Lincoln's Legacy: Ethics and Politics

Article excerpt

Lincoln's Legacy: Ethics and Politics Phillip Shaw Paludan, Ed. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2008.

As the population of the United States grows larger and more complex, politicians as well as citizens seek anchors and explanations for their actions and attitudes. Lincoln is still the sun that wakes us in the morning and shines through the day, explaining and justifying our attitudes and actions. We no doubt should thoroughly understand Lincoln before we allow him to be sold to us or we buy him. This short book consists of four essays, which undertake to teach us. The broadest and undoubtedly most important essay in the book, "Lincoln and Democracy," by the editor, takes on the very important issue of how Lincoln conceived of democracy and government. Though we usually think of Lincoln, the Great Emancipator, as most interested in personal democracy, Paludan insists that when Lincoln took the oath of office as President of the United States, he actually had a greater purpose and goal: "Lincoln was binding himself not only to protect and preserve the nation but also to do so within the Constitution. Thus he was not free to emancipate the slaves because of his personal prerogative; he had to act under power granted by the Constitution, the power power. ... Much of Lincoln's alleged slowness to act explained as canniness or reluctance to act at all, as with Emancipation, takes new meaning when we learn how sacred the oath was to him" (ix). …