Abraham Lincoln’s Consistency on Citizenship
Abraham Lincoln’s Consistency on Citizenship
Abraham Lincoln took the reins of the United States of America after the Civil War that saw the Northern Free States defeat their Southern counterparts. Lincoln took the Presidency at an awkward time. On the one hand, the American society was extremely divided along racial lines while on the other the Blacks had been promised full consideration as American citizens if they helped the Northern armies quash the rebellion, which they did. There were also mixed views among the White members of American society. Some were sympathetic to the increasing Black movements to assert their right to citizenship while others were angry and the rest were both hardline racists and separationists. Lincoln was instrumental in urging the Blacks to join the North’s cause at a time when both armies had suffered significant casualties. His embrace of the Blacks and his efforts to ensure equal treatment of all men in the Northern forces was significant in encouraging them to join. The promise of freedom and equality, once the war was over further increased their enlistment numbers as runaway slaves from the Southern Slave States, joined the Northern forces. They enlisted to ensure they were protected against recapture and also for the promise of a better tomorrow for both them and their progeny. Unlike many leaders who would have and have gone against their pre-election pledges, Lincoln was a man of his word. He held his end of the bargain and seriously pushed for the abolishment of slavery and the institution of equality among all men regardless of their race. This made him very unpopular especially among the Southerners who were opposed to his election and harbored hard feelings due to their defeat.
Lincoln’s life coincided with a period of significant revolutions and transformations to the fabric of American society. The race was a significant reason for the North’s victory in the Civil War. With declining forces on both sides due to high casualties and poorly developed emergency medical services, the North had to look towards the Blacks to beef up their forces. The South’s hubris denied them the foresight of the relevance of Black inclusion to ensure victory. By the time they saw the importance of allowing Blacks to join their ranks and file, the North had already created a rapport with the Black population and runaway slaves. With the promise of freedom and equality, many young black men joined the Northern forces, and even those who found themselves fighting for the Confederates defeated soon after encountering the Northern forces (Rodrigue, 2013). The race was also an important socioeconomic factor as the blacks and other races provided labor that drove the industries and farms. There were mixed feelings and uncertainties about the future of race relations. This increased fear among the masses, especially within the White population. This led to violent confrontations between Whites and Blacks the latter struggled to get formal recognition and equal rights while the former tried to suppress these assertions to rights and freedoms.
There have been a lot of discussions and disputes over Lincoln’s true stand on slavery and its abolishment and the issues of race. When Lincoln took over the White House, he and his wife Mary would host parties and gatherings where all were invited regardless of their status, race or creed. Lincoln upheld the American constitution and the declaration of independence to the letter. His approach to democracy was both practical and sensible as it allowed all Americans to congregate under the same roof. This according to many was the true representation of the American society and embodied the words of the declaration of independence. Lincoln embraced diversity and welcomed Blacks into the White House with open arms. Even when the President was exhausted and tired, he always made time for the extra guests and would greet them by shaking their hands at on the front lawns. Lincoln’s actions and beliefs during his tenure as President of the United States of America are attributed to the grounds that the fight for democracy and equal rights for all black people. His efforts were instrumental in the development and signing of the Emancipation Act that abolished slavery. This endeared him to the black community as it made them view him as a savior to their cause.
Lincoln was a revolutionary who was wise beyond his years. He was able to see beyond the color of a man’s skin at a time when society was racially polarized. Lincoln not only saw slavery as a social dilemma but also as a moral issue. He further believed that beyond color all men were equal and that the founding fathers of the nation must have foreseen a future where men were judged based on more than the color of their skin and ancestry. He argued that that was the major reason the declaration of independence failed to mention slavery. Lincoln’s wisdom and patience should however not be misconstrued for complacency and passive support for slavery and discrimination. A president’s main role and the task are ensuring the unity of all his peoples and lands. Lincoln adopted a wait-see approach to slavery rather than wage an all-out war against the slavers in the South for the sake of national unity and cohesion. He, however, repelled several barbaric laws that demanded the state use its mechanisms to apprehend and return runaway slaves to their masters even if they sought refuge in the Free States. This also served to give way for the establishment and development of sound policies and frameworks to ensure the smooth integration of blacks into the American society. Approaching the slavery issue with the same obtuseness that his rivals used to disseminate their slavery propaganda would have only served to polarize America even more. This is because the spontaneous abolishment of slavery would result in an increase in new free citizens who had no resources or skills to cater for themselves. This would have resulted in significant challenges in Administration and oversight due to the probable increase in crime and would have probably been counterproductive to his emancipation agenda.
Lincoln was very pragmatic in his approaches to racism and the freeing of slaves. He clearly understood the challenges that that presented themselves if the slaves got their freedom and independence. It would have been naïve of him to believe or even think that blacks would get along peacefully and harmoniously with their captors and imprisoners after centuries of injustice and cruelty. Had all the black slaves been released at the same time, group thinking would have worked into the fabric of American society. In all likelihood, they would have gone on an all-out rampage and destroyed significant amounts of the property while causing fear and mayhem to the white populations. The blacks would have sought revenge and retribution for the ills they had long suffered at the hands of their white masters. A radical shift in the freeing of slaves would have also brought the American economy to its knees. At the time, large scale farming was the main supplier of industrial raw materials, and their production relied mainly on the cheap labor provided by slaves. Since the slaves had very little if any money to fend for themselves, Lincoln preferred to take the patient “wait-and-see” approach
Lincoln’s Use of Jeffersonian Ideals to Mitigate Demands for Popular Sovereignty. Popular sovereignty was the model of governance that gave states the autonomy to adapt their laws and rules. Using this rule, Southern Slave States would effectively be able to repeal any laws made at the national level that prohibited slavery or slave trade, and that promoted equal rights. This would also ensure that the development of national and federal laws was protected from pervasion through the tyranny of numbers. The Jeffersonian ideals of man’s liberty argued for the right to freedom for every man. It argued that all men were born equal and free and that it was the state’s job to ensure that his rights were safeguarded and upheld. Lincoln used the ideologies embodied in the Declaration of Independence to ensure that subsequent laws upheld the three liberties of freedom, equality and the pursuit of happiness. These were the yardsticks that he employed in assessing the viability and effectiveness of new laws. The same was passed down to city-states which had to ensure that their rules complied with the three founding values of the Nation. This move led to a more active shift in the focus of laws development and creation and paved the way for development and signing of the Emancipation Act.
That Lincoln was a brilliant strategist was apparent in the way he carried himself and handled his affairs. He understood the power of knowledge and embraced an interdisciplinary approach to developing solutions to the racism that was deeply rooted in the American society at the time. The uncertainty of the future of race relations was the greatest impediments to racism and discrimination. Fear of retaliation and retribution made many whites especially from the South hostile to the idea of freeing slaves and increasing their rights to those enjoyed by their White counterparts. This was due to the intense cruelty and treatment with which they treated their slaves and the degree of dehumanizing acts they practiced against them. Lincoln used the ideals that all men are created equal to remind the American people of the need to foster tolerance and reconciliation. These words are cut across race. They urged all people to be mindful and tolerant of each other which the black communities took up exceptionally well. His honor and duty, however, bound Lincoln to the Constitution and the presidency. He could not abuse the powers of his office to enforce his personal feelings and inclinations as this would be the very definition of trampling over the liberties of his fellow men. This was probably another reason Lincoln laid in wait for time to take its course.
Jeffersonian ideals were entrenched in the articles of governance of the United States of America which included the constitution and the declaration of independence. These articles stated clearly the rights each person had in the face of the law about their person and their property. They also clearly stipulated the functions of the offices of administration on the enforcement of these rights and laws. Taking the oath of any office was effective to accept to uphold the roles and responsibilities that came with it regardless of the circumstances or eventualities. Lincoln upheld the responsibilities of his office diligently and ensured the equal protection of the rights of all Americans regardless of their race. A good example was when he sent the army to quash riots and anti-Black protesters in 1863. These extremists were out to harm blacks under the guise of being draft protestors. They were, in fact, a lynch mob that reigned terror on black Americans and had attacked an orphanage. Although it would have been the popular decision to look the other way, Lincoln upheld the duties and responsibilities of his office. The right to life is the most important liberty according to Jefferson and the founding fathers of the United States. Without it, all other rights would not be possible or enforceable.
This made Lincoln one of the greatest presidents of the United States. He used the constitution and the declaration of independence as guides along his journey to leading his nation. He religiously and dutifully followed these two documents in his decision-making processes. Lincoln’s arguments were centered on the premise that protecting the rights of others did not have to be because one had a vested interest in the other person, but that they did it for the simple purpose of doing it; because it was the right thing to do. In advocating for the rights of a black woman, it did not mean that he had any interest in the woman. He further argued that although all men were born equal, their status in life was not necessarily equal. But he argued that at a fundamental level, every human being had the inherent right to free will and to determine the course of their lives without having to explain their choices to anyone. That a person wants to do something should be reason enough for them to do it as long as their actions will not interfere with the rights of others. This is why Lincoln took his time in addressing the race issues in the post-Civil War America to provide time for the development of sufficient and adequate structures and ensure sustainability of solutions and interventions.
Rodrigue, J. C. (2013). Lincoln and Reconstruction. Chicago: Southern Illinois University Press Southern Illinois University Press