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Opinion :: Remembering the most-loved -- and least popular -- Abraham Lincoln
· 9:48am February 12th, 2013
What should you give the President whom most consider the most-loved in American history on the occasion of his 204th birthday.
Having never spoken to any dead U.S. President, I can only guess, but it appears to me that what Abe Lincoln would want most today is for us to remember that he was not always as beloved as he is now.
In fact, I do not think any President has been hated more.
Read the following paragraph from "Lincoln and the Press," a 1951 compilation of the things people wrote about Lincoln throughout his political career, especially between 1860 and 1865.
"It would be difficult to determine which are more damaging to the prospects of Mr. Lincoln in his candidacy for reelection -- the heavy blows in the front which his many opponents are dealing, or the stabs in the back inflicted by his professed friends."
On page 309 of this book, historian Robert S. Harper cites a letter written by Horace Greeley, one of the most-read Republican editors of that era.
"Mr. Lincoln is already beaten. He cannot be elected. And we must have another ticket (candidate) to save us from utter overthrow…"
Editor Richard Smith of the Cincinnati Gazette agreed: "The people regard Mr. Lincoln's candidacy as a misfortune. His apparent strength when nominated was fictitious and now the fiction has disappeared, and instead of confidence is distrust…"
Virtually everyone now is familiar with the Gettysburg Address, which we consider one of the epic speeches of American history.
The Chicago Times, the Democratic newspaper that plagued Lincoln throughout his presidency, had this to say of the Gettysburg Address:
"The cheek of every American must tingle with shame as he reads the silly, flat and dish-watery utterances of the man who has to be pointed out to intelligent foreigners as the President of the United States."
The Harrisburg, Pa., Patriot and Union published this review: "We pass over the silly remarks of the President; for the credit of the nation, we are willing that the veil of oblivion shall be dropped over them and that they shall no more be repeated or thought of."
The London Times added this vitriol: "The ceremony was rendered ludicrous by some of the sallies of that poor President Lincoln."
Current Americans praise Lincoln for keeping the nation together and freeing the slaves. Many, many people -- even in the North -- opposed both of those goals. Others harshly rebuked Lincoln for not freeing the slaves sooner or taking a stronger stand on abolition.
In short, someone was hysterically angry with just about every decision Lincoln made.
Drive around just about any city in the country, and you are likely to find something named after Lincoln.
In New York City, for example, there is Lincoln Park, the Lincoln Center, and the Lincoln Tunnel -- through which more than 100,000 cars pass every day.
Do you know what percentage of New York City voters supported the country's best-loved President? One-third. That's right. Lincoln received only 33 percent of the vote in NYC 1864.
I could go on and on -- and Mr. Harper, in fact, did, for more than 400 pages.
But you get the idea.
After Lincoln died -- the last casualty of the Civil War -- journalists around the world who had spent the last five years ridiculing Lincoln began to realize how terribly wrong they had been.
The London Morning Star published this regret of the actions of many in the British press:
"History will proclaim, to the eternal humiliation of our country, how an influential section of the British press outbade the journalists of the South in their slander and invective against the great man who has been so cruelly slain; how his every action was twisted and tortured into a wrong, his every noble aspiration spoken of as a desire for blood…"
The Morning Star went on to say that many in the media lacked the "nobleness of soul which made Lincoln a prince among princes."
We, as Americans living in the still-United States, led by a black man who, quite ironically, is a member of the state party that once referred to the Emancipation Proclamation as an "ineffaceable disgrace," look back with fondness on Lincoln and how a lanky, unlikely hero rose to greatness in America's darkest hour.
And in this hour, we owe Lincoln a moment to remember that those with fond thoughts and appreciative appraisals of the way he handled a seemingly-impossible job were, while he was doing that job, part of a very small minority.
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