What would Lincoln do?

What would Lincoln do?

Cite precedent. Lincoln the lawyer was ever mindful of precedents, while Lincoln the unhappy son who never bonded with his hard-driving, un-bookish father was always looking for paternal surrogates. He found both precedents and men he could look up to in America’s founding fathers.

Lincoln’s mature career—from the repeal of the Missouri Compromise in 1854 until his death in 1865—was, among other things, a long effort to show that his positions on the issue of slavery were those of the founders. (Lincoln wanted slavery contained and ultimately extinguished; so, he said, did they.) He hammered away at this theme in his Peoria speech in 1854, the three-hour-long oration that first laid out his ideas; he returned to it repeatedly in his 1858 debates with the Illinois Democrat Stephen Douglas ; and he spent half the Cooper Union Address, his New York City command performance in 1860, showing that “our fathers, who framed the government under which we live,” agreed with him. “As those fathers marked [slavery], let it be again marked,” he said, “as an evil not to be extended.”…

Make your case. The histories of kingdoms and empires are often court histories—who whispered what to whom. So, dismayingly, is much modern political reporting: Who got to the chief of staff? How did the senator learn about this? If Saint-Simon, the chronicler of the Sun King’s Versailles, were alive today, he would have a column or a talk show.


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