Question of the Week: 2/12-2/18/18

Today is the anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birthday!

In your opinion, what character quality or actions made Lincoln one of the most remembered and honored presidents in U.S. History?

18 Responses to Question of the Week: 2/12-2/18/18

  1. Lincoln realized, perhaps with greater clarity than anyone else in government at the time, that sea changes in the history of our species cannot be accomplished overnight, but only in the fullness of time. Union and the end of human bondage were such changes. “There is a tide in the affairs of men, which, taken at flood, leads on to fortune”, said Shakespeare in Julius Caesar. None knew this better than Lincoln. None made decisions based on this truism with greater sagacity. None, ultimately, had better results. Thus it was that Lincoln resisted the calls of the abolitionists and some of his commandeers in the field for immediate and comprehensive abolition of slavery, because he knew that such a policy would result in the loss of the border states and thus the war and thus the Union and Emancipation. Therein, as nowhere else, lies his greatness.

  2. The ability to have somebody “stick it up his” when he was wrong, if they had objective credibility (the difference between Grant, for example, and McClellan). That was coupled with the ability to admit to having been wrong (again target audience depended on its credibilty). We could use a lot – even a few – of Lincon’s attributes today.

  3. He stayed the course and saw the war through–actions that merit our remembrance. But I also think he’s so well-remembered because he was an incredibly canny and shrewd PR guy, highly conscious of how he could impact public opinion and deliberate in the ways he did so. That’s what got him to the presidency in the first place. The war pretty much took control of events after his election, but he always had an eye on how his decisions would impact public opinion and, by extension, the ballot box.

    1. Thanks for mentioning Lincoln the Politician–an aspect of Abe we often forget. He was, indeed, a consummate politician!

  4. His ability to allow time to pass before responding to issues. This eliminated emotions in decision making,

  5. I think Lincoln’s death at the end of the war is a major factor in creating the view held today of Lincoln. At the time of his death Lincoln was not especially popular, he was at odds with the Radical elements of Congress on the question of Reconstruction and Lincoln would have been forced into a contentious confrontation with Congress on this question had he lived. One need only contrast the Lincoln plan for Reconstruction with the Congressional plan to recognize what the future held.

    Lincoln’s death by assassination, just at the moment the war was ending, caused his critics to be silent. Unlike Caesar, they came both to bury and to praise Lincoln. The critics of Lincoln then went on to pass into law their plan of Reconstruction under Johnson who was too inept to oppose them.

    Lincoln, as an astute politician, would not have found himself in the quandary Johnson faced, but Lincoln’s reputation today would be quite different had he lived to serve out his second term. His legacy would include a major confrontation with elements in Congress over Reconstruction.

    1. First, there is something of a chicken-egg issue here. There is little doubt that some part of the congressional, and public, response on Reconstruction was fueled by the assassination of Lincoln. More important is that, as Eric Foner has pointed out recently, the picture which you paint regarding Lincoln and Reconstruction isn’t necessarily accurate. You concede (correctly) that he was an “astute” politician but then you assume that he wouldn’t have been sufficiently “astute” to figure out how to work with the opposition (as he had during the War). You also assume that he had one fixed, unchangeable formula for Reconstruction. This has all of the flaws inherent in alternative history.

      1. Did Lincoln “work with” the Radicals on the issue of Reconstruction during the war? A pocket veto of the Wade-Davis bill is not working with but is an implementation of a fixed formula—“let them up easy.” This is not alternative history but is a recognition that Lincoln would have faced opposition over the issue of Reconstruction following the war just as he faced opposition over the issue during the war.

  6. His humility. He sat in the foyer of McClellan’s home with Secretary Stanton and the General never came downstairs to see him, but made Lincoln and Stanton wait for hours. McClellan never did come downstairs. Stanton wanted Little Mac fired for the insolence. Lincoln forgave and forgot the rebuke.

  7. Compassion, for the wounded soldiers of both sides, Afro Americans,young farm boys pardoned after being sentenced to death by firing squads. It is in all of his public statements and public and private acts.

  8. Coincidentally, I just saw the following passage in book on Lincoln, which I think is particularly apt. In “Lincoln and His Admirals” (Oxford University Press, 2008), the author Craig Symonds discusses the difficulties and learning curve the new commander-in-chief faced. “In the end, Lincoln’s willingness and ability to adjust, his pragmatic approach to problems of every kind, and his keen political instincts helped him overcome the various crises that emerged from the unprecedented national effort….”

    1. Good point. A (very) small example was his interest in the development of new weapons technology despite the resistance of his hidebound Ordnance Chief Ripley.

  9. I’d say Lincoln had a great grasp of ‘perspective’. That came through in his story telling and his often well timed humor…

  10. I hate to use such a trite phrase, but his “people skills” and communication talents contributed greatly to his ability to adjust to circumstances yet stay focused on the goal. He could work with people as different as Seward and Stanton, have a relationship with Frederick Douglass and the Blair family, and used the press to help spread his message and communicate with opponents such as his response to Greeley’s Prayer for 20 Million. Perhaps “Team of Rivals” explains it best in terms of his working with such a variety of people and perspectives.

    He was a master politician, but managed to maintain the image of a jokester, a rail splitter and “Honest Abe.”

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