COMMENTARY: Confessions of a Lincoln Groupie 762.2

There is something ironic about the huge frenzy of publicity on February 12 surrounding the sudden and tragic death of pop star Whitney Houston. The irony is that all this media attention obscured the fact that February 12 is the birthday of the greatest President this nation has ever had, Abraham Lincoln, the man who signed the Emancipation proclamation ending forever slavery in  United States. This act began the long process of acknowledging the civil rights of black people  and creating an American culture in which women like Ms. Houston are able to earn fame and adoration.

I know we will have another chance to honor Mr. Lincoln’s contributions to the nation on President’s Day but I think his birthday justifies special attention.

Candor requires, however, that I confess: I am an Abraham Lincoln groupie. He is my biggest hero. I have a large collection of books and Lincoln memorabilia, my daughter, Abrielle, was named after him as was one of our family dogs. And by blind chance, my son Justin was born on his birthday, February 12.

When i go to Washington D.C. I often visit the Lincoln Memorial and stand in awe of his magnificent eloquence and his legacy of honor, courage, compassion, humility, and humor.

Lincoln was a truly self-made man from genuinely humble origins. He became a skillful lawyer and effective politician, but what distinguished him was his character. He earned the nickname “Honest Abe.”

He was a courageous and inspirational leader who really believed in democracy – a government of the people, by the people, for the people. Empathy and compassion were in his blood. He felt the pain of others as deeply as any man could, yet duty made him a leader of our nation’s bloodiest war.

One of his boldest and most significant acts as President was to devise and issue the Emancipation Proclamation transforming slaves into free citizens, but I’m certain he never could have imagined that our country would elect a black man as our president.

Sadly, he did not lead a happy personal life. He lost his mother, a beloved stepmother, a woman he intended to marry, and a son he adored to various diseases, and he had a tumultuous marriage to an unstable and difficult woman. Though often depressed by feelings of inadequacy, he never shirked the huge responsibilities of his office. He often thought of himself as unworthy, yet he was one of the worthiest men who ever lived.

This is Michael Josephson reminding you that character counts.

Worth reading:  25 Most Profound Lincoln quotes and  8 Witty Lincoln Quotes and President’s Day Un-Celebration

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Comments 11

  1. Michael,

    This confession from a Lincoln groupie is horribly misinformed.

    First, you should note that the Emancipation Proclamation did NOT free all slaves, but only those in states in rebellion, ignoring the border states. The Thirteenth Amendment ended slavery in the US.

    Second, seven decades ago W.E.B. Du Bois published his landmark study, Black Reconstruction (1935), in which he persuasively demonstrated the primary role of African Americans in achieving their own freedom. A wealth of historical work in the time since supports this idea, relegating the idea of the Great White Emancipator to the dustbin. Or so I thought until reading this post.

    Third, Lincoln’s views on race are well documented: he did not believe in the equality of the races. Certainly, Lincoln was an important president, a deep thinker, and a great orator. But I don’t think he paved the way Whitney Houston’s success. Like many African Americans before her, she struggled through life herself to achieve what she did. For that reason, the implied claim that African Americans, among others, should be praising Lincoln instead of mourning Whitney Houston strikes me as both wrong-headed and condescending.

    1. Thank you for the clarification and your perspective. Your points on both the scope of the Emancipation Proclamation and on the fuller and evolving views of Lincoln on race are most certainly a well-documented part of history. There is still no question that he abhorred slavery and that his actions still required courage and commitment. I disagree with your view that minimizes the significance of that act in liberating black people and the repercussions that gave all black people their well-deserved chance to excel. The fact that the civil rights movement is not entirely over is the responsibility of generations after Lincoln. There are no perfect heroes – when I praise another of my heroes, Martin Luther King Jr, I do not talk about accusations of plagiarism and infidelity because I think his gigantic contribution, like Lincoln’s, deserves undiluted praise. I will leave to historians the task of filling out the complete picture.If the thrust of your comment is that my admiration for Lincoln is ill-placed we just will have to disagree.

  2. Buster–

    When I hear people criticize the accomplishments of the few mortals to ever do great deeds, it makes me think of the crab bucket syndrome: all the other crabs in the bucket reach up and pull down any crabs who have the courage to try to climb out of their predicament. The fact that the founding fathers did not eliminate slavery when they drafted our founding documents is often used to discredit them. Yet they put into place the very mechanism by which the slaves were ultimately freed.

    We are all imprisoned by the time in which we live. In our own time, we are well aware of the devastation caused by our reliance upon fossil fuels. Yet we find it extremely difficult to extricate ourselves from this mess. If we were to go “cold turkey” with fossil fuels, our economy would collapse, causing much more suffering. I think it was the same for the founders and slavery.

    I’m just grateful that we have such individuals to look to. Nobody has to tell me that Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson were human beings. The wonder is that these humans were able to make tremendous contributions to humanity, despite their individual imperfections. They were giants among us.

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  6. Six hundred and fifty thousand young men died in the civil war. Was freeing
    three million or so slaves and preserving a union of states worth it? I think not!.
    Slavery throughout history , until the european enlightenment, was universal
    and uncontroversial. It would have come to an end within several decades even without the civil war due to its economic inefficiency. Even if the union split it would have been bound togerther economically eventually.
    A really good president would have let the split occur as was the will of most people at the time. The slaves would still have been freed and the union eventually reinstated. The feenzy for war was liberalism unhinged then as it is now.

    1. Even the concept of slavery can be palatable only to people who are free. In my view slavery is among the most inhumane and indefensible practices in human history.

      1. The israelites had slaves even after they thenselves had been slaves in Egypt. There were slaves in Jesus’ time and he did not preach agsinst it. St Paul sent a runaway slave back to his master( see Epistle to Philemon). Islam permits slavery and Mohammed owned slaves and sold captives into slavery.The
        Pope gave 180 Turkish slaves to Don Juan of Austria after he let Christian forces in their victory over the Ottomans at the battle of Lepanto.George Washington and other founding fathers owned slaves. The Scotish philosopher
        David Hume owned slaves.It was only after the spitit of the European enlightenment was absorbed by european society that slavery began to be seen as immoral.
        Something even more immoral was the slaughter of 650,000 young men in an
        unnecessary war.

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