Beinstein column: Abraham Lincoln and the road ahead
With his 209th birthday soon approaching, it is wise to heed the best of Lincoln and to translate those lessons for our time. It is through him that we will find the answers for which we are searching.
Pro-Immigrant: At a time when it hurt the GOP to support immigrants, the Irish tended to vote Democrat and many supported slavery. But Lincoln never showed any animus toward the Irish or immigrants generally.
In fact, he was reported to have made a generous donation to a cause that helped alleviate the Irish famine. As the movie Gangs of New York accurately portrays, the second many Irish showed up to New York, they were harassed and unwelcomed.
Lincoln set a different standard, welcoming all free labor that wanted a better life in the New World. That isn’t to say this means there should be no consequence for illegal immigration. Balancing mercy and justice is critical to comprehensive immigration reform, but it means we should be kind to those who might not look like us — the Chinese, Indians, Hispanics, etc. All deserve a chance to participate in the American Dream.
Mercy and Forgiveness: One of Martin Luther King Jr.’s most touching sermons, Loving Your Enemies, focuses on one of the most difficult aspects of the Scriptures and Lincoln’s fulfillment of it. As MLK Jr. wrote, “In the fifth chapter of the gospel as recorded by Saint Matthew, we read these very arresting words flowing from the lips of our Lord and Master: ‘Ye have heard that it has been said, ‘Thou shall love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy.’ But I say unto you, love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them that despitefully use you; that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven.’ ”
Doctor King then mentions the story of Edwin Stanton, a man at one point who said of Lincoln, “You don’t want a tall, lanky, ignorant man like this as the president of the United States.”
Lincoln, with his beautiful and forgiving heart, would, despite Mr. Stanton’s hurtful words, hire him anyway as Defense Secretary. And on a bigger scale, near the end of the Civil War, Lincoln would show mercy and forgiveness to many Confederates, “With malice toward none, with charity for all.”
It’s the only way we’ll be able to move forward as a country — blacks forgiving whites, Republicans forgiving Democrats, Democrats forgiving Republicans, etc. It’s much easier said than done, but then again, the example of Lincoln commands us to do so.
Unity: Abraham Lincoln always spoke of the necessity of preserving the Union, at whatever the costs. Its example as a hope for all those that wish to be free around the world is too important to let be destroyed.
And, not that our issues are as grave as those of the Civil War, but things seem quite fragile these days. And yet we need to come together, as we always have. FDR created Social Security, Ronald Reagan strengthened it. Lyndon Johnson created Medicare, George W. Bush expanded it. In short, as Thomas Jefferson said in his first inaugural, “We are all Republicans, we are all Federalists.”
Opportunity, not envy: If you read Lincoln closely enough, he never really criticized wealth itself. What he thought was of the most importance was expanding opportunity. Certainly, the more you make, the greater your tax liability should be, that was the philosophy behind the progressive income tax he imposed during the Civil War.
Yet, the aim should not be redistributionist schemes, but rather an expansion of opportunity for people. More money invested in education that leads to work, more infrastructure projects to make it easier for people to engage in commerce, less red tape so it’s easier to start a business, etc.
For those interested in more detail, read about Lincoln and the Morrill Act (land grant colleges), the TransContinental Railroad (making it possible for the first time to easily ship goods from New York to California), his creation of the Department of Agriculture, etc. Lincoln would unquestionably support fixing our crumbling infrastructure.
Embracing Scripture: If you read Lincoln’s writings, it is laden with Scriptural references. In fact, on the day of his second inaugural, the Bible he swore in was open to three different parts of the New Testament: Matthew 7:1 (about not judging others), Matthew 18:7 (punishment for rejecting the Lord), and Revelation 16:7 (accepting the judgments of God).
In the secular age in which we live, sometimes people poke fun at a book that comes from so long ago. And yet in the last speech MLK Jr. gave in Memphis before he was killed, he quoted Luke 19:1 about the need to help every poor person on his or her walk to Jericho. And, as Abraham Lincoln said, “I believe the Bible is the best gift God ever gave to man.”
Well, I believe Abraham Lincoln is the best gift God ever gave to America. Now, let’s use that gift to our advantage.
Thank you, and God bless.
Alex Beinstein of Carbondale was a Republican primary congressional candidate in 2016 challenging Congressman Scott Tipton. His column appears monthly in the Post Independent.