My daughter and I are swimming in a world full of stories of political back-biting, Republicans hating their own office-holder, Democrats bashing the President, the press bashing the President, a very unpopular war (what war is popular, by the way?), states rights vs. federal control, the haves and the have-nots. No, we’re not talking about the current political scene on the trail end of the Bush Presidency, although we could be. We’re learning about the Civil War and President Abraham Lincoln.
I have to give homeschooling more snaps because I am learning so much more as an adult than I ever did as a child! Perhaps that has something to do with the excellence of the curriculum I’ve chosen, Sonlight, which does a great job of immersing students and teachers in good books, books that inspire debate and present different sides of a situation, books that show the world the way it really was, rather than how we wish it had been. I highly recommend the book Lincoln, A Photobiography, by Russell Freedman.
What strikes me as we navigate our study of the Civil War era is the similarity between the way the public and press hated Lincoln then and the way the public and press hates Bush today.
Prior to becoming president, Lincoln ran for the Senate against Stephen Douglas — and lost. In series of debates with Douglas, Lincoln complained that his opponent was twisting around his ideas on the issue through
a fantastic arrangement of words, by which a man can prove a horse chestnut to be a chestnut horse.”
Sound familiar? The current presidential election has both candidates’ campaigns actively spinning the truth and spreading outlight lies about each other in an attempt to become president. I am disgusted with both campaigns and tempted to vote for Bob Barr, the Libertarian candidate, in protest of the stagnation I see today in Washington.
Back then, the press and the people called Lincoln a “baboon” and a “gorilla.” They called him a “backwoods President,” and they said his wife was “boorish.” They made fun of his home-schooled education and his high-pitched country accent. Today we have our “cowboy” President who has been called names not fit to write on this blog. Those on the other side of the aisle seem to not just dislike his policies, but they actually seem to hate him and anyone else in his party.
The Civil War, like the War in Iraq today, was very unpopular. The draft was instituted, and women on both sides lost sons and husbands — a whole generation was wiped out. In the four years of conflict, over 600,000 Americans died for either one side or the other of the conflict. Those in the North who weren’t abolitionists did not particularly want slavery to be outlawed. They simply didn’t want states to be able to break away from the union.
Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation was so unpopular that it’s a wonder he ever wrote it and signed it at all. It took him a long time before he came to a decision that emancipation was necessary. At first, he thought a voluntary plan that would compensate slave owners would encourage them to give up slavery on their own. That failed. Eventually, Lincoln realized that it would be crazy to fight that horrible war without destroying the issue that had caused the war in the first place. If the war ended and slavery was still legal, another war might start up in a few years, and the cycle could continue. Lincoln was looking for a way to end the war once and for all, and he came to view emancipation as the vehicle to do just that.
As he picked up his pen to sign the Emancipation Proclamation, he said,
If my name ever goes into history, it will be for this act.”
He was hated in the North and in the South for signing that proclamation. Racism wasn’t just a Southern problem — there were many in the North who disdained slavery yet viewed African-Americans as inferior and treated them with distrust. Lincoln stood firm.
I have always thought that all men should be free; but if any should be slaves, it should be first those who desire it for themselves, and secondly those who desire it for others. Whenever I hear anyone arguing for slavery, I feel a strong impulse to see it tried on him personally.
Lincoln was ridiculed and horrible stories and cartoons were written about him. But he followed his convictions and did not let the mainstream media of the day sway his decisions.
Neither let us be slandered from our duty by false accusations against us, nor frightened from it by menaces of destruction to the Government nor of dungeons to ourselves. Let us have faith that Right makes Might, and in that faith, let us, to the end, dare to do our duty as we understand it.
Dare to do our duty. That’s a challenge I put forth to all our congressmen and senators and to our presidential candidates, and that’s a prayer I lay at Jesus, who is truly the Great Emancipator, I lay at his feet: that our country’s leaders will dare to stand up for Right. That they will see their service as a Duty, not as a privilege or a means to personal gain.