Tuesday, January 1, 2013

New Year’s Resolution: Read “Lincoln 365” Part 1: Lincoln’s 1860 context

Lincoln’s “time,” like all presidents before and since, had come the year he won the Presidency in 1860.

He won for two reasons. First, his was a moderate stand on explosive issue of slavery – let it stand in the states where it existed but keep it out of the territories. Second, because he was so little known outside his home state of Illinois at the time of his election Lincoln had virtually no enemies. And on that rather inauspicious double-negative note, Lincoln was elected.

Of course there were other problems with his 1860 election that gave thoughtful citizens cause for concern. The election that year had been a four-way race, and each of those candidates had gotten significant numbers of votes. Lincoln won, but received not a single vote in any of the soon-to-be Confederate states because he did not appear on any of their ballots.

In addition, although he garnered a fairly comfortable Electoral College total he had received only 39% of the popular vote. That meant he entered the White House with 61% of the electorate voting him a loser. In addition, he had precious little administrative or military experience, no executive experience and no foreign policy experience.

Look at the 1860 context a little differently. Consider for a moment what would have happened to the country if James Buchanan, Lincoln’s predecessor, had been elected in 1860 instead of 1856 [Of course he had been elected when his time had come, but arguably it could as easily have come four years later, isn’t that right?] His strategy for dealing with the dissolution of the United States was three-fold: a] secession was unconstitutional, [b] there was nothing he could/would do about it; and [c] it would stop being his problem when the next man was sworn in.

That man was Lincoln. And the only thing this awe-shucks lawyer from Podunk, USA seemed to have going for him was the fact that he was a very successful trial lawyer. That is, on a regular basis he had a knack of winning over 12 men good and true. Unfortunately, now he had a much more difficult task of winning over 34 million, many of whom were neither good nor true.

Let me say that again: the nation was hemmoraghing states when the newly-elected Lincoln hardly knew where the bathrooms were in the White House.

Mybe Buchanan’s astonishing contention that he was “the last President of the United States,” was right after all!

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