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What Would Lincoln Do?

Abraham Lincoln and the evolution of American morality. What would Lincoln do, say, today?

The Lincoln Memorial (williamhartz/Flickr)

The Lincoln Memorial (williamhartz/Flickr)

Abraham Lincoln is remarkably vivid, in the air, these days. In the weave of our rolling 150th anniversaries of the Civil War. In the references of a president who loves to nod to Lincoln. In the Oscar nominations of Steven Spielberg’s moving film, and Daniel Day-Lewis’s moving depiction of Lincoln in his White House and marriage and epic political and moral struggles.

A big new book by John Burt goes to the heart of Lincoln’s thinking about democracy and morality. And the sometimes tragic pragmatism required to marry those.

This hour, On Point: deep Lincoln.

-Tom Ashbrook


John Burt, professor of English at Brandeis University and author of “Lincoln’s Tragic Pragmatism: Lincoln, Douglas, and Moral Conflict.”

From Tom’s Reading List

New York Times “There have been many ways to think about Abraham Lincoln, our most enigmatic president, but the image of him as a moral philosopher is not the most obvious. We have “Honest Abe,” the great rail-splitter of American legend, Lincoln the political operative and architect of the Republican Party, and Lincoln the savvy wielder of executive power as portrayed in Steven Spielberg’s recent film.

Yet several works have put the issue of Lincoln’s language, rhetoric and political thought front and center. Among them, Garry Wills’s “Lincoln at Gettysburg,” Ronald C. White Jr.’s “Lincoln’s Greatest Speech” and Allen Guelzo’s “Abraham Lincoln as a Man of Ideas”all deserve honorable mention. But the first and still best effort to advance a philosophical reading of Lincoln was Harry V. Jaffa’s “Crisis of the House Divided,” published in 1959.”

Chicago Tribune “The evolution of President Abraham Lincoln’s thinking about emancipation is clearly marked out in his speeches and public documents. The evolution of his views about suffrage for black people is harder to trace. The two issues are intimately linked, and to modern eyes they seem one and the same. In Lincoln’s time, though, the issues of emancipation and suffrage pulled in different directions, and their history is tangled.”

Book Excerpt

Electronically reproduced by permission of the publisher from LINCOLN’S TRAGIC PRAGMATISM by John Burt, Cambridge, Mass.: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Copyright © 2013 The President and Fellows of Harvard College.

Lincoln limited the scope of the Emancipation Proclamation (excepting the loyal slave states and regions of the seceded states already under federal control) in the ways required by the claim of military necessity. Had he chosen to use the claim of military necessity to abolish slavery in the loyal border states, the Supreme Court may have chosen to overturn the proclamation as a whole, arguing that since the claim of military necessity did not plausibly apply to the cases of the border states, that the rationale for the proclamation as a whole was a pretext, not a reason. The proclamation had to be a halfway measure, but it staked out a position there could be no abandoning, and, precisely because it was a halfway measure, it motivated a sturdier and more sweeping solution. Having built the case for emancipation, and having drawn former slaves into the army, and, further, having discovered what could not have been obvious in 1861, that the proclamation did not devastate the cause of the Union in the border states, Lincoln was enabled to press for a permanent and clear constitutional settlement through the adoption of the Thirteenth Amendment.

If the shaky loyalty of the border states had something to do with Lincoln’s delay in issuing the Emancipation Proclamation, his impatience with the border states also had something to do with his commitment to issuing it. After a frustrating meeting with border state representatives at the White House on July 12, 1862, in which he encouraged them to adopt a scheme of gradual, compensated emancipation before “the institution in your states will be extinguished by mere friction and abrasion,” Lincoln crossed the Rubicon in his own mind.

The next day, as he rode in a carriage with Secretaries Seward and Welles on their way to the funeral of Secretary Stanton’s infant son, he announced (according to Welles’ diary) that after several weeks of thought he had resolved to emancipate the slaves in the seceded states, a policy he said had been “forced upon him by the rebels” He explained to Welles that emancipation “was a military necessity absolutely essential to the salvation of the Union, that we must free the slaves or be ourselves subdued.” Such an act would, at the least, weaken the power of the Confederacy, since it used its slaves to do such things as dig intrenchments or move supplies, jobs which otherwise would have to be performed by white soldiers. He further noted that the border states would do nothing, left to themselves, and could only be persuaded to free their slaves if the slaves were freed in the Confederacy first.

Lincoln had determined to make the proclamation months before he formally issued it, but he was persuaded by Seward to postpone doing so until after a military victory (which, on balance, the battle of Antietam was), so that it would not seem to be a desperation strategy, or a hopeless gesture (“like the Pope’s bull against the comet,” as Lincoln remarked in his reply to an emancipation memorial presented to him by Chicago clergymen only a few weeks before issuing the proclamation that was already in his desk).

Three things came together to make the Emancipation proclamation politically possible: a convincing argument that emancipation was required by military necessity, a battlefield victory to make the proclamation not seem to be a desperate improvisation, and evidence that the border states would not be driven to secession by the act.

The battle of Antietam settled both of the last two matters, first by being in a way a Union victory, but also, more importantly, by demonstrating the people of Maryland would not rise up in support of the Confederacy (as the Confederates, remembering how Union troops had had to fight their way though Baltimore to the defense of Washington only a year before, had reason to believe they might).

Barbara Frietchie as much as George McClellan made possible the Emancipation Proclamation. But it had been waiting its occasion a long time before that, and Lincoln may have been revolving the possibility as early as the attack on Fort Sumter itself.

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  • Fiscally_Responsible

    Lincoln, like many of our founding fathers, were Christians or at least deists who acknowledged God’s existence, the uniqueness and truth of scriptures, and the role that God played in enabling our nation to be founded despite terrible odds.  He had no problem acknowledging and praying to God in public settings.  I’m sure that today’s incorrect interpretation of separation of church and state, banishment of God from public discourse, replaced by public acceptance of immoral lifestyles such as cohabitation, GLBT, and gay marriage would be repugnant to him and would remind him of many verses that speak of God’s deserved judgment upon our nation as a result of denial of Him and His rightful claim that we should live our lives based on Biblical principles and precepts. 

    • 1Brett1

      Well, since you’re just opining about a fantasy of what you think Lincoln would be like if he were living today and what you think his opinions toward society’s issues would be, then: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sexuality_of_Abraham_Lincoln 

      • Fiscally_Responsible

        People like you will drag anyone through the mud and distort anyone’s words in order to justify their moral degeneracy.  Knowing his Bible, Lincoln would no doubt have know how Genesis cites thehistorical account of God destroying Sodom and Gomorrah because of their homosexual immorality and  God’s obvious viewpoint that it is the antithesis of appropriate sexual expression (Adam and Eve).

        • Ray in VT

          I know of no historical evidence to suggest that any ancient city was destroyed by a deity.

          • JobExperience

            Consider a volcano or an asteroid.
            Such could be interpreted as God-swill by true believers.

        • JobExperience

           If this gibberish applied we’d have long ago been nuked with God’s approval. What a vindictive and authoritarian Being you portray. The Bible is no more or less true than Jack Tales.

    • Mike_Card

      Dude–you are even sicker than Ed.

  • Fiscally_Responsible

    Remarkable quote below from Lincoln that refers to the Bible as the best gift that God has given to man (therefore elevating it above all other religious books), acknowledging the Savior, Jesus Christ, (thereby elevating Christianity above all other religions), and acknowledging that it is the source upon which we judge whether something is right or wrong (thereby relegating moral relativism to the trash heap).

    “In regards to this great Book (the Bible), I have but to say it is the bestgift God has given to man. All the good the Savior gave to the world wascommunicated through this Book. But for it we could not know rightfrom wrong. All things most desirable for man’s welfare, here andhereafter, are found portrayed in it.”

    • 1Brett1

      “(therefore elevating it [Bible] above all other religious books)”, “(thereby elevating Christianity above all other religions)”, “(thereby relegating moral relativism to the trash heap)”

      Your opinions about what is known regarding Lincoln and religion are quite a simplification of Lincoln’s views, almost to the point of distorting what is known about Lincoln and religion. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abraham_Lincoln_and_religion  

      Your personal opinions are Christian Exceptionalism at its finest…You see these aren’t simply religious beliefs you’re espousing but comparisons of one’s belief sources and systems to sources and systems of others’ beliefs. You’re saying that Christianity is better than other religions, Christian texts are better than other religious texts, and that right and wrong can only be understood by Christians. You not only believe in Christianity but of the superiority of Christianity. 

      All you are saying is that, essentially, you love Christianity and it is the best belief system in the world, which is fine. The problem is that you are conflating and confusing that with historical fact and true interpretation.

      • Fiscally_Responsible

        Actually, what I did, particularly in my second post, was to simply quote what Lincoln said about the Bible, about the Savior, and about where we should derive our moral code of right and wrong.  What you and many other liberals attempt to do is revise history to fit a modern day warped view of what is acceptable morality (such as gay marriage being ok) and misquoting our forefathers to advocate for something that they did not say.  And unfortunately, our institutions such as the press, educational institutions, public television, etc. have in their shallow laziness bought into that lie and therefore allow the liberals get away with restating history to say whatever they want it to say.  But as Lincoln said, “apart from This Book, we could not know right from wrong.”  In the final judgment, choosing to ignore This Book will provide no excuse whatsoever in terms of not abiding by it as individuals, political leaders, supreme court justices, or as a nation.

        • brettearle

          One does not have to read the Bible to lead a moral life–anywhere in the World.

          How do we know what other non-Christian scripture–from the great Religions of the world–Lincoln either tried to read or was exposed to? 

          Probably none or little.

          Lincoln had, very likely, no basis for comparison.

          Who says, Lincoln’s therefore either truly Right or is giving us a true considered opinion?

        • Ray in VT

          Then how was it that societies had any concept of right or wrong prior to them having contact with Christians?  Those poor people.

          One need not have a particular religious text, or, indeed, any at all in order to lead a good and moral life.  I am quite happy to not have my behavior or the actions of our government dictated by the Bible.  For instance, here’s a list of things that are punishable by death in the Bible:


          I’d rather not live in what would at best be Medieval times, although I would dine at that establishment.  I find that too many conservatives wish to attempt to remake our Founders in the mold of modern Christian fundamentalists, discounting the Enlightenment of scientific pursuits of some of them that are certainly far in advance of some of our modern fundamentalists.

          Lincoln also said “The good old maxims of the Bible are applicable, truly applicable to human affairs” and “The Bible is not my Book and Christianity is not my religion.
          I could never give assent to the long complicated statements
          of Christian dogma.”  The man may certainly have had some complicated views regarding religion.

        • jimino

          He was a consummate politician, operating in the 19th century, and knew what had to be said to get his message across. 

          And apparently there are still a lot of people, like yourself, who lack an internal moral compass and only act in a certain way because someone or something they fear (or love) tells them that’s what they should do.

        • 1Brett1

          Actually, what I quoted were your words NOT Lincoln’s.

      • Ed75

        All religions are alike in that their purpose is to bring us closer to God, into relationship with God, and with one another. But as I think it’s St. Peter who writes ‘For there is no other name under heaven by which we can be saved’, i.e. Jesus Christ.

        Ontologically, philosophically, the Catholic Church contains the fulness of truth, it’s the household of God. Other religions can and do lead other people to God. They have ‘glimpses of that truth that enlightens all men’.

  • ToyYoda

    Please ask your guest if Lincoln would approve of himself selling cars on President’s Day.

    This year’s performance of Abe along with George has to be one of the best of all time:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xE-7zxDx22U

    • Steve__T

       Well I don’t think he’d be selling Honda’s, maybe Lincoln’s.

  • ten4nis

    So didn’t care for Spielberg’s movie.

  • http://www.facebook.com/kyle.rose Kyle Rose

    I imagine he’d come up with some pretext for invading peaceful foreign territories that pursued self-determination, and for suspending habeas corpus. The people who are rightly horrified by Dubya but put Lincoln on some idealistic pedestal have a level of cognitive dissonance I can’t understand: Dubya was a piker compared to the tyranny of Lincoln.

    • Ray in VT

      Desperate times called for desperate measures, given the nature of the threat to the Union.  The “tyranny” of Lincoln was nothing compared to the tyranny of the whip, the shackle and the auction block that Lincoln’s leadership eventually abolished.

      • Coastghost

        The mechanization of agriculture was well under way by the time Lincoln initiated hostilities in April 1861: slavery’s days were already numbered, and without such ferocious bloodletting, as witness the near-contemporaneous emancipation of serfs in Russia and the abolition of slavery scarce years later in Brazil.
        And what noble enterprise did Lincoln’s victorious North embark upon almost immediately? An actual genocidal campaign against the Plains Indians. (Lincoln himself helped set the stage by authorizing the largest mass execution in US history: Sioux Indians who had participated in the Minnesota Uprising of 1862.)
        Spare us at least a little of the Lincoln hagiography, puh-lease.

        • Ray in VT

          All men have flaws, and Lincoln, like so many of our 18th and 19th century leaders did some very bad things to the Native Americans.  George Washington authorized the ravaging of native tribes in the Mohawk River Valley during the Revolution.  Jackson forced removal upon the Cherokee.

          Lincoln had a deep hatred of slavery, but he did acknowledge that if he could save the Union without freeing the slaves, then he would have done that.

          The fact remains that if you read the South Carolina Secession Declaration they devoted a great amount of space to laying out how unjustly their rights to own and transport other humans have been hampered, and none other than the Vice President of the CSA, Alexander Stephens said:

          “But not
          to be tedious in enumerating the numerous changes for the better, allow
          me to allude to one other though last, not least. The new constitution
          has put at rest, forever, all the agitating questions relating to our
          peculiar institution African slavery as it exists amongst us the proper
          status of the negro in our form of civilization. This was the immediate
          cause of the late rupture and present revolution. Jefferson in his
          forecast, had anticipated this, as the “rock upon which the old Union
          would split.” He was right. What was conjecture with him, is now a
          realized fact. But whether he fully comprehended the great truth upon
          which that rock stood and stands, may be doubted. The prevailing ideas
          entertained by him and most of the leading statesmen at the time of the
          formation of the old constitution, were that the enslavement of the
          African was in violation of the laws of nature; that it was wrong in
          principle, socially, morally, and politically. It was an evil they knew
          not well how to deal with, but the general opinion of the men of that
          day was that, somehow or other in the order of Providence, the
          institution would be evanescent and pass away. This idea, though not
          incorporated in the constitution, was the prevailing idea at that time.
          The constitution, it is true, secured every essential guarantee to the
          institution while it should last, and hence no argument can be justly
          urged against the constitutional guarantees thus secured, because of the
          common sentiment of the day. Those ideas, however, were fundamentally
          wrong. They rested upon the assumption of the equality of races. This
          was an error. It was a sandy foundation, and the government built upon
          it fell when the “storm came and the wind blew.”

          Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its
          foundations are laid, its corner- stone rests, upon the great truth
          that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination
          to the superior race is his natural and normal condition.”

          I am not a believer in determinism.  Because something happened somewhere does not mean that it will happen in another.  North Korea has remained a despotism while her neighbor to the south has advanced, because the government has the power and the will to make it so.  I don’t particularly have any faith that the “peculiar institution” of slavery would have been allowed to pass out of existence en masse within 10, 20 or 50 years.  The bottom line is that no matter how long it took him to get there, Lincoln acted to end that disgusting institution of human bondage, while many of the powerful in the south risked all, possibly even execution for treason, to keep the majority of African Americans in the south in servitude, so please spare me the excuses, justifications and downplayings of the horrible evils of the confederate regime and the system that it sought to uphold.

          • Steve__T

             Very well said!

          • Ray in VT


          • jefe68

            Here, here!

        • http://profile.yahoo.com/JXSANCUDPIKQSPID5KT2U4XK5Y TF

          Please, tell us more about how the entrenched Southern plantation class was ready to give up that position, that power, rather than grasping on to it with the nth nanometer of their fingernails.

          It sounds a lot like today’s “If only Obama were nicer to the GOP they’d stop pissing in the punchbowl at the party.”

    • Fiscally_Responsible

      Why do you have such hatred for the United States?

      • 1Brett1

        Why do you have such hatred for those with a differing opinion than yours?

    • JobExperience

      Lincoln faced real threats not fabricated ones.

      • http://www.facebook.com/kyle.rose Kyle Rose

        Exactly what threat did Lincoln face from the South? It wasn’t the South that invaded the North.

        • JobExperience

           Kyle is exactly wrong on this, because most of the Civil War time and expense was used defending Washington, D.C.
          Notice how many of the early battles occurred in Union territory. Kyle is a neo-Confederate without much curiosity or information. Often such people are racists or terrified xenophobes. Sometimes they’ve just engorged themselves on Ron Paul make believe.

          • http://www.facebook.com/kyle.rose Kyle Rose

            So you’re saying the Confederacy was trying to invade and conquer the North? That’s news to me.

    • jefe68

      The tyranny of Lincoln. 
      That has to be the quote of the week.
      What’s next, the South will rise again?

      • http://www.facebook.com/kyle.rose Kyle Rose

        I never said what the South did (slavery) was right. But two wrongs don’t make a right, and invading a foreign country that poses no actual threat to you is wrong.

        Mutter “Union”, shout “slavery!”, and say Hail Marys all day long, it doesn’t change the fact that Lincoln started an aggressive war against a nation that had declared independence and was not in any way aggressing against what remained of the United States.

        It takes an awful lot of mental contortion to be in favor of Lincoln’s war and simultaneously to be opposed to the Iraq war.

  • Coastghost

    Suspend habeas corpus?

    • JobExperience

      The best reason for such suspension might be “high crimes and misdemeanors” committed while in office, officials immune no matter the evidence.

  • Ray in VT

    I see in the near future a
    crisis approaching that unnerves me and cause me to tremble for safety
    of my country; corporations have been enthroned, an era of corruption in
    High Places will follow, and the Money Power of the country will
    endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the
    People, until the wealth is aggregated in a few hands, and the Republic

    ABRAHAM LINCOLN, letter to Col. William F. Elkins, Nov. 21, 1864


  • JobExperience

    Lincoln, like everyone was a product of his times, and became important only because of historical opportunity unlikely to recur. You have to separate the role from the personality in order to understand what “he” would do today. In  his frontier persona he might have a hard time either completing college (big loan balance) or gaining  credentials for self-education. He would be starting at the bottom as a pulpwood cutter, then into retail, then law….. pretty unlikely mobility today. I think his most likely success route available today would be sports or pseudo-sports, maybe acting as a villain in an action film. Lincoln was a renowned wrestler, boxer and strongman. His height might have taken him to the NBA. Then he could study law to become a sports union boss. I think he’d be satisfied with that. It was the strain of the tasks historical Lincoln faced causing him to grow morally, and that would be unlikely for a similar man today.
    Alternatively, if you stress the role over the persona, any activist of human rights could be viewed as a Lincoln. Lincolns now come in all colors and genders.

    • Ray in VT

      I think that such discussions about what some historical figure would do now are problematic at best.

      • JobExperience

         Agreed, and it is mythmaking, just as oldman says.
        I thought I was trying to convey that abstraction.
        Maybe I failed.

        • Ray in VT

          No, I took that sentiment away from your comment.

  • JobExperience

    The biggest thing Lincoln did was to use war powers to overcome the private property clauses in our Constitution to dissolve the ownership of human beings by other human beings. Compared to the disappearance of monetary wealth in the 2008 Meltdown this was a much larger loss of value when inflation is factored in. So a Unitary Executive today exercizing similar powers in a crisis could revoke corporate charters or nationalize vital industries such as finance and petroleum. You see such things happen in South America but never here. Maybe we live on the wrong side of history now. Our moral leadership has been lost to corporate corruption and bullying. Lincoln today might self-deport to greater possibilities.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_Y6CO5C2HE4WM2OYGCDVWGPRXXM oldman

    Lincoln, like any overdiscussed, overanalyzed historical figure is largely mythical. Not so much what he did, but why he did it. It’s hard enough crawling into the head of someone living, much less doing it to someone who died almost 150 years ago.

    • geraldfnord

      Yes, Lincoln is so generally revered that ‘Lincoln would have believed such-and-so,’ generally means ‘_I_ believe such-and-so, and am looking for back-up.  See also: M.L. King (in favour of ‘affirmative action’ avant la lettre), Ronald Reagan (repeated tax-raiser, admirer of F.D.R.), and Mohandas Gandhi (who actively supported the Empire by recruiting Deshi men to fight for it in the Great War in the hope that _that_ would help win independence).

  • Steve__T

    This is pure conjecture, not a topic of news, or what we face as a nation today. Not on point.

  • BlueNH

    Abe would acknowledge that climate change is the greatest threat to humanity and he would enact a carbon tax in order to discourage the use of fossil fuels. He would read the science and would fight the fossil fuel bullies and climate deniers. He would care about future generations. He would be a statesman, not a politician.

    We need an Abe Lincoln today to stand up to those who would destroy humanity. Only time will tell if Obama is up to the challenge

    • Amsdell

      If you believe that the scientists are correct, then the only issue for us is climate change.  In the face of escalating temperatures, nothing, nothing, nothing else matters.

      • Coastghost

        The scientists must be in error, since NPR remains tied to the grid 24/7/365.

        • nj_v2

          ^ Can’t let go of a stupid argument.

          • Coastghost

            I say only that NPR conveniently ignores the import of its own dire warnings.

  • 1Brett1

    Is there some book to be hawked here? Or is this just capitalizing on the trendy popularity of Lincoln?

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/QMDZ3LH5U2B4GAT7J2HS4TCP6E Jim

    What Would Lincoln Do?
    Change parties… become a Democrat and continue to have a heart. these principles cannot be compromised.

  • jefe68

    What would Abe Lincoln do? 
    I doubt Abe Lincoln could be elected as president in this country today.

  • J__o__h__n

    Why does every show on history need a film clip?

  • TomK_in_Boston

    Lincoln knew that a strong federal government was required to maintain the greatness of the USA, and acted accordingly. He fought a horrible war to keep the bozos in the red states from “nullifying” federal law. In the midst of this war, he started the state universities and the transcontinental railroads, something no “deficit hawk” would dream of. Seems to me he’d be enemy #1 of the far right today.

    • http://www.facebook.com/kyle.rose Kyle Rose

      “He fought a horrible war to keep the bozos in the red states from “nullifying” federal law.”
      Better said that he fought a horrible war to keep the patriots in the South from declaring independence and pursuing self-determination as the thirteen colonies had done 85 years earlier.

      No one is defending slavery: slavery was horrible, and the South was wrong to try to perpetuate it. But aggressively invading foreign territories is also wrong, and like it or not the South had declared independence and was operating as a separate country at that point.

      • TomK_in_Boston

        Ha ha, stale talking point.

        • http://www.facebook.com/kyle.rose Kyle Rose

          Well, treason against England made George Washington into George Washington. And he was hardly some saint, either, having owned slaves himself. I’m sorry you are caught up in history as written by the victors: I blame US public schooling for the tiny box your mind is stuck in.

          • TomK_in_Boston

            Yep, if the parrot says the talking point enough it will become true.

          • http://www.facebook.com/kyle.rose Kyle Rose

            Where the parrot is repeating the conventional wisdom about the Civil War, yes, you’re right.

    • WorriedfortheCountry

       Yup Tom it was those evil Democrats in the Red states.

      Also, Lincoln had no income tax to draw on — let’s go back to the good ole days of no income tax.

      • Coastghost

        No, it’s just as bad as you think: Lincoln’s Administration did indeed initiate an income tax!

        • TomK_in_Boston

          You mean good.

        • jefe68

          Personal Income Tax was introduced in U.S. in 1913.

          • Coastghost

            From the Wikipedia article “Income Tax in the United States”:

            In order to help pay for its war effort in the American Civil War, Congress imposed its first personal income tax in 1861.[35] It was part of the Revenue Act of 1861 (3% of all incomes over US $800).[36] This tax was repealed and replaced by another income tax in 1862.[37]

      • jefe68

        You really do live in a fantasy world.

  • JGC

    Lincoln, Lincoln, Lincoln! It’s always Lincoln! How about Buchanan for a change?

  • Duxyak

    “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice” was indeed famously said by MLK, but he borrowed it from the abolitionist Unitarian preacher Theodore Parker, who preached to Boston congregations in the 1840s & 50s. Parker also coined the phrase “government of all the people, by all the people, for all the people,” which Lincoln famously adapted.  

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_Y6CO5C2HE4WM2OYGCDVWGPRXXM oldman

    I always cringe when people start with “so and so felt – so and so thought”.

    Unless you’re a telepath with a  time machine, all you can concretely present is what people did and what they said – everything else is just drawing faerie cities in the air.

  • RandyHD

    A notable feature of Lincoln’s time, and this discussion, is the ability of a politician to make a reasoned argument and the ability of the electorate to follow a reasoned argument. In this age of television and video games is our representative democracy in danger because of our inability to do either?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1296796187 Elizabeth Scott Valek

    Listening to the comments about Lincoln’s views on slavery changing over time and imagining the same conversation happening years from now with regard to Obama’s views regarding homosexuality.

    • Fiscally_Responsible

      Not comparable.  The first one is a legitimate civil rights issue, and the second one has to do with incorrectly labelling something that is grossly immoral as legitimate.

      • http://www.facebook.com/zac.nickens Zachary Nickens

         your somewhat coded language referring to homosexuality is exactly in the same vain which southern proponents of slavery described emancipation and freedmen. You sir or madame, lack historical perspective.

      • nj_v2

        The only thing grossly immoral here is your bigotry.

  • andreawilder

    Nonsense, nothing to do with states’ rights.  The Confederacy 
    had its own constitution, it was a country–in its mind.  Davis
    didn’t pay any attention to states’ rights.

  • burroak

    “My conscience commands me” suggests sensitivity, empathy, and a passionate, sincere, open-minded engagment in democracy. Lincoln embraced all of these, but to persuade his fellow American, he had to value the opposing viewpoints.
    Nowadays, an analogy of inequality can be drawn between the economic have and have nots.
    Was Lincoln a brilliant visionary who understood the incredible delicacy of the present moment; thus, how precious it is, and resulting: a carpe-diem-like engagement with congress and his fellow Americans.

  • viacarrozza

    Thank you  Tom Ashbrook, Professor Burt AND the brilliant callers !  This was one of the best shows I’ve ever listened to !

  • 8suzi3

    98% of the time I listen to On Point or any NPR program with one ear while I write e-mail, clean the kitchen or read. This morning, the discussion with Mr Burt and the call in comments captured my total attention. Thank you, thank you…for a great program.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_ECUXKSK6OV74WAWFBXKLWBOXEE David

    Echoing the most recent comments, this show was on the level of Bill Moyers at his best–both Tom as an interviewer and commentator, and Mr. Burt as an eloquent interpreter of Lincoln’s ideas and actions. I renew my commitment to never miss a show, and I’m going out to get the book.

  • WorriedfortheCountry

    What would Lincoln do?

    Certainly insist on balancing the budget since he knows that generational theft is immoral. 

    • J__o__h__n

      Lincoln left a debt. 

      • WorriedfortheCountry

         I think we can excuse him for  for the Civil War debt.  After all, he only had  a few days of life after Lee’s surrender.

    • jimino

       But intragenerational is fine, right?. 

  • RonShirtz

    Lincoln was no more and no less a politician than any other president. Spielberg’s movie forgets to mention that Lincoln supported the Corwin’s amendment that would allow Southern states to keep slaves as means to prevent their separation.
    Lincoln’s previous debates and inaugural address consistently show him as be callously indifferent to slaves and their lot. The North’s battle to keep the South from seperating had less to do with splitting the Union than to lose the lucrative Federal revenue that came from taxes and tariffs form the South’s cotton trade.

    “…was a military necessity absolutely essential to the salvation of the
    Union, that we must free the slaves or be ourselves subdued.” Such an
    act would, at the least, weaken the power of the Confederacy, since it
    used its slaves to do such things as dig intrenchments or move supplies,
    jobs which otherwise would have to be performed by white soldiers.”

    Yet another example of Lincoln’s political expediency that had less to due with freeing the slaves to end thier suffering than to win the war no matter what the cost, which included Sherman’s bloody scorched earth march that while military successful, led to a resentment between North and South that continues today.

    Some strive to claim Lincoln over time evolved morally to the plight of the black slaves, whereas I firmly believe he merely politically exploited them and the abolitionists to give his war against the south a moral cloak of legitimacy. His efforts to ship free slaves to a US founded colony in Liberia belie any real concern to them, as well his considering to sending them to Panama to work in a malaria infested jungle to dig the Panama canal. 

    If Lincoln had been president after Pearl harbor in 1941, I have no doubt at all he would have taken the same action as FDR and imprisoned all Japanese American citizens for reasons of national security.

  • Fredlinskip

    Lincoln would be Democrat today. 
    This surely should be obvious.

        Progressive and Conservative affiliation to political party has changed several times in our nation’s short history, but the “base” of Conservative vote has always been in the South. 
    Lincoln was elected by Northern States. He was Progressive and as such helped bring about positive change.
       Anyone who wants to be a “Lincoln” Republican, Dems await with open arms.

  • http://www.jobwaltz.com JobWaltz.com

    Five myths about Lincoln 

    Myth #4: Lincoln defended civil rights.The reality: Lincoln had nothing but contempt for the Constitution and personal freedom. Lincoln…Invaded the South without the consent of the people (Congress),Started the nation’s first compulsory draft,Suspended the right to a trial, imprisoned between 12,000-30,000 Northern anti-war protestors (without trial),Declared martial law that put millions under military rule,Blockaded Southern ports without a declaration of war (forcing the South into a fight),Deported representatives that publically opposed him (Clement Vallandigham),Confiscated private property (including guns),Destroyed the 9th and 10th Amendments,Jailed owners and editors of newspapers that criticized him,Censored all newspapers and telegraphs,Nationalized the railroads,Arbitrarily created three new states to boost the Republican Party’s electoral vote, and…Ordered troops to interfere in Northern elections on the side of Republicans.


    • ExcellentNews

      Myth #6 – Lincoln was an American. In fact, Lincoln was born in Kenya from Muslim parents. His real name was A’li Ngolono and his birth certificate was proven to be a fake. Coincidence ??? I think not… 

Aug 21, 2014
In this November 2012, file photo, posted on the website freejamesfoley.org, shows American journalist James Foley while covering the civil war in Aleppo, Syria. In a horrifying act of revenge for U.S. airstrikes in northern Iraq, militants with the Islamic State extremist group have beheaded Foley — and are threatening to kill another hostage, U.S. officials say. (AP)

An American is beheaded. We’ll look at the ferocity of ISIS, and what to do about it.

Aug 21, 2014
Jen Joyce, a community manager for the Uber rideshare service, works on a laptop before a meeting of the Seattle City Council, Monday, March 17, 2014, at City Hall in Seattle. (AP)

We’ll look at workers trying to live and make a living in the age of TaskRabbit and computer-driven work schedules.

Aug 20, 2014
In this Oct. 21, 2013 file photo, a monarch butterfly lands on a confetti lantana plant in San Antonio. A half-century ago Monarch butterflies, tired, hungry and bursting to lay eggs, found plenty of nourishment flying across Texas. Native white-flowering balls of antelope milkweed covered grasslands, growing alongside nectar-filled wildflowers. But now, these orange-and-black winged butterflies find mostly buildings, manicured lawns and toxic, pesticide-filled plants. (AP)

This year’s monarch butterfly migration is the smallest ever recorded. We’ll ask why. It’s a big story. Plus: how climate change is creating new hybridized species.

Aug 20, 2014
A man holds his hands up in the street after a standoff with police Monday, Aug. 18, 2014, during a protest for Michael Brown, who was killed by a police officer Aug. 9 in Ferguson, Mo. (AP)

A deep read on Ferguson, Missouri and what we’re seeing about race, class, hope and fear in America.

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