I see that today is the anniversary of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address in 1863.

What with the new Daniel Day Lewis movie out about him, ol’ Abe is getting much renewed attention at the moment.  The youngest gel’s teacher at St. Marie of the Blessed Educational Method recently called him the greatest president ever.  And from what I gather, the movie lays on the St. Abraham stuff pretty thick in terms of his devotion to Abolition.

I dunno about that.  It seems to me that Abraham Lincoln’s priorities were, in order, 1) Abraham Lincoln and 2) the Union.  He certainly didn’t start the war as an abolitionist, and I believe the case could be made (although I’m not qualified to make it myself) that he only came to engage the Cause out of military and politickal necessity/expediency as the situation evolved.

I have also seen the argument (again, I’m not qualified to evaluate it)  that Lincoln needlessly provoked a showdown at Fort Sumter and then exacerbated things by sending Federal troops into Virginia.   The argument goes that Lincoln should have done everything possible to placate the South and avoid a war and let slavery die out naturally under its own economic weight and through growing moral pressure from the genuine abolitionists.  The British example is given, although I’m not sure the economics of the two situations line up all that well.

Then, of course, there’s the whole argument about his, ah, extra-legal seizure of powers.  I have heard a song, sung to the tune of the Battle Hymn of the Republic, called “Lincoln Killed The Constitution”.  You may say that it was in a good cause.  I would respond that that’s what they all say.

I bring all this up not to rag on Lincoln, who on the whole I happen to like, just to point out that history is a good deal more complicated than a cardboard saint image might suggest.