Friday, May 16, 2008

Lincoln's Legacy

Seven score and eight years ago another seemingly inexperienced politician from Illinois was chosen to represent his party as a catalyst for change. He too had risen through the ranks of the Illinois State legislature, followed by a brief stint in Congress. He too recognized the need to change the way politics operated in Washington. He too was nominated by his party on the basis of his grand oratory and the hope he offered of uniting the nation. Of course, most of you recognize this inexperienced yet eloquent politician as one of our greatest American Presidents, Abraham Lincoln.

Perhaps it is too soon to draw comparisons between Obama and Lincoln. After all, as of this writing, while it is a given that Barack Obama will capture the Democratic nomination, he is not assured the Presidency. However, the connections between the two are unmistakable, and if Obama does indeed win election to the highest office in the land, I believe it will be the ultimate fulfillment of everything Lincoln fought for.

Before I get pounced on by the history buffs, I do understand that Lincoln did not, at first, set out with the purpose of freeing slaves. If anything, his campaign was a rejection of the status quo—continual compromises with slave owners that threatened to eventually expand slavery nationally—as not just ineffective, but dangerous.

It was the general feeling in the South that every state should be able to choose whether or not to allow slavery, and their hope was that they could expand slavery into territories extending all the way to the Pacific. Meanwhile, pro-slavery forces flooded not-quite-a-state-yet Kansas with slaveholder settlements from the slave state of Missouri and elsewhere.

When the time came to create a constitution, a requirement prior to statehood, slavery proponents imported thugs from outside of Kansas to stuff ballot boxes to assure that Kansas would in fact be admitted as a slave state. The delicate balance between North & South was in jeopardy. Lincoln simply wanted to maintain that balance and hold the Union together.

Of course, things worked out a bit differently than expected. Southern states began seceding almost as soon as election results were announced, and soon after his inauguration, Lincoln and the country were thrust into a war no one really wanted. It was during the Civil War that Lincoln's beliefs evolved. On September 22, 1862, Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. While not abolishing slavery outright, it did lay the groundwork for what would ultimately become the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution. Not bad for someone whose political experience amounted to eight years in the Illinois State Legislature followed by two in Congress.

By this point, I'm sure you can see where I'm going. As a matter of fact, some might dismiss this essay as just another in a line of those I've written to support my candidate. This line of thinking is not entirely off base. However, regardless of whom you support, you can't deny that the parallels between Lincoln and Obama are fascinating. This is not to say that I believe we are a nation on the brink of internal war. Nor am I guaranteeing that Obama, should he ultimately be elected, will be as great a president as Lincoln. I do however believe in Destiny.

It feels a bit like Destiny when the first African American to have a viable shot at the Presidency can virtually tie up his nomination on the anniversary of Lincoln's Inauguration (March 4, 1861 & 1865). It also feels like destiny that 148 years later, another presumably inexperienced, yet eloquent politician rising to prominence after a tenure in the Illinois State Legislature, followed by a short stint in Congress may soon be the one who will finally fulfill Lincoln's Legacy.

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