Thursday, February 12, 2009

The LuLac Edition #722, Feb. 12th, 2009



Today is the Bicentennial of the birthday of our 16th President, Abraham Lincoln. Growing up, Lincoln had his own birthday off instead of a co mingling of all the Presidents. Imagine the indignity of it all, Honest Abe lumped in with Millard Fillmore and Warren Harding. Lincoln has long been held up as the ideal in a President. The myth making machine started shortly after Lincoln’s death in 1865. Truth be told though, those myths were just an addition to Lincoln’s own building of his reputation. Lincoln instinctively knew that image was an important part of leadership. He spent hours at famed photographer Matthew Brady’s studio crafting the right look. Lincoln also was politically calculating in the way he ran for office. After a few failed attempts at Congress (where he did serve one term) and the U.S. Senate, Lincoln won the Presidency by having many of his foes woefully underestimate him. These same men were picked by Lincoln as his Cabinet members. The Lincoln we studied in school is paradoxical. On slavery, Lincoln opposed extension of slavery because this would interfere with the prospects of white workers. Lincoln, following his mentor Henry Clay, favored a nationalist economic program of which high tariffs, a national bank, and governmentally financed "internal improvements" were key elements. This program, he thought, would promote not only the interests of the wealthy industrial and financial powers he always faithfully served but would benefit white labor as well. Blacks, in his opinion, would be better off outside the United States; and, throughout his life, Lincoln supported schemes for repatriation of blacks to Africa and elsewhere. If blacks left the country, they could not compete with whites, the primary objects of Lincoln's concern. (Lincoln, by the way, did not see this program as in any way in contradiction to his professed belief that all men are created equal. Blacks, he thought, have human rights but not political rights.) Lincoln the great unity candidate was not above going after Judges who disagreed with him. Lincoln turned aside all opposition to his ruthless conduct of the war, and he did not hesitate to act against judges who insisted on the rule of law. "In October 1861 Lincoln ordered the District of Columbia provost marshal to place armed sentries around the home of a Washington, D.C. circuit court judge and place him under house arrest … the judge had carried out his constitutional duty to issue a writ of habeas corpus to a young man being detained by the provost marshal, allowing the man to have due process … By placing the judge under house arrest Lincoln prevented him from attending the hearing in the case". But what is a lowly circuit court judge, compared with the Chief Justice of the United States? Lincoln ordered an arrest warrant prepared for the aged Roger Taney, who had ruled that Lincoln had no authority to suspend the writ of habeas corpus. The warrant was fortunately never served, and Taney escaped imprisonment. Lincoln could be kind, compassionate and filled with empathy. But he could also be ruthless in his pursuit of his agenda. 200 years after his birth, the myths and legend have met with some of the actual deeds. And while there should be a natural diminishment in Lincoln as a President, there is not. The reason is that people recognize Lincoln as a product of his time. But one that had the wisdom to let “the better angel of his nature” take over when it came to human dignity. I will venture a bet that in another 200 years from now, the same claim will be made about Mr. Lincoln.


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