Junior Ganymede
We endeavor to give satisfaction

Lincoln and His Critics

June 05th, 2013 by G.

Lincoln, as you might imagine, takes the palm.

My liking for Lincoln is personal. The First and Second Inaugural, the Gettysburg Address, the Letter to Mrs. Bixby, the normal run of Lincoln stories and biography–reading them has made me for a little bit a better and a nobler man. Their is a homespun, muted providence that used him for its ends in a way that he would have appreciated (that, in the end, he did appreciate).

His critics, on the other hand, are churlish when they discuss him. Better a lifetime with Lincoln than a minute with their malice.

Character is sui generis. No good man or good woman is precisely the same as any other. But character is also contagious. The scriptures tell stories as much or more than they teach doctrine, because where we can’t apply an abstract principle, we can emulate a concrete character. Great men are icons.

The striking thing about Lincoln’s character more than his humor, humility, and his eloquence was his supernormal charity and his allied supernormal submission to the will of God. He displayed this love and this submission in the middle of a horrible war that he waged to kill hundreds of thousands, where he was the main human agent and driver of events. This apparent contradiction, this mystery, is why his critics tend to reject his charity and his submission as humbug. But they are real. When we have grasped how he could love and make war, and submit and act, we will have taken a step or two further to the abode of God.

Related posts you should check out, especially the comments.
Lincoln and the Will of God (At the Old Country)
Memorial Day 2007 (At the Old Country)

Comments (12)
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June 05th, 2013 11:51:40

June 5, 2013

One of my earliest instructors in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, a fellow designer of weapons of mass destruction and bit of an iconoclast who somehow became a bishop and stake president anyway, was no fan of Lincoln. I think he had a hard time getting over the “twin relics of barbarism” thing.

I understand that, but I also cannot help but like the author of the Second Inaugural Address.

And not just because his successors have generally said far less with many more words.

June 5, 2013

We have this perpetual temptation to cleanly divide the world into ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’. While there may be more truth to that than some might say, it is also true that we all have strengths and follies. To ignore either is to be dishonest. Lincoln did do some great things. He also did some abominable things that are frequently glossed over.

That said, I wonder what it would have been like if Douglas had not turned his back on the Saints. That might have made for some interesting alt-history.

Adam G.
June 5, 2013

That’s an AH that I’ve kicked around some times. Douglas, like Lincoln, has the potential of being an American original given the right circumstances. “As one of his political foes, a prominent Illinois Whig named Lincoln, once quipped, ‘Douglas was the kind of man who’d insult you one day and hold your hat the next if it served his interest or the country’s’.

Your judgment of Lincoln reminds me of Lincoln’s defense of Henry Clay.

June 6, 2013

“He seems oblivious to the central problem with which Lincoln’s statesmanship had to struggle: the problem of combining government by the consent of the governed with the protection of the equal rights of all, when a growing number of the governed denied the rights of others.”

Just so.

Raymond Takashi Swenson
June 11, 2013

If Lincoln had lost the Civil War, then the principle of secession would have won, and both the USA and the CSA would have been weakened by their inability to act as a supreme government over the states. There would have been more de facto and de jure atomization, perhaps with Texas and California and Oregon Territory and Utah Territory going their separate ways, especially as ambitious men preferred running their own country to being part of a larger one. The transcontinental railroad would likely have been significantly delayed, and Secretary of State Seward would not have been in the market to buy Alaska from Russia, so that one day the USSR could have been within a couple hundred miles from Seattle, with intermediate range nuclear missiles aimed at the various national capitals of the Former USA, and Hawaii in the hands of Japan soon after the Russo-Japanese War. Whether the US or its sister countries would have been involved in World War I or not is not clear, nor is it clear whether they would be on the side of Britain or Germany. When WWII rolled around, there would have been no United States able to take on Germany and Japan, and no champion of freedom to help liberate Eastern Europe.

We live in a world where many nations were freed by the USA after World War II, and many more were freed by the US after the Cold War. Without Lincoln and the nation he preserved, the world would be a much different place today.

June 11, 2013

Raymond: Interesting, but pure conjecture. No one knows what might have happened if the CSA had won the Civil War. Who knows, maybe the CSA and USA would have eventually re-united, or at the very least would have been close allies, joining forces against common foes such as Nazi Germany and Japan during WW2. The CSA would have been a strong advocate for democracy. A victory by the South would have put a damper on the size of federal governments. Sounds good to me, as we see what’s happened in Washington DC, since the end of the CW.

My main complaint against Lincoln is this: On Abraham Lincoln’s watch our nation fought a tragic Civil War, causing the death of 600,000 Americans. A truly great President would have prevented the Civil War, rather than run headlong into it, as Lincoln did. A great President would have brought our country together. The CW was totally unnecesary. The Southern states would have eventually freed the slaves, as other nations had, without fighting a CW.

Tom D
June 11, 2013

Custer: Interesting, but pure conjecture. I personally think that no one person could have prevented the Civil War. If enough people had chosen differently, it could have been averted (see Helaman 5, 11, and 12). But, an awful lot of people over many generations repeatedly made choices that led to the Civil War. I do not think that Lincoln alone could have prevented it.

On the other hand, I do think that he could have *lost* the Civil War and that would have been a tragedy. I thank God that he didn’t. Lincoln was not perfect, but all that I have read of him suggests that he was a very good man and even a great one. Without a doubt, the Civil War and much of its long aftermath was awful, but that was not Lincoln’s fault.

June 12, 2013

” The CSA would have been a strong advocate for democracy. ”

With the understanding that democracy meant rule by the right people. Slaves would not count as people.

“The Southern states would have eventually freed the slaves, as other nations had, without fighting a CW.”

Fact not in evidence. The failure of Reconstruction meant that the de facto slavery of Jim Crow lasted a full century after the Civil War.

The South was in favor of a strong central government so long as this meant strong fugitive slave laws.

Adam g.
June 12, 2013

The democracy of the South was a peculiar type that Tocqueville would have recognized. It was vigorous, full-throated, rowdy, and excluded large areas from debate or discussion by the use of extralegal force. This was originally just the slave questions, but as time went on more and more issues turned out to be part of the slave question.

Eric B
July 6, 2013

Raymond’s analysis of what a CSA victory would have meant ignores its own intervening history. For example, the rise of European Fascism might never have occurred if the Central Powers had won the first world war, a real possibility absent U.S. participation. Alteration of any event in history invalidates all subsequent history.

July 6, 2013

It’s just like Star Trek: “Don’t pollute the time line!”

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