Lincoln 1860

Lincoln 1860

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Obama: Realizing The Dream

As I write this blog entry, our nation is on the cusp of history. A little more than two hours from now, Barack Obama will officially accept his party's nomination to be its candidate for President Of The United States of America. He is the first African-American to be the official candidate for president from either major political party. In recognition of this historic achievement, Obama's rival, Senator John McCain is even running a commercial tonight to congratulate him. A class act.

Today also happens to mark the 45th anniversary of one of the most remarkable speeches in American history: the famous "I Have A Dream" address given by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. Dr. King spoke of freedom for his people, owed to them by The Declaration of Independence which states that "all men are created equal." His speech was the highlight of the March On Washington, in which hundreds of thousands protested for equality and justice for all people. He spoke of his dream that one day his children and his children's children would be judged "not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character." This stunning speech may be found here in entirety.

The nomination of Barack Obama for president partially realizes Dr. King's dream. In the past 45 years, African-Americans have gone from Jim Crow laws, segregated lunch counters and drinking fountains to tonight's historical event. Many people both black and white have fought to achieve this moment. More than a few lives have been lost in the struggle.

Abraham Lincoln spoke of America as being the "last best hope of earth" in his 1862 message to Congress. He stated that by giving slaves their freedom, we assure freedom to the free. Dr. King took that a step farther and demanded "complete" freedom, equality, for his people.

Only time will reveal the outcome of this year's presidential race. But tonight we should all celebrate this momentous occasion in our nation's history. The dream lives on.


Anonymous said...

I have a question more than a comment. My understanding that Senator Obama hails from the same district that Mr. Lincoln was a a Senator. Also, Mr. Lincoln was assailed as having a lack of experience?...Please comment. Thank you.

Geoff Elliott said...

Thank you for your questions. I hope I can answer them to your satisfaction.

First of all, Abraham Lincoln was never a state senator or U.S. senator. He was a *representative* from his county in Illinois (Sangamon County) to the state legislature in Springfield, Illinois. Barack Obama was also a state representative to Springfield, but he represented the 13th district (the south side of Chicago) in Springfield. Lincoln's district and Obama's district are about 200 miles apart from each other. Obama to my knowledge has never lived in Springfield, other than when the legislature was in session.

Now, Obama is a U.S. Senator currently, thus representing ALL of Illinois in Washington.

Lincoln wasn't exactly "assailed" for his lack of experience as Obama is assailed today. Even Lincoln, at first, felt that his experience disqualified him to be president. But then thanks to his famous debates with Stephen Douglas in 1858, and a series of brilliant speeches in the eastern U.S. in 1859 and 1860, Lincoln began being considered for the presidency.

Still, Lincoln was not the leading candidate going into the Republican convention of 1860. But he eventually did win the final nomination thanks to exceptional backroom manuevering and the rest is history.

This "experience" argument, I believe, is pointless. None of us really knows just how effective a leader will be based on experience or lack of experience. Some of the most experienced men have gone on to be failures as president. Lincoln with precious little experience proved to be an outstanding leader.

I hope I answered your questions. There are interesting parallels between Lincoln and Obama, but they are not from the same district.

Mannie Gentile said...


Thanks for a very thoughtful post.


Geoff Elliott said...


Thanks for your kind words.

I am a lover of history and I was moved the other night to write about Obama's historic achievement. Regardless of the election's outcome, he has trampled some of the remaining barriers to equality for African-Americans, and indeed for all of us.

Thanks for reading my blog.


Mini Choco-Pretzels said...

Why didn't Sen. Obama even mention Dr. King by name? I think the Obama/Lincoln comparisons are laughable, and I'm probably one of the few who has the gumption to say so, epic historical moments aside.

Geoff Elliott said...

I wondered that myself when I watched Obama's speech. Why didn't he mention Dr. King by name? Perhaps Obama didn't want to risk too many comparisons between himself and King. Perhaps it's because as Obama said, the election isn't about him (Obama), it's about America.

As for comparisons between Obama and Lincoln being laughable, I agree on a certain level. One cannot compare Lincoln's experiences (not political, but life experience) with Obama's very easily.

But what *is* laughable is the Obama detractors claiming that he does not have enough "experience" to be president. As I've pointed out numerous times in this blog, his *political* experience is roughly the same as Lincoln's in number of years in Congress and number of years in the Illinois legislature.

Experience is *not* an accurate indicator of future success (or failure) as president.

Thank you for your comments.

Toby said...

In all the Lincoln comparisons, people have forgotten a wonderful historical irony.

The last Democratic Senator from Illinois to run for President was .... Stephen A. Douglas, Lincoln's great rival. And as much as Lincoln was a Springfield man, Douglas was a Chicago man, like Obama. Another contrast was that as much as Lincoln was tall and lanky, Douglas was short and somewhat obese, though a more handsome man (in the conventional sense) than Abe.

Douglas is, possibly unjustly, a forgotten man in the popular imagination, except as the other protagonist in the Lincoln-Douglas debates. Earlier this year, Fox News confused him with Frederick Douglass, the black leader! But for much of the 1850s Douglas was a far more famous figure than Lincoln.

One of his most famous statements were that he did not care "if slavery was voted up or voted down"
i.e. his argument was that the introduction of slavery to a territory was a matter for the popular will in the territory. Lincoln argued that slavery was a moral issue and in this case the people had no right to do wrong and were subject to the will of Congress.

In his private life, Douglas had no sympathy with slavery. To him it just was not a burning moral question, just a "normal" political issue to be resolved by sensible compromise. He also once said that the US was a "white man's government", so Obama's candidacy might have him spinning in his grave!

Douglas was also admirable in that he realized early in his election campaign that his cause was lost and he would not become President. Instead, he went South, where he was deeply unpopular, to argue against secession. He was one of the first Presidential candidates to actively campaign and the effort damaged his health.

As a Northern man, he loved the Union, saying once he would hang secessionists "higher than Hamann".
Perhaps, the coming of the Civil War finally broke him.

In the first months of the Lincoln Presidency, he gave Linoln some important cover, but died in late 1861 or early 1862, I am not sure which.

Maybe he would have joined Lincoln's party to pursue the war. Certainly, his absence probably pushed the Northern Democrats in an anti-war direction. Without his leadership of the party, they were somewhat rudderless.

Since Lincoln showed an advance in his attitude to blacks (which we would now regard as somewhat racist) between 1858 and 1864, perhaps we could give Stephen A. Douglas the benefit of the doubt, and say that his attitude might have softened also.

Also, I think there is a Stephen A. Douglas society in existence to keep alive his memory.

Geoff Elliott said...

Thanks for your observations. Just a minor correction, Stephen Douglas was not the "last" Democratic senator from Illinois to run for President prior to Obama.

In 1988, Senator Paul Simon from Illinois, a member of the Democratic party, unsuccessfully sought the nomination of his party to be president.

Mini Choco-Pretzels said...

Toby: The fact remains that EVERYONE in the U.S. was "racist". It was only a matter of varying degrees of heat. The fact that Lincoln was able to think outside the box given the social mores of the times speaks volumes, and it defies logic when he is called a "racist" by today's standards. Even William H. Seward was a "racist". They ALL were, technically. The entire nation, even the most staunch, "radical" abolitionists easily fit that definition.

Toby said...

Re: Lincoln, Douglas & "racist".

Yes, this observation is correct. Calling Lincoln and his contemporaries "racist" is like accusing Julies Caesar of being ignorant because he could not speak English.

It was as if the mental processes we now regard as "normal" in relation to diversity of race were not capable of being thought by many people in the 1850s.

However, Lincoln did go through some development in relation to blacks: from stating he did not believe in exending social and political equality (like voting, serving on juries etc.), he went to recommending the franchise for ex-soldiers and "the educated" in 1865.

My point was that because Lincoln went through such development, we should not dismiss the possibility that Douglas would not have also gone through such a process. Frankly, I do doubt it, though. Douglas was wrong about many things, he made statements we now abhor, but he was not an evil man.



PS I take the Senator Paul Simon case. Simon, however, did not win the Democratic nomination. Though the Democratic party split in 1860, Stephen A. Douglas did win the nomination of the northern wing of the party and came second in the popular vote in the election. While Simon did "run for President" I meant "as Democratic party nominee".

Geoff Elliott said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
History Blogs - Blog Catalog Blog Directory