot. Supreme Command (Free Press, 2002), 288p.
Waugh, John C. One Man Great Enough (Harcourt, 2007), 479p.
White, Ronald. Lincoln's Greatest Speech: The Second Inagural.
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