Submitted Without Comment February 3, 2013Posted by Sobek in History, Politics.
Submitted without comment:
For Lincoln, the Democrats of his day claimed to be the party of the common man, but in reality, they were led by a wealthy – and especially southern plantation – elite, who did everything they could to discourage ordinary people from rising, and therefore threatening, their own status. And what made these plantation aristocrats successful was their ability to play the poor off against the middle class, in order to distract attention away from their own control of events. Joseph Gillespie, who was a long-time Whig political ally of Lincoln’s, recalled that while Lincoln detested aristocracy in all its forms, nothing incensed him more than the claims of his Democratic opponents that the Whigs were the party of the rich. In 1840, when Lincoln was stumping southern Illinois on behalf of the Whig presidential candidate, William Henry Harrison, he found himself put up against a Democrat, Colonel Dick Taylor. And Colonel Taylor proceeded to rail against the Whigs as “aristocrats.” Lincoln replied, cheerfully, that the shoe really belonged on the other foot. “Whilst Colonel Taylor had his stores over the county,” Lincoln said, “and was riding in a fine carriage, wore his kid gloves, and had a gold-headed cane, he (Lincoln) was a poor boy hired on a flatboat at eight dollars a month, and had only one pair of britches. If you call this aristocracy,” Lincoln said, “I plead guilty to the charge.”
Lincoln believed that ambition was the thing which distinguished the American republic from all other monarchies which then ruled the earth. Because in America, even the humblest person with talent or determination can, with ambition, climb a ladder of their own to prosperity and happiness. “We stand at once, the admiration of the world,” Lincoln claimed in 1856, “and we must enquire what it is that has given us so much prosperity. And we shall understand that to give up that one thing would be to give up all future prosperity. That cause is, that every man can make himself.” This meant, though, that Lincoln required a free economy, with sufficient openness of movement to enable poor boys like himself to escape the drudgery of poverty and achieve what he called “progress and improvement of condition.” That would never come, in Lincoln’s judgment, if the United States remained tied to the Democratic dream of Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson. The Democrats, as Lincoln believed, were bitterly critical of open markets and this was because they saw danger – not opportunity – in a market economy. Because in a market economy while some rise, some fall, and those who already have it made are not necessarily very welcoming of others who rise to join them, and certainly can be very anxious at the prospect that they might fall. Lincoln, however, reveled in the opportunities of the market. He reveled in the credit created by banks, in the wages paid to free laborers who found wealth in selling their labor, rather than in cultivating the ground.
From “Mr. Lincoln: The Life of Abraham Lincoln,” Allen C. Guelzo (The Teaching Company: Chantilly, VA), disc 2, tracks 8 and 11.