The wisdom of the first Republican

I just got a package in the mail from my fiance, and inside were several copies of National Review. The issue dated February 23 had a cover story on "The Conservative Lincoln." I think it's a wonderful article on a part of Lincoln's ideology that is often - in my opinion, too often - overlooked.

I have long been a great admirer of Lincoln - as are many, if not most, young students of history and politics. My admiration comes mostly from the steadfastness of his beliefs. Lincoln was a man who may worried about the outcome of his decisions, but in the end he always acted. He was unfaultering in his commitment to the Union and the Constitution. Despite his infamous suspension of habeus corpus and other war powers, it is obvious from his writings that he did these things only as last resorts and only to preserve the country he loved.

The thrust of the article in National Review was about Lincoln's broad views on economics and personal freedom. The author, Allen C. Guelzo, quotes Lincoln heavily throughout the article and essentially let's the President "speak" for himself. On the basic role of government, Lincoln once said: "I don't believe in a law to prevent a man from getting rich; it would do more harm than good." And later on how economic freedom should work; "The prudent, penniless beginner in the world labors for wages awhile, saves a surplus with which to buy tools or land for himself; then labors on his own account another while, and at length hires another new beginner to help him."

Lincoln's view of equality was one of equality of opportunity - not of outcome. That each man must have the opportunity to make of his life what he will, and no man can deprive another of that right. In a speech to the Wisconsin State Agricultural Society in 1859, Lincoln said: "Some of you will be successful, others will be disappointed... [and those that are disappointed, take heart] in the maxim, 'Better luck next time;' and then, by renewed exertion, make that better luck for themselves." He was a man who believed in hard work, not handouts.

Lincoln's views are not dissimilar from other famous Republican leaders like Teddy Roosevelt (a man who has been much maligned lately, but that is the subject for another post). He had great faith in man's ability to do great things through hard work and perseverance, but that sometimes it was necessary to make sure that some people were not exploiting the labor others. It is partly why he hated slavery.

I also think that Lincoln's words can have great meaning for the Republican Party of today. We like to hold up Reagan as the paragon of conservative virtue - some have even replaced "Lincoln Day" dinners with "Reagan Day" dinners (something which drives me crazy, by the way), but I think Lincoln's belief in personal Liberty and vastly limited government still speaks to a great many Americans.

In a speech in Ohio in 1859, Lincoln had this to say about the new Republican Party. The "chief purpose of the Republican Party is eminently conservative. [It] proposes nothing save and except to restore this government to its original tone ... and there to maintain it, looking for no further change ... than that which the original framers of the government themselves expected and looked forward to..."

150 years ago Lincoln was telling his Party where to go and where to lead. I think we need to listen again.