Abraham Lincoln is best remembered as being America’s first war president. In the nineteenth century, the American presidency had seen nothing like the Civil War, and war was upon Lincoln before he or anyone else considered how the position of Commander-in-Chief fit into the Constitution. This resulted in an unorganized thought process and policy. Brian Dirck, author of the article “Lincoln as Commander in Chief,” writes:
He did not have the luxury of creating intellectually cohesive, internally consistent methods in the midst of the very messy business of civil war. Driven by circumstances and his own background to more or less improvise an approach to presidential warmaking [sic], Lincoln was above all else pragmatic and realistic, blending caution and boldness as circumstances required. (26)
Lincoln is sometimes criticized, but the fact remains that he had no predecessor who could be an example as Commander-in-Chief. Lincoln “laid the groundwork for succeeding American war presidents,” and he did so calmly and patiently (Dirck 21). Lincoln said concerning the Constitution in his first inaugural address, “No foresight can anticipate, nor any document of reasonable length contain express provisions for all possible questions” (“Washington, D.C., March 1861” 215). So the Civil War was something of a test for the American presidency, and Abraham Lincoln just happened to be given that test.
An important aspect of Abraham Lincoln’s overall performance is his personal and political background. Concerning his opinions on slavery, his personal background shaped his ideals in a very unique way. James McPherson, author of the short biography Abraham Lincoln, provides some insight into Lincoln’s background, writing that Lincoln’s father took his wages until he was twenty-one. This experience soured his opinion of slavery; in fact, it affected him so greatly that he did not stay in contact with his father, and he did not even attend his father’s funeral (3-4). Lincoln had direct experience with the effects of forced labor. He wanted to have pride in his country, and “slavery degraded manual labor by equating it with bondage” (McPherson, Abraham Lincoln 24). Manual labor is an essential part of the economy, and Lincoln wanted all Americans to be proud of their places in society because he saw the sociological and economical benefits of such a system. So Lincoln was certainly anti-slavery, and he took a political position against slavery as early as his congressional term from 1847 to 1849 (McPherson, Abraham Lincoln 13-14).
Another facet of Lincoln’s character is demonstrated by his moderate political policy. Steven Kautz writes, “Patriotism and the love of justice are . . . perhaps the great passions of republican politics. But moderation is ugly to the patriot. . . Lincoln was a moderate” (398). In a government previously and necessarily dominated mostly by patriots, Lincoln stood out as a moderate politician by rule of his quite personality. Kautz...