The Best President in American History: Abraham Lincoln

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What defines a great President and what do we mean when we say someone is “the greatest”? Firstly a great President must be viewed as person who has achieved success in the office they hold. That includes effective implementation of policies which are clearly expressed prior to election and that are in the interests of the people who elected them. This is the very foundation of Democracy within the United States and was defined by Abraham Lincoln as “government of the people, by the people, for the people”. Throughout his presidency Lincoln never wavered in adherence to the principles he firmly believed in though he adapted and changed policies in the face of changing circumstances and experience to obtain his goals. It can truly be said that Lincoln was directly responsible for the maintenance of the Union of the States which he passionately believed was essential to the continuance of the American nation. He left the nation a more perfect Union by ensuring that Federal authority superceded State sovereignty. But he also changed the course of American history, being remembered best for his introduction of the Emancipation Proclamation which freed all slaves within the Confederacy and changed the civil war from a battle to preserve the Union into a battle for freedom. He is also remembered for his great ability at oratory and the 13th amendment to the U.S. Constitution. However, to be “the greatest” President requires a depth of measurement not possible from the achievements of office alone. Naturally it requires subjective review and reasoning and I shall elucidate my thoughts on the personal man behind the role of Presidential leader also. “If any personal description of me is thought, it may be said, I am in height six feet, four inches, nearly, lean in flesh, weighing, on an average, one hundred and eighty pounds; dark complexion, with course black hair, and grey eyes – no other marks or brands recollected.” So Abraham Lincoln wrote of himself in a brief biographical sketch on December 20th 1859. It is typical of the man that he should be so blunt, self-deprecating, honest, humorous and humble. Yet it says nothing of the “whole” man, who he really was and the enormous impact he was to have upon the lives of millions of people, the country of America and the world as a whole. What makes this man so extraordinary is not necessarily his accomplishments, which themselves were immense, but the fact that he achieved them in the face of hardship and frequent failure. His failures have even served as a model to inspire people to overcome great obstacles and life’s difficulties. He failed as a business man, a farmer and in his first attempt to obtain political office. When he was elected to the legislature he failed when he sought the office of speaker. Similarly he failed in his first attempt to go to Congress and when he sought the appointment to the United States Land Office. He also failed when he ran for the United States Senate. Even when his friends sought to nominate him for the Vice-Presidency in 1856 he failed to win it! But Lincoln never gave up and applied his belief in hard work to changing his life from it’s humble beginnings. Abraham Lincoln was born on Sunday February 12th 1809 in a log cabin near Hodgenville, Kentucky. At the time this was frontier land; isolated and tough. His father was a farmer and carpenter. His mother, an intelligent, sensitive and somewhat sad and reflective woman, died when he was 9 years old. He suffered deeply when she passed and some would say he never recovered from her loss. It was the beginning of a life time of dark brooding and fed his fatalism which was to pervade his future life at times. His struggle with this continuing depression (some now claim that perhaps he was bi-polar, “Lincoln’s Melancholy” by Joshua Wolf Shenk) and his ability to deal with it and achieve all that he did without modern medication and therapies, reveals an amazing personal will power. Both his parents...
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