Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Day Proclamation from 1863

Courtesy of the Heritage Foundation:

The year that is drawing toward its close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added which are of so extraordinary a nature that they can not fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever-watchful providence of Almighty God.

In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign states to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere, except in the theater of military conflict, while that theater has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union.

Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defense have not arrested the plow, the shuttle, or the ship; the ax has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well as the iron and coal as of our precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege, and the battlefield, and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom.

No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.

It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged, as with one heart and one voice, by the whole American people. I do therefore invite my fellow-citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens.

And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners, or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the imposition of the Almighty hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it, as soon as may be consistent with the divine purpose, to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility, and union.

Lessons from Lincoln on persuading fellow Americans

In Doris Kerns Goodwin’s masterful book about Abraham Lincoln, entitled Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln,  she describe’s President Lincoln’s approach to persuading his fellow countryman.  The following is a short excerpt where Mrs. Goodwin discusses how President Lincoln approached the most sensitive issue of that age: Slavery.

Unlike the majority of antislavery orators, who denounced the South and castigated slaveowners as corrupt and un-Christian, Lincoln pointedly denied fundamental differences between Northerners and Southerners. He argued that “they are just what we would be in their situation. If slavery did not now exist amongst them, they would not introduce it. If it did now exist amongst us, we should not instantly give it up… . When it is said that the institution exists; and that it is very difficult to get rid of it, in any satisfactory way, I can understand and appreciate the saying. I surely will not blame them for not doing what I should not know how to do myself.” And, finally, “when they remind us of their constitutional rights, I acknowledge them … and I would give them any legislation for the reclaiming of their fugitives.”

Rather than upbraid slaveowners, Lincoln sought to comprehend their position through empathy. More than a decade earlier, he had employed a similar approach when he advised temperance advocates to refrain from denouncing drinkers in “thundering tones of anathema and denunciation,” for denunciation would inevitably be met with denunciation, “crimination with crimination, and anathema with anathema.” In a passage directed at abolitionists as well as temperance reformers, he had observed that it was the nature of man, when told that he should be “shunned and despised,” and condemned as the author “of all the vice and misery and crime in the land,” to “retreat within himself, close all the avenues to his head and his heart.”

In order to “win a man to your cause,” Lincoln explained, you must first reach his heart, “the great high road to his reason.” This, he concluded, was the only road to victory—to that glorious day “when there shall be neither a slave nor a drunkard on the earth.”
Building on his rhetorical advice, Lincoln tried to place himself in the shoes of the slaveowner to reason his way through the sectional impasse, by asking Southerners to let their own hearts and history reveal that they, too, recognized the basic humanity of the black man. Never appealing like Seward to a “higher law,” or resorting to Chase’s “natural right” derived from “the code of heaven,” Lincoln staked his argument in reality.  Goodwin, Doris Kerns (2005). Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln. Simon & Schuster (pages 166-67).
Effective politicians do more than bombard their opponents with accusations, constantly characterizing their views as evil or their motivations unjust.  Successful leaders attempt to connect with others on a human level through empathy.  This is true regardless of how repugnant their policy positions may be–if Lincoln could do this with slavery, an argument regarding taxes or spending should be perfectly manageable.  Conservatives must do more than be right all the time, they must connect to those whom they wish to lead. In light of President Lincoln’s example, perhaps that is why Cal Thomas’s description of Marco Rubio is so appealing:
Rubio was not judgmental, but merely appealed to a higher standard. He is not the angry moralist putting others down. He is a political evangelist showing there is a better way.

(November 16, 2012 – Source: Steve Pope/Getty Images North America)