I recently submitted the manuscript of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America to my publisher. The final chapter in the book is called “Of Martyrdom and Legacy.” Here is a snippet:
Almost immediately after his assassination, the process of elevating Lincoln to martyrdom had begun. That he was shot on Good Friday and died the next day even brought parallels to Jesus Christ. While not everyone mourned his loss, many who vehemently disagreed with him during the war reevaluated his contributions. Even many in the South felt bereaved; with Lincoln gone so too was the one man who stood in the way of the more aggressive radical elements in the North intent on punishing the South for their treasonous insolence. Many years of difficult reconstruction brought countless laments of “What would Lincoln have done?”
The most recent presidential election has many people asking the same question. Lincoln is revered both for his contributions and his demeanor. What would Lincoln have done? “Can we all do better?”*
Both Democrats and Republicans claim the mantle of Lincoln. Ironically, it is the Democratic Party that has a clearer case. Republicans in his time were for inclusiveness, personal freedom, and positive government action. Lincoln was for federally funded internal improvements to build infrastructure, at one point arguing that: “The legitimate object of government, is to do for a community of people, whatever they need to have done, but cannot do, at all, or cannot, so well do, for themselves.” This better describes the Democrats today, as in the Civil Rights era Southern Democrats (aka, the Civil War South) fled the Democratic Party and joined the Republican Party. That anachronism of sentiment has led to our current situation.
“The dogmas of the quiet past, are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise–with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew.”*
It seems odd to think of Lincoln as a progressive Democrat, but in today’s party structures, that is exactly what he would have been. Alas, Lincoln was martyred for his progressivism, as was John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Robert Kennedy, and many others. That, more than anything, speaks volumes about our American values. The current situation offers us all a choice, whether to:
“…nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best hope of earth.”*
David J. Kent is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) (both Fall River Press). He has also written two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate. His next book on Abraham Lincoln is due out in 2017.
*These marked quotes are from Lincoln’s Annual Message to Congress, December 1, 1862. The quote: “The legitimate object of government…” in the middle paragraph is from a Fragment on Government written in 1854.