Wednesday 7 November 2012

ABRAHAM  LINCOLN:  The  man  and  the  legend

 Truly one of the greatest leaders in the world was none other than Abraham Lincoln—America’s 16th president. He was born on February 12, 1809 and died on April 15, 1865 at the age of 56. He served as president of the United States from March 4, 1861 to April 15, 1865.

 His service to the United States was immense because he did two things that were extremely vital to all Americans. He saved the Union and he freed the slaves.

 By the 1850s, slavery was still legal in the southern United States, but had been generally outlawed in the northern states. He basically disapproved of slavery, and was concerned about the possibility of the spread of slavery to new U.S. territory in the west. He often expressed moral opposition to slavery often both publicly and privately. On October 16, 1854, in his Peoria Speech, Lincoln declared his opposition to slavery, which he repeated en route to his presidency.

 In his speech he said in part;

 “….it is wrong; wrong in its direct effect, letting slavery into Kansas and Nebraska and wrong in its prospective principle, allowing it to spread to every other part of the wide world, where men can be found inclined to take it.”

 However, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that when he first took office as the president, he wasn’t a total abolitionist. He only called for the containment of slavery to the states where it existed, and he supported a constitutional amendment to preserve slavery in those states. However, he did this to satisfy the secessionist states that wanted to leave the Union. In his heart, he was against slavery but he buckled under pressure to keep the Union intact. It has been argued that Lincoln was a moderate in the middle, opposing slavery primarily because it violated the republicanism principles of the Founding Fathers, with respect to equality of all men and democratic self-government as expressed in the Declaration of Independence.

In his early presidency, Lincoln stood by the Republican Party platform in 1860, which stated that slavery should not be allowed to expand into any more territories. Lincoln believed that the extension of slavery in the South, Mid-west, and Western lands would inhibit "free labor on free soil". For this reason, he did not call for the immediate end of slavery everywhere in the U.S. He did however call for the total abolition of slavery when he the proposed that the 13th Amendment became part of his party platform for the 1864 election. This no doubt angered the secessionists.

It was during the American Civil War that Lincoln used his war powers of the presidency to issue the Emancipation Proclamation, which declared "all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free" However, he exempted border states and those areas of slave states already under Union control. As a practical matter, at first the Proclamation could only be enforced to free those slaves that had already escaped to the Union side. However, millions more were freed as more areas of the South came under Union control.

Before he became the president, in 1841, he won a court case Bailey v. Cromwell, representing a black woman and her children who claimed she had already been freed and could not be sold again as a slave. In 1845, he successfully defended Marvin Pond People v. Pond for harboring the fugitive slave John Hauley. This would certainly give anyone his views about slavery during those years.

In 1855, Lincoln wrote to Joshua Speed, a personal friend and slave owner in Kentucky:

“You know I dislike slavery; and you fully admit the abstract wrong of it. ... I also acknowledge your rights and my obligations, under the constitution, in regard to your slaves. I confess I hate to see the poor creatures hunted down, and caught, and carried back to their stripes, and unrewarded toils; but I bite my lip and keep quiet. In 1841 you and I had together a tedious low-water trip, on a Steam Boat from Louisville to St. Louis. You may remember, as I well do, that from Louisville to the mouth of the Ohio, there were, on board, ten or a dozen slaves, shackled together with irons. That sight was a continued torment to me; and I see something like it every time I touch the Ohio, or any other slave-border. It is hardly fair for you to assume, that I have no interest in a thing which has, and continually exercises, the power of making me miserable. You ought rather to appreciate how much the great body of the Northern people do crucify their feelings, in order to maintain their loyalty to the Constitution and the Union. How can anyone who abhors the oppression of negroes, be in favor of degrading classes of white people? Our progress in degeneracy appears to me to be pretty rapid. As a nation, we began by declaring that "all men are created equal." We now practically read it "all men are created equal, except negroes." When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read "all men are created equal, except negroes, and foreigners, and Catholics. When it comes to this, I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretence of loving liberty—to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be take pure, and without the base alloy of hypocrisy. unquote

The Republican Party (of which Lincoln was a member) was committed to restricting the growth of slavery, and its victory in the election of 1860 was the trigger for secession acts by Southern states. The debate before 1860 was mainly focused on the Western territories, especially Kansas and the popular sovereignty controversy.

Though Lincoln thought it was essentially a reaffirmation of terms already in the Constitution, Lincoln was a prime force in 1861 for the compromise the Corwin amendment. It was passed by Congress and two states, but was abandoned once the Civil War began. It would have explicitly prohibited congressional interference with slavery in states where it already existed.

If the War between the states hadn’t begun, and the Corwin Amendment had passed, it is conceivable that the War between the states would never have happened. But then, slavery would have continued well past Lincoln’s presidency which would have conflicted with his own views of slavery in the United States. 

It is ironic when you think about. If there hadn’t been a civil war between the states, Lincoln would not have been so easily recognized as having saved the Union. By doing nothing, the Union would not have split because he wouldn’t have tried to free the slaves in the southern states. But because the only way he could free the slaves was to bring the southern confederacy into line with his own thinking by winning the war for the Union. It was unfortunate indeed that so many lives were lost and the cost of the war on both sides was enormous but often when a sacrifice is endured, a goal is achieved. That is why Abraham Lincoln was immortalized and why a huge and beautiful memorial was built in Washington D.C. in his honour.

Some say that he was imortalized because he was assassinated but that isn’t the real reason. Both presidents, McKinley and Garfield were assassinated and I haven’t seen large memorials of then in Washington D.C. Kennedy was also assassinated and he was immortalized because he fought hard to improve the wellbeing of blacks and he also prevented a world war with the Soviets during the Cuban missile crises. His memorial is in the Arlington Cemetery.

Although Lincoln was resolute in keeping the Union together, he wasn’t as resolute at freeing the slaves until after the Civil War between the southern states and the rest of the Union was underway. I can’t blame him for this because had be chosen run for office on the platform of the abolition of slavery, he never would have been elected. He simply abided his time until after he was elected. Then he went after those who would enslave others as if they were china in a china shop and he was a bull running through it. Well, he ran through the shop and smashed much of the china in it but he came back and repaired the shop and replaced the china. Despite that, it was what got him killed at the hands of a lone assassin. That is what augmented his legend to what it is today.




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