Editor's Note: Augustin Stucker has been studying President Abraham Lincoln for most of his life. He believes there are a number of comparisons that can be made between today's politics and the era of Lincoln. In his new book, "Lincoln & Davis," Stucker says the stark political events of their era are being replayed across today’s America.
If Abraham Lincoln were alive today he might not even recognize the Republican Party.
When Lincoln first joined the GOP it was led by men -- then considered radicals -- whose primary agenda was to free the slaves. Lincoln guided it towards being a moderate progressive party with a wide appeal to the majority of Americans, which helped him win the 1860 presidential election. Of course, he was also inadvertently aided by the 1860 Democrats splitting when conservative Southern Democrats attempted to hijack their party in demanding slavery be allowed to expand nationwide.
In observing the Democrats’ split, Lincoln became very aware of the dangers of a group seizing control of an entire party. When Radical Republicans frequently attempted to strong-arm Lincoln into following their policies alone and demonized conservative Republicans, Lincoln made it very clear he and the party were responsible to all Americans:
“The radicals and conservatives, each agree with me in some things, and disagree in others... I do not question their right... I hold whoever commands... responsible to me, and not to either radicals or conservatives," Lincoln said, according to Don E. Fehrenbacher, author of "Abraham Lincoln Speeches and Writings 1859-1865."
He refused to bow to anyone’s threats, telling an aide, “I will not do anything contrary to my convictions to please these men, earnest and powerful as they may be," according to the book "Inside Lincoln’s White House: The Complete Civil War Diary of John Hay."
What he might say about today's GOP
Lincoln might warn today’s Republicans to avoid making similar mistakes as the Democrats in 1860. He would acknowledge the conservative Tea Party movement and listen to them -- “It is my duty to hear all," he said, according Fehrenbacher.
At the same time, as the Republicans unite behind Mitt Romney, Lincoln would caution against allowing the conservatives to upset the apple cart come convention time. Polls show the majority of Americans disagree with the Tea Party ideals, and Lincoln knew it is the majority to whom politicians are responsible.
Lincoln would also be appalled by all modern legislative assaults on human and civil rights. He would equate all recent attempts by various states ranging from denying civil rights for gays, to telling women what they could or could not do with their bodies, and repudiation of equal pay for equal work, as ill-disguised attempts to subjugate minorities and women.
Any form of subjugation was intolerable to Lincoln.
Prior to the Civil War, he warned Southern Democrats of their attitudes in promoting and maintaining slavery.
“[They] deny his manhood; deny, or dwarf to insignificance, the wrong of his bondage; so far as possible, crush all sympathy for him, and cultivate and execute hatred and disgust against him and call the indefinite outspreading of his bondage ‘a sacred right of self-government,'" Lincoln said, according to Fehrenbacher.
Further, Lincoln said of any black slave woman, it was “her natural right to eat the bread she earns with her own hands without asking leave of any one else, she is my equal, and the equal of all others." He would consider any limitation on civil rights, human rights, or legislation subjecting any citizen to “second-class” status just as loathsome today as it was then.
Finally, Lincoln would advise Republicans to start working with each other instead of engaging in endless bickering, as well as returning to the negotiating table with the Democrats. Lincoln knew successful American politics has always involved compromise, starting with the Founding Fathers creating the Constitution. And certainly Lincoln would testify if he could successfully negotiate and comprise in the midst of the greatest internal crisis our country has ever faced, so can and should the leaders of today’s Republican Party.