We celebrate the 200th birthday of Abraham Lincoln, one of our most beloved presidents and the first Republican president. President Lincoln is best remembered for two things: his immortal Gettysburg Address and his emancipation of blacks from slavery. Common to these events is the core ideal of our nation that was “conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”
This core principal was at the heart of the Civil War which defined Lincoln’s presidency. As a war president, Lincoln combined extra-ordinary decency with high purpose. He was a man of faith, a devoted father and a man of great sympathy who took time to write heartfelt letters comforting total strangers. And Lincoln didn’t flinch under the horrible strain of his position, bravely executing some of the most difficult decisions ever made by an American.
Lincoln’s gravest decision was to fight the Civil War to resolve the conflict between the South and the nation over the abolition of slavery, the foundation of the South’s economy. Sadly, it was the Democratic Party that led the fight to keep blacks in slavery. For every five slaves freed in the Civil War, one white soldier gave his life. Many more suffered maimings, trauma, and financial ruin. Black freedom in this country was emphatically not free.
It was bought and paid for by brave warriors. The huge cost of war in lives was the reason that Lincoln agonized over his decision to wage war. His deeply felt agony was reflected in one of his speeches where he said: “My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union and is not either to save or destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do that.
If I could save it by freeing all slaves, I would do that. If I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would do that also. What I do about slavery and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps save the Union.”
As modern observers, we should keep two things in mind when reading Lincoln’s words. First, Lincoln did not necessarily believe that blacks were inferior to whites, as some scholars contend. Rather, Lincoln’s words reflect that he understood that his first job as president was to preserve the Union. And as a man of faith, Lincoln also understood that freedom was God’s gift to man. This understanding led to Lincoln’s final decision to both fight the wickedness of slavery and defend the unity of the nation. In evaluating Abraham Lincoln, we should focus on his love of God and country, as well as his desire to end the economic system that relied upon human bondage, an affront to God’s will.
Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. But the last slaves did not get the word until June 19, 1865 when Union General Gordon Granger brought word of their freedom to the slaves in Galveston, Texas where the Juneteenth Celebrations began and are now held in black communities all across the country.
In addition to wanting our country to be the land of the free, Lincoln also wanted our nation to be a land of prosperity. This desire is reflected in Lincoln’s words that still ring true today:
“You cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong. You cannot help small men by tearing down big men. You cannot help the poor by destroying the rich. You cannot lift the wage earner by pulling down the wage payer. You cannot keep out of trouble by spending more than your income. You cannot further the brotherhood of man by inciting class hatred. You cannot establish security on borrowed money. You cannot build character and courage by taking away A man’s incentive and independence. You cannot help men permanently by doing for them What they could and should do themselves.”
Click below to read Lincoln’s “House Divided” Speech that was delivered in Springfield, Illinois on June 16, 1858.