Wednesday, December 21, 2022

Lincoln's Biography by Jon Meecham

150 years later our society is different in many ways.  We think of Lincoln as a courageous man who acted on his convictions regarding negro slaves.  His thinking evolved and was open to compromise.  He was offended by slavery, but he did not feel the negro was his equal and did not want him to be his superior.  He was ready to accept slavery where it already existed (hoping it would lose its strength).

Slavery is a blemish on America, but at the time many felt it was natural and were willing to fight for it.  There were many who wanted total abolition before Lincoln did. 

Lincoln was reluctant talk about his early days about his background as his mother was thought to be of lower class and it wasn't certain that his father was actually his father.

When his mother died his step mother was instrumental in encouraging his reading while his father thought it was a waste of time.  He was a heavy reader and in many ways self taught.

In 1832 he was part of a militia that took part in the Sac and Fox War.  He saw the brutality of war as he helped bury dead soldiers that had been horribly mutilated.  An Indian surrendered himself to Lincoln's group and while the other men wanted to kill him, Lincoln was able to save him and at the same time get an admission that he was not a coward.

He went through a number of jobs and businesses before fixing on the law.  He was serving as a state representative when he started studying law and obtained his license in 1836 and practiced for 25 years. Lawyering taught him how to marshal facts, form arguments and deploy precedents.  He recognized the importance of words and was careful which ones he used.  People around realized he was a very rational person.

One of habits was to be humorous, often of a self deprecating manner.  Often told he was ugly, he would easily agree and move onto something else.

In the field of courtships he was not too successful with one of his strongest relationships ending in her death.  Mary Todd, well connected through Kentucky relations took an interest in him.  She actually was courted by men in a better situation than Lincoln, but felt he was the one most likely to go all the way.  After they married she was the one always pushing him.

His interest in politics put him in the state legislature and for one term in the House of Representatives.  After a defeat, Republicans saw him a presidential candidate and he performed well in both speeches and debates.

The politics of the time splintered political parties and is all too common when there are more than two on the ballots he won the presidency with a plurality rather than a majority.  Southerners who felt threatened by northern restrictions wanted to expand slavery to secure its existence.  They looked at Mexico, Cuba, central and South America to support slavery.  Lincoln was against that, but did support the Fugitive Slave act to placate Southern attitudes.  

The Southerners forced the situation by firing on Fort Sumter.  The South which became known as the Confederates was actually better prepared.  They had the top generals and at first they won most of the battles.

During the election of 1864 it seemed Lincoln would not likely win at one time.  One concern was letting the troops vote and Lincoln's opponents tried to discourage them from voting, but through various decisions t(such as timely furloughs) hey were able to.  There was concern about the election certification.  In the end a show of force allowed an honest count under the supervision of Vice President John Breckinridge who had southern sympathies.

Abraham Lincoln had many disappointments at first.   He lost several battles on the eastern front.  Ulysses S.Grant did win battles on the western front and gradually got Lincoln's attention.  His strategy was to be ruthless.  

At one stage Union leaders when catching negro slaves did not know what to do with them.  Others escaped their masters and there was some thought that they were property that might have to be returned.  Union soldiers learned the Confederates were using slaves to labor in their cause.  Some negroes begged for a chance to fight and Lincoln after awhile agreed then went further and decided recruiting them.  This brought up the subject of incentives and it was agreed that any negro fighting for the Union cause would be granted liberty.  He had been reluctant to grant emancipation, even after agreed to, but when the battles were going the right way it was agreed and proclaimed January 1, 1863.

To learn more about economic aspects of the war check

Diplomatic efforts in Europe tightened the noose around the Confederacy and with larger numbers and economic power the North was able to subdue them.  It was important to get an unconditional surrender and finally the rebels realized that was the only way.

Lincoln had lived with many threats and he developed a fatalistic manner.  After the end of the war he decided, or maybe his wife decided to visit the theatre.  John Wilkes Booth was a disgruntled racist and a popular actor.  He shot a single bullet into Lincoln's head and he soon died.  Political decisions made a few months previous allowed Andrew Johnson, another racist to replace Lincoln.

Legacy:  A big step towards racial equality, but his death meant southerners were given an opportunity to institute Jim Crow laws.  Lincoln wanted to avoid retribution and one indicator was that he asked "Dixie" to be played declaring it to be federal property.  His cautious ways set a good example for today's leaders.  The deaths from the Civil War was greater than any other war which must have been a sobering thought as the Vietnamese War deaths approached 50,000

Interesting fact.  When the British freed their slaves in 1833 as an inducement they decided to compensate the owners.  It was such a large amount of money that it was not until 2015 that it was fully paid.

Jon Meacham has done a comprehensive work that gives a fuller understanding of the pressures of the day.  From the author "It is a fact of American history that we are not always good, but the goodness is possible".  This was a drastic correction to an endemic problem; can you imagine such corrections?

Another informative book on Lincoln,  used

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