February 16, 2015
As a lawyer, he argued a case in front of the Supreme Court and lost. He had already been defeated in five political elections. What in the world could the tall, linky backwoods attorney from Illinois with only a year of formal education be thinking running for President of the United States?
Abraham Lincoln came of age in a country that was increasingly divided over the controversial issues of slavery and state’s rights. Acts of Congress and the Supreme Court only poured gasoline on the fire. The Missouri Compromise of 1820 prohibited slavery in the northern land of the Louisiana Territory, except within the Missouri borders. This bill held things at bay until the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 negated the terms of the Compromise. (see , , and ) The act of Congress resulted in a violent and bloody struggle between pro- and anti-slavery settlers and gave birth to the Republican Party. Composed of both Democrats and Whigs, the new party attracted people who were tired of politicians promising to end slavery but never actually doing anything about it. (see )
One such person was Abraham Lincoln. Before 1854 his views on slavery were not overly strong. But like his new fellow Republican party members, the 1854 legislation forced people to take a hard stand as to what this country would tolerate.
The final blow came in the 1857 Supreme Court ruling of Scott vs. Sandford. (see ) Chief Justice Roger B. Taney delivered an opinion that put the country on the threshold of war. He claimed that because Dred Scott was a Negro, he could not file a federal lawsuit. Taney declared that Negros, whether free or slave, would never be citizens of the United States. Taney, who served in the Andrew Jackson administration, declared the Missouri Compromise, as well as the Kansas-Nebraska Act, unconstitutional. In one fell swoop Justice Taney removed all ability from the anti-slavery movement to even limit, let alone stop, the spread of slavery across the entire country. Southerners claimed victory, touting Taney had made the Jacksonian Democratic conduct of the South national policy. Abolitionists charged Taney of furthering “Slave Power”, which allowed wealthy slave owners to use political power to obtain slavery in free states.
Justice Taney argued that the Founders never intended for Negros, regardless of slave status, to be citizens. He decided they were excluded from the inalienable rights granted by God as stated in the and the . (see, , and ) In rebuttal, Justice Benjamin Curtis from Massachusetts was quick to point out that from the time of the Founders there were free Negros in Northern states. These Negros were not only citizens of those states, but voters as well. As state citizens, they were automatically national citizens.
In June of 1858, the Republican Party chose Abraham Lincoln as their candidate to run against Democrat Stephen A. Douglas for U.S. Senate in Illinois. Douglas was co-author of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which Republicans saw as a pro-slavery abduction of power. Political tensions were obvious and quickly moving towards war. Lincoln was passionate and direct about the reality of the country’s future in his “House Divided” Speech at the Republican Convention. He firmly believed “this government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free.” He promptly provided evidence that Democrats were using the national government to force slavery in every state.
While the speech may have cost him the Senate race, it was likely the beginning of his 1860 Presidential win. Regardless, it was a brave and courageous speech. Lincoln outlined the argument that Justice Taney, Senator Douglas, President Buchanan and Former President Franklin Pierce delayed and misguided the American people regarding the upcoming Dred Scott decision so as to win the Presidency. (see ) He pointed out the reluctance of these Democrat politicians to make any concrete statements regarding the Dred Scott decision before the election. After the election, both Pierce and Buchanan implored citizens to accept the ruling, whatever it may be. Furthermore, it was not only endorsed by Douglas, he also “vehemently denounc(ed) all opposition to it.” In his speech, Lincoln had made a sound case that these pro-slavery Democrats were working in concert to make slavery legal everywhere.
Lincoln argued that Douglas’ Kansas-Nebraska bill allowed for a situation where, “if any one man, choose to enslave another, no third man shall be allowed to object.” With the Democratic bill in place, Lincoln warned the Dred Scott ruling would put the country at a tipping point. It was now not a question of state’s rights, but if the Supreme Court would force free states to become slave ones.
Even though Senators were chosen by State Legislatures, Lincoln challenged Douglas to a series of seven public debates, known as the Lincoln-Douglas debates. (see ) The two main topics would be the pressure points of the Civil War: slavery and state’s rights. Lincoln repeatedly returned to his convention theme of "A house divided against itself cannot stand" while Douglas held firm to “popular sovereignty.” Also debated was the contentious opinion revealed in the Dred Scott ruling of the Founders intent for Negros.
Douglas agreed with Taney’s argument, while Lincoln insisted the God-given rights identified in the , including "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" equally applied to Negros. (see ) Douglas used Lincoln’s friendship with outspoken Negro activist Frederick Douglass to paint his Republican opponent not only as an abolitionist, but as one who desired “negro equality and negro citizenship.” (see )
As Lincoln had warned, the Dred Scott decision put states in direct opposition with the federal government. Despite the federal ruling the State Supreme Court of Ohio decreed that any non-runaway slave who crossed their state boarder would be declared free and would keep that freedom even if they returned to a slave state. This decision was mirrored by a New York Court of Appeals. Soon the legislatures in other states began to echo Ohio’s court decision. Maine’s judges ruled Negros could vote in all elections, both federal and state.
Lincoln was clear in his views towards slavery, but lost his bid for the Senate. The citizens of Illinois elected Democrats to their state congress which in turn sent Douglas back to Washington. Lincoln published the texts of the debate speeches between Douglas and himself. The debates were read by thousands and built a strong foundation of Lincoln’s view towards freedom for all.
Two years later the country chose him over Douglas and two other opponents, making him the 16th President of the United States. Lincoln won both the popular vote and the electoral votes despite not even being listed on the ballots of 10 Southern states. Fears of “Slave Power” also swept the new Republican Party into the majority of both Houses of Congress. Fearing Lincoln and the Republicans would remove all the political strength they had just grabbed with the Dred Scott decision, Southern Democrats resolved to separate from the Union. (see and )
Today, Lincoln remains one of the most significant Presidents to ever serve in office. He not only presided over a country at war, but a country at war with itself. After decades of contention and four years of a bloody, exhausting conflict, many Union Congressmen were angry, vengeful, and intent on punishing those who brought the country to its knees.
Furious over the deplorable treatment of Union soldiers captured in the South, several were resolved to insure that Confederate soldiers would be returned home in kind. Lincoln could not ignore the teachings of his most treasured book, the Bible. In his second Inaugural Address, just six weeks before his assassination by a Southern Democrat, he encouraged the citizens to move forward “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.” Lincoln recognized that for the country to survive it was imperative that everyone focus on forgiveness and reconciliation, embracing our brothers and sisters in love as prodigal children coming home. (see )
In his final public speech, just days before his murder, Lincoln again turned to our Heavenly Father in praise reminiscent of the pilgrims. “He, from Whom all blessings flow, must not be forgotten. A call for a national thanksgiving is being prepared, and will be duly promulgated.” He again called for reconciliation, uniting with fellow citizens and not ostracizing them. “Let us all join in doing the acts necessary to restoring the proper practical relations between these states and the Union.” (see and )
Liberty, with a current president who said, “We’re gonna punish our enemies and we’re gonna reward our friends who stand with us on issues that are important to us,” it is no wonder our country feels like it is again on the verge of another Civil War. Many are crying out for our generations’ Abraham Lincoln. While politicians are dividing us into groups, pitting us against each other, we can find guidance in Lincoln’s words. As he did, we must follow our Heavenly Father’s plan for us of love towards our fellow man. We have all enslaved others with our words and actions and we are all slaves to our sinful nature.
Lincoln is considered one of our greatest presidents. Greatness is not a quality most people possess, it is a quality that is usually thrust upon a reluctant participant. It comes from humility, not arrogance. It comes from the desire to serve, not the lust to control. It comes from the craving to build up, not the hunger to tear down. It is a trait that when the times call for it, it shows itself in strength, reason, and courage. Abraham Lincoln was a great leader not because he won elections or fought on the battlefield, but because he submitted himself to God’s will for us, calling for a uniting in our country in a time where division seemed the only solution.
Liberty, in a time where the country seems even more divided than it was in the mid-1800’s, I pray the Lord blesses us with another great leader. I pray that my generation is able to pass a unified country on to you where we have learned to love our neighbor as ourselves.
That’s my 2 cents.
DISUNITY OF THE UNION