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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Abe’s spirit eclipses the man’s contradictions

    The Abraham Lincoln we see today is a man of many faces. To some, he is the slave-freeing Honest Abe and the greatest president in American history, and to others he is the blue-bellied jerk who suspended the writ of habeas corpus on more than a few occasions and made our last president seem like a card-carrying American Civil Liberties Union member, in addition to being responsible for “”the War of Northern Aggression.””

    Still others know him for his address at Gettysburg that was scarcely remembered until many years later, or his establishment of Thanksgiving as a national holiday. Yet, two centuries after his birth in Kentucky, Lincoln – quite the complex character – remains misunderstood while his truer examples are ignored.

    Case in point: most recently, Lincoln has been hailed as a symbol of unity in domestic politics, a forerunner to our new president who was inaugurated with the same Bible Lincoln used. This is absurd. One may draw conclusions from the dysfunctional, multi-partisan presidential cabinet that Lincoln often fought against, but to see Lincoln as an agent of unity is to blatantly ignore history: the civil war his election ignited was ended not with skilled oratory but with the eloquence of gunfire, and lots of it. Abe was humble and empathized with others’ views, but went his own way: “”We all declare for liberty, but in using the same word we do not all mean the same thing,”” he declared.

    The Civil Rights Lincoln is also misunderstood. The 13th Amendment was aimed at ending slavery, but the Emancipation Proclamation was a war effort designed to harm secessionist slave-holders. Indeed, Lincoln rose to fame as an abolitionist speaker, but on multiple occasions strongly affirmed his disbelief in racial equality. His plan? Send the freed blacks back to West Africa.

    A definer of the new Republican Party, Lincoln was also a strong former Whig who supported capitalism and argued against the fear that a modern industrial society would be dominated by the upper class. Indeed, his classic story of a young boy zealously reading in a log cabin and becoming President was displayed as an example of the opportunity of individual freedom. “”Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness,”” said the Declaration of Independence – a document Lincoln remade into a sacred American text alongside the Constitution, especially as support that slavery was wrong.

    Lincoln’s desire to end slavery, however, was subordinated to that of ending the Civil War. This was but one of many changes in Lincoln throughout his presidency. The rebellion was to be defeated at all costs – and the costs were truly high, for both sides. Throughout much of his presidency, Lincoln had to deal with waves of tragic military leadership, whichwas being hammered by the ill-supplied and smaller Confederate forces, primarily the Army of Northern Virginia under General Robert E. Lee’s unparalleled command. Finally, Lincoln was given General Grant, who waged a war of attrition against the South.

    Yet this was not quick enough. President Lincoln faced growing public antipathy to his war, and to avoid the risk of losing re-election decided to let loose General Sherman. As opposed to Lee, Sherman had no qualms circumventing military targets and waging total war against Dixie to make a direct and critical economic and psychological strike. The Union’s March to the Sea and the rest of the war shed an incredible amount of blood but shifted the tides of war and won Lincoln his re-election as well as his war, after which Lincoln supported the reconstruction of the South.

    This war was Lincoln’s legacy. President Lincoln lived in grave times, but his quality of determination won him the war and made him great. He could have been the president to cut his losses and make a treaty with the Confederate States of America, but instead he firmly rejected the compromise of his aims. Throughout this life, and until his assassination, Lincoln’s adamantine perseverance is his supreme lesson to us and one we would do well to learn.

    Daniel Greenberg is a political science junior. He can be reached at

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