Robert Ehlert

Abe Lincoln perspectives expose shallowness of present political drama

This undated illustration depicts President Abraham Lincoln making his Gettysburg Address.
This undated illustration depicts President Abraham Lincoln making his Gettysburg Address. AP

The level of demonizing and name-calling by the major party presidential candidates has driven me to seek solace in history.

Early this week, at the urging of David Leroy, a President Abraham Lincoln scholar, I immersed myself in the deep, wide and soothing pools of Lincoln wisdom. Figuring wings of our contemporary political system have surely lost their way, I focused on some of these words — many still debated and some condemned — as my reset button.

Turns out my personal quest may soon have a formal option and location, because Leroy, former Idaho lieutenant governor and attorney general, is working to create the Idaho Lincoln Institute, a nonprofit that would do “opinion research, public education and political presentations on modern issues and Lincoln’s views.” Leroy says to look for more information on this project after Labor Day.

Lincoln, our 16th president, was elected with less than 40 percent of the vote. He was nonetheless a lightning rod who accomplished much from 1861 until his assassination in April 1865. He is someone most of the modern GOP claims as one of its own, and a man the leaders of both parties revere. He freed the slaves, yes, but in the process suffered the Civil War, with a bloody toll and scar that prompted his Gettysburg Address:

“Four score and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. . .”

LooktoLincoln.org, Leroy’s website, serves up a number of issues Lincoln considered that we still wrestle with today. There are 17 “guideposts” right now, and Leroy says it will be expanded to 24 soon.

ON POLITICS

“If the people remain right, your public men can never betray you. Cultivate and protect (the principles of liberty) and your ambitious leaders will be reduced to the position of servants instead of masters.”

ON IMMIGRATION

“I again submit to your consideration the expediency of establishing a system for the encouragement of immigration. There is still a great deficiency of laborers in many fields of industry, especially in agriculture.”

ON THE U.S. CONSTITUTION

“I do not propose to destroy or alter or disregard the Constitution. I stand to it, fairly, fully and firmly.”

ON A WAR AGAINST ‘TERROR’

“Still let us be sanguine of a speedy, final triumph. Let us be quite sober. Let us diligently apply the means, never doubting that a just God, in his own time, will give us the rightful result.”

ON THE WILL OF THE PEOPLE

“In leaving the people’s business in their own hands, we cannot be wrong.”

“Their will, constitutionally expressed, is the ultimate law for all.”

ON EDUCATION

“Education is the most important subject which we as people can be engaged in.” Lincoln, who had less than one year of formal schooling, characterized education as “an object of vital importance.”

In 1862’s Morrill Act, “Lincoln and Congress combined to provide land grants to establish a nationwide network of over 70 state-run colleges and universities. His national encouragement of locally controlled schools and policies succeeded for Lincoln and the United States.”

ON THE DUTY OF CONGRESS

“As a rule, I think it better that Congress should originate as well as perfect its measures without external bias.”

“I should desire the legislation of the country to rest with Congress, uninfluenced by the Executive in its origin of progress, and undisturbed by the veto, unless in very special and clear cases.”

ON FREEDOM

“Let us readopt the Declaration of Independence, and with it the practices and policy which harmonize with it. Let all Americans — let all lovers of liberty everywhere join in the great and good work. If we do this, we shall not only save the Union, but we shall have so saved it as to make and keep it forever worthy of the saving.”

LooktoLincoln.org disclaimer

“It is NOT appropriate to take any quotation that Lincoln made during his life and assert that it would necessarily be his position on complex, modern issues which his world never faced. However, certain elements of his simplicity, morality, logic and instinct are timeless. All of his words are useful to supply perspective and prompt dialog on the various topics offered. In this way, we can ‘Look to Lincoln,’ even in this day when his wisdom and wording are remarkably insightful on the issues facing America.”

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