Friday, June 27, 2008

Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln - Part III

In the book I now am in Chapter 7 (of 26) entitled "Countdown to the Nomination" which begins in 1860.

The period I have just finished reading about is from the 1840's through the 1850's.

It is all very interesting to me and not only describes the politics and the people but I think gives an wonderful perspective about the culture of the country and the era. I found several things that I thought worth mentioning.

The Mexican-American war began in 1846. Lincoln's Whigs were nearly unanimous in opposition and there were many passionate speeches made against the Democrat President, James K. Polk. I was very surprised to read some of this history. If I heard some of the same speeches without knowing the details I could easily assume the speaker was talking about President Bush and Iraq. I suppose I must have studied this once but I surely did not remember the details. Apparently there really is nothing new under the Sun.

Slavery is just a huge issue and I knew that already. But I think I am getting a better sense of just how significant it really was and how nothing else was left untouched by it.

The courage of the abolitionists and just ordinary people who were anti-slavery is amazing. One of the main characters stands against a mob by physically planting himself inside a doorway and defying the entire group. So many other stories. I found these stories to be exceptionally moving.

I am not going to again complain about how uncivil our politicians are to one another after reading this book. Good grief!! One guy beats another with his cane and the victim has permanent damage. Another guy pulls a pistol. Yeah, these are congressmen.

Another thing I thought was interesting is the change in the political parties. The two main parties at the time were the Democrats and the Whigs. The Democrats were pro-slavery. But the Whigs were pretty much anti-Democrat except on slavery where the party itself was divided. The issue of slavery became so important though that people began leaving the Whigs to join the Republican party which was entirely anti-slavery. Specifically the Republican Party was created in 1854 in opposition to the Kansas-Nebraska act which extended slavery into those territories. The Democratic Party dates from Jefferson and Madison and other anti-federalists.

What interested me most was that the Republican Party came about because the Whig Party was unable to come to grips with slavery. Mainly Whigs were against too much power concentrated in the executive branch. I just found it ironic that Lincoln was a Whig but became a Republican because of his anti-slavery views. Then he becomes the first Republican president and has to wield tremendous power as President to preserve the union.

It made me think of the case where Obama wins the presidency and then has to wage war to preserve the country when he has been so anti-war. Lincoln was one of the most vocal opponents of Polk because of the Mexican-American war.

I found a couple of quotes by Lincoln that Goodwin includes and that I really like. The first is where Lincoln describes to someone how his mind works:

Lincoln told Joshua Speed, "I am slow to learn and slow to forget that which I have learned. My mind is like a piece of steel, very hard to scratch anything on it and almost impossible after you get there to rub it out."
I think that's great. I guess I'd have to characterize my mind to work the opposite way: fast and like a white board followed by an eraser.

Another that I found particularly interesting and rather sad has to do with Lincoln's observation of Stephen Douglas's accomplishments and his own failures:
"Twenty-two years ago Judge Douglas and I first became acquainted," he confided in a private fragment later discovered in his papers. "We were both young then; he a trifle younger than I. Even then, we were both ambitious; I, perhaps, quite as much so as he. With me the race of ambition has been a failure -- a flat failure; with him it has been one of splendid success. His name fills the nation; and is not unknown, even, in foreign lands. I affect no contempt for the high eminence he has reached. So reached, that the oppressed of my species, might have shared with me in the elevation, I would rather stand on that eminence, than wear the richest crown that ever pressed a monarch's brow."


Cinnamin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cinnamin said...

Flinty, sorry that I haven't left you comments for a while. I'm still checking in with you!

I too find Abraham Lincoln an amazing person, let alone President of our Country! I appreciate these overviews.

And...I wanted to thank you for your comment this morning on my blog. Really. Thank you.