To the Editor:
I remember a picture of Abraham Lincoln on the classroom wall at my grade school. He looked like a very serious man, I remember, and the teacher taught us all his folklore: studying by the fireplace light, splitting rails, wrestling, and solving crimes in court like Perry Mason. Then he become the president, saved the Union, freed the slaves and made everybody equal, or at least tried to – all us kids would go “wow.”
That was over 60 years ago and I’ve studied Lincoln in more depth now. But he still makes me say “wow.” For example, take a couple of Lincoln quotes I like to share – you’ll see what I mean. The first one is from a letter he wrote to a colonel in 1864 during the Civil War:
“We may congratulate ourselves that this cruel war is nearing its end ... it has indeed been a trying hour for the Republic; but I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country ... corporations have been enthroned and 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 prejudice of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands, and the Republic is destroyed. I feel at this moment more anxiety for the safety of my country than ever before, even in the midst of war.”
That’s something he could have written this morning, except he would have said that all wealth is already aggregated in a few hands. Here’s another:
“The money powers prey upon the nation in times of peace and conspire against it in times of adversity ... They denounce as public enemies all who question their methods or throw light upon their crimes. I have two great enemies – the Southern Army in front of me and the bankers in the rear. Of the two, the one at my rear is my greatest foe.”
When he ran for his second term, in 1864, the Republican Party had gone nuts, as far as Lincoln was concerned. It had been taken over by a radical element, so he chose a Democrat, Andrew Johnson, as his VP, and they ran on the Union Party ticket. He was killed shortly after winning the election, and Johnson succeeded, making them the only two presidents we’ve had with the Union Party affiliation (just a little trivia).
I’m an amateur and a casual historian at best, so I’m frequently stunned when I see historical situations seemingly repeating. Maybe real historians feel the same. Right now it seems a radical element has taken over our politics, and the United States is threatened and being pulled apart by the same financial elements it was nearly 150 years ago. It would be nice to hope the genius of Lincoln would manifest itself in some politician today. But really, how likely is that?
I’d rather think the answer to our present situation might actually come from Lincoln himself. He wrote: “To sin by silence when they should protest makes cowards of men.”