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Great Presidents

Essay by review  •  February 15, 2011  •  Essay  •  2,248 Words (9 Pages)  •  1,210 Views

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In terms of their lasting significance, Lincoln and Roosevelt represent two of the most memorable presidents in American history. Both presidents faced not only severe economic crises and devastating wars, but a struggle for the very survival of democracy. Lincoln was immediately confronted with the secession of the southern states which resulted in the Civil War, one of this country's greatest domestic crises. Roosevelt not only confronted the Great Depression, an incredible domestic plight, but guided the country through its greatest foreign confrontation, World War II. Had these presidents not been put in their respective positions, their political genius might not have been demonstrated and it would be harder to gauge their true success and impact on the country. The problems these presidents faced during their presidency allowed them to show their capabilities and political greatness, which is measured by their lasting impact on American politics.

Abraham Lincoln came onto the political scene from an extremely poor background on the Kentucky frontier where he was largely self-educated. He demonstrated an interest in politics at an early age. Not long after he arrived in New Salem and landed a job as a clerk, Lincoln began to make a name for himself and declared his candidacy for the state legislature as an independent. After losing that election he studied law on his own, passed the bar and worked as a lawyer. He remained involved in Whig politics, however, and in 1834 ran again for the state legislature. Lincoln held a seat in the Illinois state legislature as a Whig politician in the 1830s and 1840s.

As a legislator he became known for his humble birth, homely wit, skill in debate, and geographical and political centrism. (Landy and Milikis 115) Moving from state politics to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1847, Lincoln began voicing his opinion on issues such as the U.S. war with Mexico. Then, starting in the mid 1850s Lincoln left the Whig Party to become a member of the newly founded Republican Party. (American President) After a series of compelling debates with Senator Stephen Douglas, Lincoln became a contender for the election of 1860. There were few obvious differences between Lincoln and his running mates for the presidential 1860 election. All four men studied law, became distinguished orators, entered politics, and opposed slavery, but in the end it was Lincoln who won the election of 1860. The reason for Lincoln's success was the result of many things, including his unparalleled ability to keep his governing coalition intact, his tough minded appreciation of the need to protect his presidential prerogatives, and his keen sense of timing. (Goodwin xv).

At the time of Lincoln's election, the country needed and demanded an extraordinary leader. The country was in the midst of a sectional crisis and Civil war began to seem imminent. Following the Panic of 1857, a severe economic slump plagued the country and created one of the worst Depressions in history. These issues paved the path for the up and coming Republican Party, allowing them to emerge as the ideal party for the United States.

Part of Lincoln's rise to political greatness had to do with the rise of the Republican Party as a whole. Unlike past leaders of the Party, Lincoln believed that American democracy should fear the public's indifference to the vital issues at play, rather than a revolution. This belief demonstrated how Lincoln never lost sight of his responsibility to cultivate a new public philosophy in the country. In order to bridge the differences between the North and the South, Lincoln had to devise a plan that would not only please both sides; he would have to maintain his firm stance with the law and its restrictions. (Landy and Milkis 115-18).

Lincoln's immortality as president has much to do with the supreme constitutional crisis the nation faced on his watch. The States were separating based on disagreements regarding slavery and other controversial issues. Thus, during this time, Lincoln was forced to stand strong beside the constitution. Therefore, rather than devoting the war to slavery, Lincoln named the war one to preserve American democracy and the Constitution. Abraham Lincoln represented the Union and was forced to create a solution that would bridge the two extremes together into one united nation. This proved to be an extremely difficult task because each side was adamant about its beliefs and refused to compromise. Lincoln himself believed that compromise rewarded extortion and a country could not be lead with extortion as the only way to solve problems. This ideal established Lincoln as a noble and confident leader, which allowed citizens to have confidence in him and his decisions.

Strictly abiding by the law in a time of war, Lincoln accommodated both sides of the now separated country, even if the law did not coincide with his own personal beliefs. He put a complacent country before a pleased North because he believed the country could not stand divided. Though Lincoln believed himself to be born naturally anti-slavery, Lincoln also understood that his own ideals could not completely coincide with the beliefs of the country as a whole; he realized that abolition was not within his constitutional rights as president of the Union. However, though Lincoln's respect for the limits imposed by the Constitution dissuaded him from attacking the existence of slavery in the southern states, he was not willing to tolerate slavery's extension into Union territory. (Landy and Milkis 121). This decision allowed him to hold the position both as a strictly law-abiding president, and a radical, faithful to the views of the Union.

Eventually, however, Lincoln realized that it was no longer enough to confine slavery. As revealed in his address to Congress in 1862, Lincoln realized that emancipation was necessary to save the Union:

"In giving freedom to the slave, we assure freedom to the free--honorable alike in what we give, and what we preserve. We shall nobly save, or meanly lose the last best hope of earth." (American President)

Above all Lincoln was a, "'conservative revolutionary' who wanted to preserve the Union as a revolutionary heritage of the founders." (Landy and Milkis 114). Lincoln's purpose was made most clear in his Gettysburg Address, delivered shortly after the Union had defeated Confederate invasion at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania:

"...Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure...- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom - and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish

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