That Clever Man

He stood apart.

He stood tall.

A towering man.  Both in physical and intellectual presence.

He was a clever man.

He had problem, however.  He had won the Presidency.

And eleven states seceded from the Union.

There has been a great deal of films and books about Abraham Lincoln, and the award winning director Steven Spielberg is now filming Lincoln, scheduled to be released after the next presidential election in 2012, with the Oscar winning Daniel Day-Lewis playing the lead role.  The film is based on Doris Kearns Goodwin‘s biography of Lincoln, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln.

It seems undeniable that in another time and place Abraham Lincoln, an Inventor Rational, would have been less noted and chronicled by history. He probably wouldn’t have been able to win the Presidency at any other time.  As it happened, Abraham Lincoln was caught at the nexus of the disarray of his own political party, the frightening, decades-long struggle over the question of slavery, and finally the terrible holocaust of the Civil War. The United States almost died as a nation then, and Lincoln was one of the most important factors in keeping the still-young nation alive.

He was calm, ambitious,  and calculating, but 100% honest, Genius politician.

It is a part of what makes him magnificent that these crises strengthened rather than weakened him, brought forth his resolve and his compassion rather than hopelessness or vengefulness. During the four year agony of the conflict he never uttered a vindictive word against the people of the South, and even as the Union armies were winning their last victories he proposed to pay the South handsomely for the freedom of its slaves. During the darkest days of the conflict, in the face of an almost unbroken string of military defeats and the persistent ineptitude of his general staff, he told an acquaintance, “I expect to maintain this contest until successful, or til I die.”

Lincoln was anxious above all to weld the country together again, not by capturing enemy cities, but by capturing the thoughts and the feelings of the people of the southern states. He was early convinced that the Union absolutely must be preserved, no matter what the cost. Its survival was important not only for the people of this country, he believed, but for the people of all nations. He believed strongly that the United States provided a model of a new, viable and excellent form of democratic government. He was very concerned that its collapse would discourage other countries from engaging in similar political experiments. Thus preservation of the Union was not important only for the American continent, said Lincoln; it mattered for the world.

"This issue embraces more than the fate of these United States. It presents to the whole family of man, the question, whether a constitutional republic, or a democracy...can or cannot, maintain its territorial integrity, against its own domestic foes"

His management style might seem unsystematic, his dress careless, and his style almost too plain and informal. But his remarkable analytic skills could never be ignored.  Overall he recognized his strengths and weaknesses, and he used his knowledge to knit a public image which combined simplicity and honesty and an analytic brilliance that was at once studied and natural. In principle his accomplishment is not difficult to understand. He had observed and managed himself carefully, and what he presented himself to be was in fact who he was, though now sharpened and trained to fit the political goals he had set for himself.

He quite certainly gave the most earnest and exhaustive study to every move he made. His calculations were pondered and tried in anticipation; he consulted everyone who could give him help; he never neglected a possibility; he worked and strained and, if necessary, bargained and begged for every grain.

Quote1.pngImportant principles may, and must, be inflexible.Quote2.png — Abraham Lincoln

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