Lincoln was a great president – a great man – who lead our nation during its darkest days. His enduring legacy is as the Great Emancipator, freeing the slaves through the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. Many consider Lincoln to be the greatest president. Both Republicans and Democrats claim the Lincoln Legacy.
Yet, Lincoln would not be considered a great leader today.
His great strength, that lead to his enduring legacy, is today considered a weakness among those in politics.
Lincoln changed his mind.
Lincoln opposed slavery throughout his life. However, unlike commonly held assumptions, Lincoln did not enter politics or run for president under the platform of freeing the slaves. In fact, Lincoln was no friend to the abolitionists who called for the immediate ending of slavery. Lincoln had no intention of ending slavery.
Here are Lincoln’s own words on the subject.
I have said a hundred times, and I have now no inclination to take it back, that I believe there is no right, and ought to be no inclination in the people of the free States to enter into the slave States, and interfere with the question of slavery at all.
– Speech at Chicago, Illinois, July 10, 1858
I say that we must not interfere with the institution of slavery in the states where it exists, because the constitution forbids it, and the general welfare does not require us to do so.
– Speech at Cincinnati, Ohio, September 17, 1859
Even in Lincoln’s first inaugural address, March 4, 1861, he confirms that he has no plans to end the institution of slavery.
I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists.
In an August 1862 letter to Horace Greenly, while the Civil War is in full conflict, Lincoln affirms that his role in the conflict is not to end slavery, but to preserve the union.
My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery.
Yet, only a few months later, on January 1, 1863, Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, proclaiming
That on the first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free.
What led to this shift? Lincoln assessed the situation, and with great thought, in response to the realities facing him, realized that freeing the slaves was the right corse of action. Lincoln changed his mind.
Lincoln’s great strength was his ability to change his views and political direction when it was right and necessary.
Today this ability is considered a weakness, not a strength.
And our country is weaker for it.
Lincoln today would not be praised for his leadership, but dismissed as a “flip flopper” who cannot be trusted.
And it saddens me.
The 2016 Presidential Election cycle is just beginning, but I already see it. Potential presidential candidates, from both the left and the right, are called out as chameleons, liars, or dangerous if they have changed any views over their years of service. We aspire for candidates who hold fast to their beliefs under pressure. We want an unchanging cornerstone who can champion our views with strength.
Yet, we live in rapidly changing times. Adaptability is as important as resoluteness. The ability to assess changing situations and adjust long-held positions when necessary and good is a crucial leadership strength.
I’m afraid of leaders who have never adjusted their opinions when presented with new facts or changing situations. The candidate I would support must hold steadiness and adaptability in equal measure. Like Lincoln.
It is a sign of maturity to put earlier beliefs behind you when necessary. The apostle Paul says it this way:
When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.
-1 Corinthians 13:11
We need a new Lincoln in our country. But, unfortunately, we will not accept one.