Our Second Great President
Our second Great President was Abraham Lincoln. He seemed to be larger than life. He was a great thinker and speaker, and he told great stories. He was able to communicate his thoughts and ideas better than any president before or since. His speeches were legendary, and his most famous speech was only 271 words long. His eloquence was polished on the Illinois Court Circuit, where he practiced law and sharpened his wit and skills at verbal jousting.
Abraham Lincoln was a deep and complex man, and his legacy reigns supreme. In fact, most rankings of the greatest presidents in history place Lincoln at the top of the list. Primarily, I rank him second to Washington because without George Washington serving as our first president, I seriously doubt we would have had a second. Lincoln’s greatness comes from not only being able to wield great power for the good of the people, but to also have the compassion and humanity to understand its consequences. He felt deeply the gravity of the decisions he was making and struggled to reconcile his desires for the country with the forces of politics and temperament of political reality.
Abraham Lincoln became president at a time in our country when things were bad and getting worse. The nation was founded on a great compromise. That compromise was between the large agrarian landholder states of the South and the smaller manufacturing and business states of the North. The compromise was that the national legislature would be composed of two houses: a Senate, with two representatives from each state (to allow the less populous Southern states to have an equal voice with the Northern states), and a House of Representatives, with the number of a state’s Representatives determined by the population of that state. In addition, slaves would be counted as 3/5ths of a person – another compromise with the Southern states.
By the time Lincoln came to office, that great compromise was about to tear the country in two. The Southern states wanted each new state entering the union to be a slave state while the Northern states wanted each new state to be a free state. This eventually led to the Kansas-Nebraska Act, by which it was agreed that each state would be able to choose for itself whether to be a slave state or a free state. Unfortunately, this became a flash point that drove the behavior of the Southern states and the reaction of the Northern states. As each new state entered the union, more and more pressure was applied to the case for each side and caused the stakes to go higher and higher.
Before Lincoln’s term in office, the nation had seen several single-term Presidents come and go. Presidents Van Buren, Harrison, Tyler, Polk, Taylor, Fillmore, Pierce, and Buchanan were all single-term presidents (Tyler and Fillmore were elected as Vice Presidents, but took over upon Harrison’s and Taylor’s death, respectively, in office), and all but President James K. Polk are ranked at or near the bottom of the listings of the greatest presidents of our nation. Each of these presidents is viewed negatively because of his inability to deal with the slavery issue or to avert the coming Civil War. Each of these had the slavery issue staring him in the face, and blinked, and lost the opportunity to have his name become as revered as Lincoln’s.