Friday, February 08, 2013


I am very keen to see the new Abe Lincoln film. I just went to my first movie on my own for about 20 years (Zero Dark Thirty - review to follow), and the trailer for Lincoln was pretty compelling. I love the idea of Tommy Lee Jones as Steven A. Douglas.

Anyway. I was just trawling through some Lincoln stuff and I came across this quote from a letter to a newspaper editor. During the civil war Lincoln was under tremendous pressure to do this, that or the other for the slaves. He had very strong personal view that the slavery should end, but as he explains, his personal view came second to his official duty.
My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union; and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union ...  I have here stated my purpose according to my view of official duty; and I intend no modification of my oft-expressed personal wish that all men everywhere could be free.
It's striking how clear to Lincoln was the distinction between his personal view and his duty as President. Although we in Australia wish our politicians now had more deep convictions and would act on them more often*, Abraham Lincoln’s statesmanship here rests on putting his aside. Interesting.

*This is written in the early stage of a 7-month election campaign where the Labor government has pinched most of its policies from the previous Liberal government, and the Liberal opposition's policies are merely bumper sticker slogans, most beginning with the words No or Stop.


Wendy said...

My favorite president. I devoured tons of books about him when I was a kid and can't wait to see the movie.

Chris Rees said...

Have you read Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell? That's a beauty. Robert Todd Lincoln's life was very interesting in his own right, too.