If you followed revisionist historical viewpoints, then Abraham Lincoln was a racist. He was as supportive of slavery as his political enemies, and he used the issue of slavery only to concentrate political power is his own hands.
Then again, that’s if you followed the ridiculous revisionist historical claims of many who oppose Lincoln. These are the same people who enjoy cherry-picking parts of his speeches to refute his lifelong record of fighting for freedom and equality. They’ve attempted to dismantle the 16th President’s record by focusing on the proverbial trees instead of the forest with regard to his actual record. They miss the larger point that Lincoln was, simultaneously, deeply principled and pragmatic.
By understanding political reality, Lincoln advanced his principles while not always attempting to fully implement them in one instance. He moved the agenda forward incrementally. This sort of strategy drives some people crazy, but the ultimate question in politics is whether wearing principles on one’s sleeve is as important, or more important, than actually implementing them in public policy.
I believe, as did Abraham Lincoln, that actually implementing principles is more important than loudly and uncompromisingly espousing them.
That’s certainly not a repudiation of being outspoken with regard to critical issues. Indeed, Abraham Lincoln was always outspoken about the evils of slavery, and the need to have it overturned. At the same time, however, he didn’t always go for the political “Hail Mary” pass, wherein he tried to kill it in one fell swoop. While abolitionists, Lincoln included, would have loved to have ended slavery with one executive order, outright abolition wasn’t politically possible until the 13th Amendment in 1865. In the meantime, however, Lincoln and his allies chipped away at slavery – in pursuit of abolition- until the ultimate day of reckoning came with universal emancipation through the 13th Amendment, which Lincoln heavily championed.
This principled pragmatism that Lincoln espoused is why the modern political left, which has nothing in common with Lincoln on core values, admires him so much.
They understand how to use incremental steps to implant their agenda into the American mainstream.
This requires great commitment to one’s cause, and great patience in seeing it through to fruition. Take, for example, the issue of same-sex marriage. President Obama, who I believe has always favored the radical redefinition of marriage, claims that he “evolved” on the issue over time. I believe he only publically evolved on something he always privately believed. In fact, from the time he took the Oath of Office in 2009, straight through to his formal announcement of supporting same-sex marriage in 2012, his Administration worked to advance the same-sex marriage agenda slowly but surely. Thus, President Obama used a Lincolnesque strategy to implement an immoral agenda as effectively as Lincoln himself used the strategy to advance morality.
This is the lesson to modern conservatives: let’s hold tight to our principles, but loosely to the strategy by which we implement them. Rigidity is often the enemy of effectiveness, and we must be willing to take incremental steps toward our ultimate goal, as did Abraham Lincoln and does Barack Obama. Take, for example, the issue of abortion. While there is no one in South Carolina who wants to see abortion overturned in one bill as much as I do, I recognize the reality that, at present, such a law would be struck-down in Federal court before it is ever implemented. So, I support making abortion as rare and difficult to obtain in South Carolina in the interim, to save as many lives as possible on the way to the outright abolition of abortion.
As we take these baby steps on the way to true equality for all of America’s children, we, too, will move toward an Amendment to our Constitution that will overturn the institution of abortion forced on the people by Roe vs. Wade, just like the 13th Amendment finally abolished the evil of slavery forced on the people in the Dredd Scott decision.
Conservatives, arise and be principled pragmatists as was Abraham Lincoln, and our state and nation will be the better for it. We must never abandon principle, but we must be pragmatic in their pursuit. Let’s be as Jesus taught us, “innocent as doves, and shrewd as serpents.”