Lincoln and a Time of Slavery

Abraham Lincoln was an important man in his time. Not only referring to the clich� of freeing the slaves and becoming a successful president, but also for taking a deeper look into slavery and race from the founding fathers point of view. It is often forgot how much we owe the founding fathers of this country, and what it is they were trying to achieve. Lincoln had a higher understanding of the Constitution and the true meaning of its words. He was one of the few men who looked back at the primary sources of our history’s beginning to find answers for its future.

A lesson many professionals, from English teachers to Political analysts, wish for people to learn is that when reading literature, you must look deeper into the meaning of a word instead of always just taking it for what it is. Lincoln was a man who appreciated early writings such as the bible and early governmental literature. In a time where slavery was the prominent topic in most political debates, and the country was beginning to see tension in the difference of views on the subject, Lincoln stepped forward with a critical view that surpassed the redundant “right or wrong?” argument.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with uncertain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

This was written at a time when our country was breaking away from its oppressors across the sea. The founding fathers needed the support of the country as a whole; to represent the country as a whole in its birthing document. Though it was their intent for the course of the nation, they could not state that “men” implied men of all color or race, merely because of the existing differences of opinion. When the time came to question this once and for all, Lincoln was well aware of their intent. In the Missouri Compromise he referred to the “unalienable Rights” that included “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”, which Lincoln knew to be applied to all of those living in this country. In his repeal he spoke about slavery saying,

“I hate it because of the monstrous injustice of slavery itself. I hate it because it deprives our republican example of its just influence of the world-enables the enemies of the free institutions, with plausibility, to taunt us as hypocrites…”

Lincoln is furious with the idea of slavery because it takes away from all that he has learned to be of truth, from the founding fathers. He calls it an “injustice” and hates it because of how it could appear to anyone looking on. Lincoln makes a point in saying that it “enables the enemies of the free institutions…to taunt us as hypocrites”. This is saying how other nations could view us as nothing more than a country that boasts freedom for the image, and question or discredit the beliefs of the founding fathers. He is almost embarrassed how it made us look as a nation.

In many ways he is set aside from all others who spoke on the issue of slavery. To make a good political leader, one has to have their beliefs in order and know how to apply them to political situations. Lincoln was pure hearted and when he stated,

“…I have no prejudices against the Southern people. They are just what we would be in their situation. If slavery did not exist amongst them, they would not introduce it.”

Lincoln unlike many other speakers on a topic or believers in a view, knew how to maintain his beliefs without sounding radical or without compromise. He sympathized with the South and did not impugn their character or place in society. This was not a ploy to gain respect or alliance from the peoples of the South. Lincoln truly believed this, which is a noble characteristic; one that defines why he was an advocate of anti-slavery. Few people can look back on a lifetime say they were as true and consistent as him.

Looking at Lincoln’s writings, we know he hated slavery and would have abolished it if it were possible. With a great nation in its infancy, there were many whose lively hoods depended on slavery and would be willing to fight to keep it in business. Lincoln never preached any ideas of how to abolish slavery.

“But a moment’s reflection would convince me, that whoever of high hope, (as I think there is) there may be in this, in the long run, its sudden execution is impossible”

It was understood to be an impossibility for slavery to be abolished, and this is where Lincoln shows his ability to make reasonable demands or requests of his countrymen.

Stephen Douglas was a long time opponent of Lincoln’s. In a lot of ways he was similar to Lincoln, but when it came down to character and principles, Lincoln was in his own league. Douglas was neither anti-slavery, nor pro slavery. He believed in “popular sovereignty”, an idea that each state had the right to vote on its own behalf as to whether or not the state would be a slave state or a free state. Douglas was a powerful politician who saw his job in a very republic oriented manner. He set aside his feelings on slavery because he did not feel it was his place to make that decision, but to use his power to leave it up to the people. Whether he did this to gain political popularity or because he felt it was true, he had many who shared his view. However, Lincoln looked at his duty to be that of upholding the republic. He saw himself as an elected official; elected to make decisions on his own. On issue of slavery, he considered it to be something where he should do what he felt was morally right by humane standards. In response to Douglas’ ideas, Lincoln said,

“The doctrine of self-government is right-absolutely and eternally right-but it has no just application, as here attempted. / …no man is good enough to govern another man, without the other’s consent. I say this is the leading principle-the sheet anchor of American republicanism.”

Lincoln says more here than meets the eye. Not only is he making it clear how he feels about slavery in his response to Douglas’ words, he is also showing how his views involve the republican ideals that his opponent speaks of. Lincoln makes clear that Douglas’ republican views do not look deep enough into the heart of the purpose of American liberty. After stating this he refers to the most primary doctrine of our country’s history saying that there is no way this source could even defend Douglas’ argument. Lincoln shows how the founding fathers had no intentions of one man governing another man with any relation to slavery, but that the whole idea of American republicanism is that have the freedoms that go along with humane, God given rights.

Frederick Douglas, an educated black man who spoke about Lincoln’s achievements as a politician and a fellow countryman, had great respect for Lincoln. He saw him as a diamond in the rough, though still felt Lincoln held the same prejudices that all white men had towards blacks. He was an advocate of the abolishment of slavery, as was Lincoln, but felt that the achievement of the abolishment should be done right away. He did not share Lincoln’s patience, and looked at the situation as – if one does not agree with the striving efforts to make a quick, one move abolishment, than they were not one hundred percent against slavery. Douglas said that from an abolitionist point of view, Lincoln was “tardy, cold, dull and indifferent”. However Douglas showed his undeniable respect for Lincoln in saying, “…measuring him by the sentiment of his country, a sentiment he has bound as a statesman to consult, he was swift, zealous, radical and determined.”

Lincoln as a citizen of America, was a model citizen who had qualities about him that every American should hold. He respected the founders and the bases of the founding if this country so much, that it controlled the course of his political career. As a politician, Lincoln was a man who could boast of a characteristic that is desirable for any man in his position. Lincoln had a balance – a balance between his duty as a politician, President and countrymen. He acted out of strict morals and appreciation for the liberties he knew to be holy. Those liberties he knew, he felt every man of any race should be able to enjoy. Respectively, it could be said, that Lincoln himself was a founding father. He founded, in his time, a contemporary look at how we should celebrate the will of the founding fathers.