Abraham Lincoln is remembered for his vital role as the leader in preserving the Union during the Civil War and beginning the process (Emancipation Proclamation) that led to the end of slavery in the United States. He is also remembered for his character and leadership, his speeches and letters, and as a man of humble origins whose determination and perseverance led him to the nation's highest office.
|Oil painting of Abraham Lincoln by artist and sculptor Richard R. Miller|
The Emancipation Proclamation didn't immediately free any slaves because it only applied to territories not under Lincoln's control. The actual fact is that legal freedom for all slaves in the United States did not come until the final passage of the Thirteenth Amendment in December of 1865. Lincoln was a strong supporter of the amendment but was assassinated before its final enactment.
President Lincoln's domestic policies included support for the Homestead Act. This act allowed poor people in the East to obtain land in the West. He signed the Morrill Act, which was designed to aid in the establishment of agricultural and mechanical colleges in each state. Also, Lincoln signed legislation entitled the National Banking Act, which established a national currency and provided for the creation of a network of national banks. In addition, he signed tariff legislation that offered protection to American industry and signed a bill that chartered the first transcontinental railroad. Lincoln's foreign policy was geared toward preventing foreign intervention in the Civil War.
Lincoln's most famous speech was the Gettysburg Address. In the address, Lincoln explained that our nation was fighting the Civil War to see if we would survive as a country. He stated it was proper to dedicate a portion of the Gettysburg battlefield as a remembrance of the men who had fought and died there. Lincoln said that the people who were still alive must dedicate themselves to finishing the task that the dead soldiers had begun, which was to save the nation so it would not perish from the earth.
One important way Lincoln affects contemporary society is that we look back on his presidency as a role model for future generations. Lincoln's high character affects us because we compare present-day politicians to the example Lincoln set. Another effect is in the area of quotations. Politicians love to quote Abraham Lincoln because Lincoln is considered America's wisest president. A major effect Lincoln has on the U.S. today is simply through the good example he set when it came to leadership and integrity. Many American politicians in our time try to emulate his thinking by using Lincoln's quotes in their speeches.
Lincoln had a benevolent leadership style in contrast to oppressive (authoritarian), participatory (democratic), or laissez-faire (hands-off). When there was disagreement among advisors and himself, his leadership style often involved telling a story that demonstrated his point. Lots of times, this method worked, and people admired and respected him for it. He could virtually disarm his enemies with his highly moralistic, skillful leadership. Lincoln possessed qualities of kindness and compassion combined with wisdom. In fact, one of his nicknames was "Father Abraham." Like George Washington, Lincoln demonstrated an extraordinary strength of character, but Lincoln's unique style of leadership involved telling stories that explained his actions and influenced others to follow his lead.
More than fifteen years ago, a book entitled Rating the Presidents by William J. Ridings, Jr. and Stuart B. McIver (Secaucus, New Jersey, Citadel Press, 1997) was published. Seven hundred nineteen professors, elected officials, historians, attorneys, authors, etc., participated in the poll and rated the presidents. Abraham Lincoln finished first, Franklin Roosevelt was second, and George Washington finished third. The categories in which the various presidents were rated included leadership qualities, accomplishments and crisis management, political skill, appointments, and character and integrity. Lincoln was ranked no lower than first, second, or third in any of the categories, and his overall ranking was first among all American presidents.
Another poll was released in February 2009. This poll was sponsored by C-SPAN and consisted of a survey of 65 historians. The participants were asked to rank the presidents in ten categories ranging from public persuasion and economic management to international relations and moral authority. Abraham Lincoln finished first, George Washington was second, and Franklin Roosevelt was third.
Lincoln rose to the top through sheer ambition and hard work. He had nearly no education at all. He spent less than 12 months attending schools as a youth growing up on the frontier. Each one was very small, and the lessons were most often taught orally. Schools thus got the nickname "blab" schools (aka ABC schools). Later when he moved to New Salem, Illinois, he began to study law books in his spare time. In New Salem, he earned the nickname "Honest Abe." He was almost totally self-educated and became a lawyer in 1836, although he never attended college. Lincoln was a very successful attorney with a large practice prior to his election as president in 1860. Additionally, Lincoln served four terms in the Illinois State House of Representatives and one term in Congress.
Perhaps the most important action Lincoln took was his decision to fight to preserve the Union. In the end, this decision to fight the Civil War resulted in the USA remaining one nation rather than splitting into two separate countries. Although Lincoln was criticized for stepping over the traditional bounds of executive power, he was faced with the greatest threat to federal authority in the history of the country. He felt his job was to protect the Union from disintegrating. Also, Lincoln's contribution in the area of freedom for the slaves is extremely important. He got the ball rolling with the Emancipation Proclamation. We honor Abraham Lincoln for his actions in preserving the Union and beginning the process of freedom for slaves.
By R.J. Norton
Edited by Dr. Neil Gale