Lincoln: Navigating the Civil War

Civil Wars are tricky things.

Normally in War, the end game should be to kill as many of your enemies as possible and take over their resources, but in a Civil War, you have to face the reality that after it's all over, all sides will be citizens of the same country again. There's just something distasteful about celebrating a victory over your defeated foe when they're also your fellow citizens.

In Imperial Rome, they decreed that no victorious general was to receive a triumph (like a really, really cool parade with dancers, exotic animals and defeated enemies in chains) when the victory was over a rival for the throne. Then again, this was a little different than the American Civil War. in Rome- they were all striving for the same thing- control of an empire. It wasn't as though one rival wanted to break away from the empire while another wanted him to stay put.

This attitude of the southern states that they didn't consider themselves even to be American anymore opened the door for a level of brutality that probably surprised both sides.

Furthermore, most of the upper military class were either southerners themselves or were from border states. Also, even the northern military leaders often had sympathy to the southern cause themselves because they would generally receive their military training in the south and would feel a certain kinship with the south's aristocratic social order since they were often aristocrats in their own right.

Hardcore hatred from both sides, a halfway committed military and the reality that after it was all over, the north would basically have to rebuild what it destroyed in the south and remake the entire power and social structure of half the country. This is what Lincoln walked into. Also- Lincoln had no formal military training and basically learned military tactics on the job, reading the "Art of War" by candlelight after his hectic days in the office.

It's really amazing that he won the war.

I shudder to think what would have happened then and for the following 150 years of American history and feel that it shows Lincoln is worth a hell of a lot more than a penny.


Lincoln: Impact of the Civil War

As a result of the South's insistence that it be able to enslave people, over 1 Million people lost their lives. This is greater than the casualty numbers in the Revolutionary War, World War 1 and II combined.

That loss of life is amazing, especially when you factor in that it includes primarily military age men and the entire free population of the country included only around 27 Million people. That's 1 in 27 people that died! Also- Then, as now, the people that enter the most dangerous ranks of the military and fight on the front line are for the most part from the less affluent, rural parts of the country.

It's easy to imagine that there must have been entire communities where the majority of the children were orphans and young men were mostly absent. This is staggering and is a testament to how badly the South wanted to hang on to its aristocratic, agricultural way of life as the world moved on.

For many southerners after the war, they never would admit that they actually lost the war and thanks to President Johnson's southern sympathies in the post war era, many confederate generals and senators returned to politics as though nothing happened. This allowed slavery to continue under the guise of sharecropping and the race codes that were put in effect after the war.

So did the Civil War ever truly end? The shots may have stopped, but the culture and race wars went on for over 100 years more and some would argue that they continue to this day.


Lincoln: On Religion

Everyone speaks of Lincoln's faith and in a way they're right. In his later life, most of his speeches were infused with reference to a vague 'higher power' or 'great creator', but he certainly wasn't religious in the traditional sense, especially for the times.

He best summed up his own views when he said "When I do good, I feel good. When I do bad, I feel bad. That is my religion."

Like Jefferson, Lincoln most likely thought of Jesus as the greatest philosopher but avoided what he called religious enthusiasm.

He was raised in a very religious Baptist household, but never officially joined any church. This was at a time when church was the main social activity and surely must have raised eyebrows.

Lincoln did get involved in the temperance movement which was mainly backed by protestant churches but was turned off by their focus on looking down on the sinners. Lincoln wanted the movement to focus on making positive changes in the lives of individuals that have trouble with alcohol and eventually lost faith in it.

Lincoln mocked the idea of religion when he was younger saying things like:

"When I see a man preach, I like him to look like he's trying to avoid bees."

He resented hypocrites that had a holier than though attitude:

"My experience is that someone who has no Vices also has no Virtues."

Certainly Lincoln was not like Jefferson who had his own version of the bible where he blacked out all of the miracles of Jesus and ended the gospel when the rock was rolled over the tomb, but he would probably have a hard time getting elected today.

It's just hard to believe that a person who didn't attend any church could get elected to the highest office 150 years ago, but most likely not now when we've discovered things like the big bang, evolution, space travel etc.


Happy Fourth of July

John Adams on what he thought would be the future of July 4th Independence Day celebrations:

"I believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be celebrated by pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other..."

It seems that we're fulfilling his dream.

Happy 4th!


Lincoln the Comedian

Lincoln had what the Irish call the gift of the gab and could always diffuse an audience with a joke.

Maybe that's why his opponent Stephen Douglas once said "His qualifications for side splitting are quite as good as rail splitting."

Here's some lines of his that I like:

(to a Senator that told Lincoln that slavery was a good thing) "For a good thing, slavery is strikingly peculiar in that it is the only good thing which man does not seek for himself."

"Whenever I see anyone arguing for slavery, I feel a strong impulse to see it tried on him personally."

"Better to be silent and be thought a fool than speak out and remove all doubt."

"If I were two-faced, would I be wearing this one?"

"If this is coffee, please bring me some tea; if this is tea, please bring me some coffee."

"What kills a skunk is the publicity it gives itself."