Was Lincoln Wrong to Save the Union?

256px-Abraham_Lincoln_smallI’m taking a break from spouting off my opinion (well, at least until the comments section) this week to ask a philosophical/political question of my readers.

When it comes to Iraq, Iran, Egypt, Libya and Syria we are famous for supporting civil unrest against cruel leaders. We view self-determination as a great American virtue. We believe in government governing with the consent of the governed. So why didn’t we simply let the Confederacy exist?

I clearly don’t support slavery even if we remove the racist element and simply justify it as a means to a commercial end. Still the Southern states felt abused and oppressed by the Northern states and by Washington in general.

In James Buchanan’s wiki biography it states that he felt it was illegal for the Southern states to secede but it was illegal for the US to stop them. Therefore he left a disintegrating country to his successor, Abraham Lincoln. What kind of history would we have had if we simply let secession happen? Could we have existed as two separate countries, the United States and the Confederate States? Like East and West Germany, might we have eventually merged back together of our own volition without all the bloodshed of the civil war?

These thoughts occur to me as I look at the seemingly incurable polarization in modern society. Ignoring California, which in many ways is just a sociopolitical twin of the Northeast, many of our conflicts seem to split East/West and North/South based on cultural differences. The most striking is the latest debate on gun control where some of the most vociferous voices against control come from the South and West and the cry for greater control comes from the North and the East.

Was Lincoln and by extension, the United States, hypocritical not to let the South have the government they wanted back in 1861? What do you think?


Photo by D. Van Nostrand [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I Left “Lincoln” Angry and Ashamed


In February, 2008 the wife of then Presidential candidate Barack Obama said “For the first time in my adult lifetime, I’m really proud of my country, and not just because Barack has done well, but because I think people are hungry for change.” Michelle Obama caught holy hell from conservatives for what seemed like an unpatriotic comment. She was wrong to say it but not for the reasons conservatives groan about. She was wrong to say it because, particularly when it comes to race relations, this country has NOTHING to be proud of.

Let me explain. Last week I went to see the Steven Spielberg masterpiece “Lincoln”, starring Daniel Day-Lewis and Tommy Lee Jones. Day-Lewis played Abraham Lincoln in the manner we are accustomed to seeing, the practical, folksy, clever politician. Unlike the Fonda or Massey version, this Lincoln displayed an honest insecurity about blacks. Talking to his wife’s black servant, he confesses that he does not know what emancipation will mean for blacks … that he himself does not have any deep relationships with blacks. I found the honesty refreshing. Jones plays Thaddeus Stevens, a Pennsylvania Senator and abolitionist whose views are radical for their time. He wants blacks to not only be free but to vote and be treated as equals in every way. The film makes an interesting commentary on whether the practical man or the ideologue has a better chance at making lasting change. But there was one scene in the film that made me angry and ashamed.

The scene takes place in the Senate chamber where a vote on the 13th amendment to the Constitution, ending slavery, is taking place. Seated in the upper balcony are a contingent of free blacks observing the vote. When the amendment passes, they leap to their feet in enthusiasm, many shedding a tear. As I watched the scene, my mind fast-forwarded to a November night in 2008  at Grant Park in Chicago where thousands of people were gathered to watch newly elected Barack Obama deliver his victory speech.  When Obama amassed enough electoral votes to win him the Presidency, the crowd went wild. Particularly notable were blacks in the crowd crying. Hell, I sat at home watching the TV and crying like a baby. I thought about my 80 year old black father whom I’m sure never thought he would see a black man become President. I thought about my four year old black daughter who would never find a black President the least bit unusual. I was 47 at the time and I didn’t think I would ever see a black President in my lifetime.

However “Lincoln” slapped me in the face and made me ask why the hell not?

Why are we  “proud” and self-satisfied that it took 143 years after the 13th amendment for a black man to become President? What is it about dark skin that made this event impossible for over a century? And when we finally pulled the lever, it was for a bi-racial black man with an exotic heritage — hell there were some blacks who complained “he ain’t REALLY black”. While I find that a stretch, I do believe that we would NEVER have elected a black man from American slave heritage. NEVER! Barack’s white mother and his youth overseas got him past the marginal bigots. (The hardcore bigots still go by the one-drop rule.) But there we were, crying with joy over our country taking 143 years to elect a black man with enough “mitigating circumstances” to make him acceptable.

I’m sorry folks, “Lincoln” made me angry and ashamed of this country. Now we excuse bigotry by citing the disproportionate amount of crime committed by blacks but there was a time when blacks were hated and denigrated solely for the color of their skin, the features of their face and the texture of their hair. Present day conservatives will be quick to blame the destruction of the black family on liberal policies. Implicit in this criticism is the acceptance that there was a time when blacks did not represent rampant drug abuse, crime and abandoned children. But they were hated just the same. If not hated, then discounted.

I can’t blame Americans entirely. Discrimination based on trivial differences is a human condition. It’s American hubris that bothers me. You don’t see Germans boasting about how they don’t gas Jews anymore, do you? I get angry when we pat ourselves on the back for progress that has been so slow in coming, progress that should never have needed to be made had we been a more decent tribe of people in the first place. It is true that Lincoln’s practicality was better in the long run than Senator Stevens’ ideology but Stevens would have vomited if he had been told that 143 years from the day he voted “Aye” on the 13th amendment we would still be wrestling with America’s original sin.


Photo by D. Van Nostrand [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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Real Voter Fraud

My fellow liberals are understandably upset about various Republican state legislatures passing laws that will restrict voting access to typically disenfranchised people. These laws disproportionately limit votes that would probably be for Democrats. The premise behind the stricter laws is to stamp out that dreaded boogeyman VOTER FRAUD. Of course, we wouldn’t want to remind these legislators that the occurrence of voter fraud is miniscule.

If my Republican friends really want to worry about voter fraud, I’d like to turn their attention to a fraud that goes unnoticed every election. Very simply it is the phenomenon of very stupid people entering the voting booth.

My story actually begins with my own stupidity. The other day I was looking at a map of the proposed Keystone pipeline extension which had a solid line and a dotted line on it. I was having trouble understanding the difference. Like an idiot, I had neglected to notice the legend at the bottom of the map. My almost-eight year old 2nd grader explained the map to me when my wife prompted her to. I then updated my Facebook status to say “The verdict is in. I am not smarter than a 2nd grader.”

Things got worse however later in the day. The Lawson family gathered around the warm glow of the television to watch the game show Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?. For the uninitiated, contestants on this show try to win money by answering questions in topics taught in the first through fifth grades. Each contestant gets the help of one actual fifth grader from a panel that appears in each episode. With that backdrop, the following transpired. Mind you, I am NOT making this up.

The question: Which President of the United States served immediately before Franklin Delano Roosevelt? (Answer: Herbert Hoover)

The contestant thought aloud, “Well, IF Roosevelt served more than one term, then maybe the President who served before Roosevelt was Roosevelt himself?” The host, Jeff Foxworthy was kind enough to tell the woman that there are no trick questions on the show. I could see at this point, things were not going to end well. IF? One of the most well-known facts about Roosevelt was that he was elected four times, the only President with that distinction. Clearly this fact had escaped our poor contestant.

After pushing her brain to its limit she called on her fifth grade partner for assistance. Sadly the young girl was not the best exemplar of our educational system. Her answer was “Abraham Lincoln”. At this point, I went into shock. Lincoln was long dead before Roosevelt was even born. Their terms were not even in the same century. But forgiving man that I am, I gave the poor fifth grader a pass and blamed her teachers for her utter ignorance.

Our adult contestant now had the option to use the fifth grader’s answer or come up with her own. She wisely chose to reject “Abraham Lincoln”. The furrows in her forehead deepened. She descended into intense meditation. And then it came to her. She had arrived at her answer. Her answer was …


Gasping for air, I asked my wife to call the paramedics. Just when I thought the lady recognized the utter impossibility of Lincoln, she picked a President even earlier than Lincoln. In fact, she picked the fourth President of the United States. Could the fourth POTUS possibly have served in the 1930’s? So three possibilities come to mind. She either knew nothing about Madison, or nothing about Roosevelt, or nothing about either. She was a grown-ass woman! She was incapable of making a guess that contained even the slightest hint of deductive reasoning. Had she said Calvin Coolidge, I could have said ok … early 20th century President. Had she said Harry Truman, I could’ve said ok, she’s got a good time frame there and just got the men in the wrong order. But no, her answer was the answer of a blindingly stupid person.

And now the real tragedy … this woman can vote. It makes you wonder just how many of the folks who enter the voting booth cannot discern their anus from a hole in the ground. And if it is true that much of America is dumb-as-a-post stupid, what does that say about the leaders we choose? Is it any wonder we have a Congress that repeatedly makes a spectacle of itself in incompetence? And while I still support our President, is it any wonder that we demanded virtually no relevant experience from him before electing him to the Presidency? Is it any wonder that the current slate of Republican Presidential wanna-be’s appear to be answering a casting call for Saturday Night Live?

The real voter fraud going on in America is that folks who can’t tell the difference between a SALT treaty and a salt shaker are choosing the man or woman who gives the “go” on a nuclear strike. Sadly, while we can legally ask you to produce all sorts of identification to prove you are who you say you are at the ballot box, we can’t legally ensure you won’t put James Madison as a write in candidate on the ballot.


Image: Idea go / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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