Learning From Lincoln


It’s difficult to imagine but America has been more angry and divided than we are now.

We fought a Civil War, the deadliest war in our history – and that includes WW1 and WW2!

And the President who led us through that existential test, Abraham Lincoln, considered by most historians as America’s greatest President, has some lessons for those of us hoping America can survive our present schisms.

In this article, published in The Guardian, NPR host Steve Inskeep says our 16th President would advise that a big part of “building a political majority is making alliances with people you believe to be wrong. One of the things that drew me to the topic of Lincoln was the present and the dilemmas and difficulties of democracy right now.”

“I did feel like Lincoln had something to say,” Inskeep said, “and I’ve tried to express it. And it has to do with dealing with differences in a fractured society. And it has to do with building a political majority, which is a skill that I think some of us perhaps have forgotten, or we’re being told to forget.

“And part of building a political majority is making alliances with people you believe to be wrong. And hopefully you don’t believe they’re wrong on everything. But maybe out of 10 things, you think they’re very wrong about three things and can find some way to agree on some of the other seven and move forward and at least agree fundamentally on the idea that we have a constitution, we have a republic, we have a democracy. We have a system to mediate our differences. We have institutions and we should uphold them.”

It is an approach to political difference that I think is a little bit out of fashion now, but it is fundamentally what Lincoln did. It is fundamentally the reason we decided the civil war and thereby ended slavery. Lincoln had to keep enough people unified to have that political majority, and in order to have that majority win.”

“It’s a central message and matter for our time.”

There is much to admire about Lincoln as a leader. One of my all-time favorite books is Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin.

And now, especially this year, there is hopefully much still to learn about how to hold our republic together even in the face of so much hatred and dissension.

Today is the 159th Anniversary of John Wilkes Booth assassination of this great man.

As Edwin Stanton, Lincoln’s Secretary of War, proclaimed when his death was announced, “Now, he belongs to the ages.

Let us hope our leaders today find some of his wisdom, some of his compassion and a lot of his political skill to guide us to better times.