“Our President has lied to us.” “He has falsely led us into this war.” “He has abused our civil rights.” “He has exceeded his Presidential powers.” “Americans are dying because of this war that should have never been fought.”
You might have thought that I was talking about our current president, but actually, I was referring to criticism about the 16th president, Abraham Lincoln. Now considered one of our greatest presidents, Lincoln was bombarded with criticism from the press, from the Democrats, and even from within his own Republican party. Because the presidential criticism is very similar today, it is valuable to examine how the public opinion of President Lincoln has changed.
One of the main complaints against Lincoln was that he had dishonestly led the United States into the Civil War. In fact, a Democratic rhymester wrote:
“Honest old Abe, when the war first began,
Denied abolition was part of his plan;
Honest old Abe has since made a decree,
The war must go on till the slaves are all free.
As both can’t be honest, will some one tell how,
If honest Abe then, he is honest Abe now?”
At first, Lincoln rebuffed all claims that the war was against slavery and maintained that the Civil War was solely to save the Union. He stated in 1862, “If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it; and if I could do it by freeing some and leaving the others alone, I would also do that.” Then, after his Emancipation Proclamation, which declared all Confederate slaves free, many slavery-supporting Northerners began rejecting Lincoln.
Similarly, Bush has been the object of criticism saying that he lied about the reasons for going into Iraq. Senator Ted Kennedy, who has been re-elected by Democratic constituents since 1962, called the decision to invade “dishonest” and stated, “The Bush administration misrepresented and distorted the intelligence to justify a war that America should never have fought.” Soon to be Majority Leader of the Senate, Harry Reid stated, “We all know the vice president’s office was the nerve center of an operation designed to sell the war and discredit those who challenged it.” (Hardball with Chris Matthews’ for November 3) Some today go as far as to say that Bush is seeking revenge for his father, George H. W. Bush. Others say that it is a war for oil or a means to get the company Haliburton rich. Also, like Lincoln, Bush has been accused of changing his reasons for invading Iraq. Critics state that the initial reason was Saddam’s Weapons of Mass Destruction, and now, it is liberating the Iraqi people. They fail to see that by overthrowing Saddam, the Iraqi people are freed, just like Lincoln’s critics failed to see that in order to reunite the Union, slavery must be abolished.
The second complaint against Lincoln was that he was overstepping his role as President and violating our civil rights. During the Civil War, Lincoln often took matters into his own hands, such as when he proclaimed a blockade against the South, arbitrarily increased the size of the Federal army, and advanced $2 million to three private citizens for military purposes, all without the approval of Congress. Moreover, he suspended the writ of habeas corpus during the Civil War, defying a ruling by the chief justice of the Supreme Court (Merryman, ex parte). The criticism was so strong that “His enemies termed him a dictator and a tyrant.” (Encyclopedia Americana).
Likewise, critics of Bush claim that he has violated our rights through the warrantless wiretapping of terrorist suspects. For example, political magazine CounterPunch refers to our nation as being in “the national security state that kills people abroad while destroying our rights here at home.”
Generally, Lincoln was criticized greatly during the Civil War. “He was beset not only by the difficulties of the war, but by opposition from men on his own side. His cabinet was rent by internal jealousies and hatred; radical abolitionists condemned him as too mild; conservatives were gloomy over the prospects of success in the war.” (The Columbia Encyclopedia) “Throughout the war Lincoln was the subject of frequent, and often vitriolic, attacks, both from the Democrats who thought he was proceeding too drastically against slavery and from the Radicals in his own party—men like Charles Sumner, Benjamin F. Wade, and Zachariah Chandler—who considered him slow and ineffective. Partisan newspapers abused the President as “a slangwhanging stump speaker,” a “half-witted usurper,” a “mole-eyed” monster with “soul … of leather,””the present turtle at the head of the government.” Men of his own party openly charged that he was “unfit,” a “political coward,” a “dictator,””timid and ignorant,””shattered, dazed, utterly foolish.”” (Encyclopedia Americana). In fact, even Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address was branded as “ludicrous” by the London Times and by Democratic editors as “dishwatery” and “silly”. The now famous speech attracted little attention at the time.
Similarly, Bush has been labeled as stupid and tyrannical, and his historical speeches, such as the infamous “Axis of Evil” speech, have to my knowledge only been ridiculed by the mainstream press.
However, the tide began to turn in Lincoln’s favor in his 1864 campaign for reelection. In order to take power away from the anti-war Democrats, the Republican Party banded with the Democrats that supported the war to form the Union Party. In fact, Lincoln’s own running mate was a War Democrat. Also, soon before the election, the North had a series of victories. With that and the votes of the Union soldiers, Lincoln won the presidency for a second time. Almost a year later, Lee surrendered and the Civil War was over, to the great relief of the people. Lincoln died at the very pinnacle of his fame, only five days after the end of the bloodiest war in American history.
Thus, the criticism against Lincoln is very similar to that against President George W. Bush. The allegations against him, like Lincoln, include lying about the purpose of the war, being incompetent, overstepping presidential powers, and violating civil rights. However, somehow Lincoln was able to regain his popularity and more. The reason, of course, was because he managed to win the Civil War. Likewise, I believe that Bush, too, will be seen as one of our greatest presidents if he can only establish a peaceful Iraq in the Middle East. This is not to compare Iraq to the Civil War, but only to compare the similar criticism. Therefore, Republicans and the rest of Americans should not give up on Bush. Now, some might try to argue that Bush will never achieve greatness like Lincoln because he is too stupid, too wrong, too whatever. Nevertheless, they forget that these were exactly what were said about Lincoln too. Thus, if history does indeed repeat itself, then the critics will be wrong once more.