Abraham Lincoln, The Only Honest Politician?

1358 words - 5 pages

Abraham Lincoln is unfailingly the second president students learn about in grade school, right after George Washington. As far as I can remember, the only thing taught about "Honest Abe" was that he was born in a log cabin and had to walk 12 miles to the library, uphill both ways, "unlike you little brats who have a library in your own school and don't even use it." Of course, I learned more faceless, boring facts about our 16th president in eventual class notes about names and dates. President during the Civil War who was killed by John Wilkes Booth in 1865. Author and deliverer of the Gettysburg Address and the Emancipation Proclamation. In a word, the faceless president sounded noteworthy yet unworthy of the title "second president taught in grade school."

Of course, in my cynically skeptical mind, "second best" was still unremarkable for a politician. The ignoble profession notorious for lying, selling out, and smirking could not possibly lay claim to an "honest" man, much less a great president. Perhaps grade school teachers celebrated Lincoln because he died before his sell-outs caught up to him and sooner than anyone could find any dirt on the president. Or Lincoln was a mythical fluke. Early on, I had learned about his biblical height and majestic beard, as well as his improbable self-education and remarkable eloquence. Yet he remained a politician sly enough to finagle into the presidency, a job with no room for greatness. Thus a contradiction arose: either politicians could achieve greatness, or Lincoln, too, fell short of it. My solution called for the latter. Douglas Donald's Lincoln altered my solution and convinced me of the greatness of the sixteenth president and, potentially, of his profession.

Despite his professional interests, Lincoln's deep convictions were the foundation of his being and morality. A fairly consistent believer in fatalism, Lincoln subscribed to the notion that everything served a purpose. As a corollary, he developed a certain reverence for the truth, as is evidenced by his reputation for honesty. His famous moniker "Honest Abe" was actually bestowed upon him as a lawyer, which is rather remarkable considering the generally low moral esteem held for the profession both in his time and ours. (Interestingly, "Honest Abe" was not focus group spin or campaign rhetoric, but a genuine nickname given by his fellow citizens of Springfield, Illinois. Long forgotten, though, is the "Rail-Splitter" moniker given at the Republican National Convention.) In his day, Lincoln became the premiere lawyer of Illinois without sly and deceptive tactics normally expected of such a prominent figure. His reputation as a lawyer included the qualities of "integrity," "fairness," and "honesty" (105). Even his archenemy Stephen Douglas described him as honest. Furthermore, Lincoln remained true to his fatalistic view, even confessing in the Civil War that "it is quite possible that God's purpose is something different from the...

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