“It is the season to compare Barack Obama to Abraham Lincoln,” they write. “Two thin men from rude beginnings, relatively new to Washington but wise to the world, bring the nation together to face a crisis. Both are superb rhetoricians, both geniuses at stagecraft and timing. Obama, like Lincoln and unlike most modern politicians, even writes his own speeches.”
And, seemingly, Obama is not lost on any comparisons to Lincoln and has sought to use the 16th President as much as possible.
Obama, it must be remembered, quoted from Lincoln’s inaugural address in his victory speech on that historic Tuesday evening in Grant Park: “We are not enemies but friends … Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection.” But, as the authors point out, this famous line was not in Lincoln’s original draft but was put there later by advisors who thought it best to be conciliatory toward the South. Lincoln’s draft was much more belligerent. So his speech did not reflect his true mindset.
The theme for Obama’s inauguration is also from Lincoln, “A New Birth of Freedom,” taken from the Gettysburg Address. But if Lincoln’s example is any indication of Obama’s course, then Republicans, as well as most of the rest of us, had better run for cover.
One of Obama’s favorite books is Doris Kearns Goodwin’s work on Lincoln and his cabinet, Team of Rivals, which Obama has said will help guide his administration. Lincoln’s cabinet consisted of the smartest and most able the Republican Party had to offer. His secretary of state, William H. Seward, was his chief rival for the nomination for president, and others, like treasury secretary Samuel P. Chase, were influential in the Senate. It was no secret that these gentlemen possessed more intelligence, experience, and ability than Lincoln, and many thought they could handle the duties of president better than their boss. Obama seems to be stacking his administration with former Clinton aides, and perhaps even Hillary herself, as Secretary of State. So much for “change we can believe in.”
There were a few prominent Democrats in Lincoln’s administration, like Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, but any Democrat who strayed too far from the war policy of the government quickly found himself in more than hot water. Clement L. Vallandigham, who served in the U.S. House until 1863 and was in the midst of a campaign for governor of Ohio, heavily criticized “King Lincoln” and his war policy, particularly the draft. A leader of the peace Democrats known as “Copperheads,” Vallandigham committed the unpardonable sin of believing the South had a right to secede and the Confederacy had a right to exist as an independent nation. To conquer it militarily would be, in his eyes, unconstitutional. For this great crime, he was arrested in the dead of night by U.S. military forces and placed on trial before a military commission, where he was found guilty and sentenced to prison. He would later be banished to the Confederacy by Lincoln in lieu of a prison term.
Yet this was no isolated incident. Many opponents of Lincoln were imprisoned without charges or trial. Historian Mark Neely estimates that some 14,000 Northern citizens were rounded up and sent to prison during the war. In addition, any newspaper that criticized the government was shutdown. Hundreds were closed by military force during the course of the war. Lincoln did not tolerate dissent. And liberals think George W. Bush is bad.
The state of Maryland was overrun by Union forces. The mayor, police chief, and several city council members from Baltimore were arrested, along with secession-leaning members of the Maryland state legislature, to prevent that state from joining the Confederacy, which it was likely to do. Lincoln then had new elections held in the state and rigged them, with military force, to insure a Unionist government.
Most importantly, let us not forget that Lincoln destroyed the basic concept of self-determination of peoples, the bedrock of the Declaration of Independence, by waging a war against sovereign states. The war changed the entire concept of the Union. No longer would it be a voluntary association of free states but a consolidated government where the states became mere provinces. Lincoln “reinvented” the Union whereby he argued, quite amazingly, that the states were created by the federal government. Incidentally, Adolf Hitler, using the “American Union” as an example, took the same position in Mein Kampf, using it to consolidate Germany once he gained power.
And “Honest” Abe had the audacity to proclaim a “new birth of freedom” at Gettysburg.
But would President Obama’s “new birth of freedom” be any different? He might not throw conservatives in jail but he could institute the Fairness Doctrine and silence our dissent by law. Only time will tell.
Though we can’t really say that Obama would act in any manner reflecting the “Real Lincoln,” since we face no crisis of that magnitude, but by taking into consideration his radical associations, his questionable past, and his extremist views and voting record, who can be sure exactly what the man will do, given the fact that no one really knows that much about him. No one really knew that much about Lincoln either and many found out the hard way that his rhetoric about humility and conciliation did not match his actions.
So when politicians, of either party, compare themselves to Abraham Lincoln, instead of seeing a brighter day, it might be wiser to prepare for the approaching storm.