Sunday, February 14, 2010

Abraham Lincoln, Feb 12, 1809-April 15, 1865

Almost completely overshadowed by the opening of the Winter Olympics, Valentine's Day and the NBA's All-star game weekend was the 201st birthday of President Abraham Lincoln on February 12th. Lincoln deserves special recognition because without his resolve and determination to hold the nation together, the United States might have a completely different make up or might not even exist at all.

Let's pause for a moment and think what might have happened if Lincoln had failed and the eleven Southern States had succeeded in leaving the Union. Aside from slavery still existing for perhaps another generation or two in the south, the glue to hold other states would have been weakened and subject to being pulled away as the twin continental stakeholders vied for new member states in the west. The two weakened nations would have be hard pressed to keep European nations, drunk on the wine of 19t century colonialism, from trying to carve off chunks of the West Coast. As is, we have only counter-factual fanaticizing for a guide of what might have happened.

What is know is that historians looking back at the facts prior too, and after the Civil War, and into the 20th century have pretty much reached a consensus that Lincoln not only ended slavery, in itself the noblest of accomplishments, but in his resolve held the Union together, creating one unified nation, and almost as importantly front loaded the rulesets so that after the war ended the United States was ready to grow into the modern nation-state we know today.

For the average American we learned about Lincoln in our elementary and secondary education. Unless you are a history major, he fades to be recalled when we happen on his countenance as we fumble with those pesky pennies, or pull a five to pay for a latte at Starbucks. Let's take a few moments to recall some of those often overlooked ruleset changes.

Abraham Lincoln's hero was Henry Clay U.S. Senator and leader of the Whig Political Party. Lincoln transformed many of Clay's visions into his own goals and when elected along with a super majority in Congress in 1861 This set the stage was set for a series of legislative bills that would solidly put the United States on a course to explode onto the world stage in the last quarter of the 19th Century. These bills came about during the term of the 37th Congress, March 1861 to March of 1862. The most important of those bills are listed below.

The Homestead Act, which gave title to 160 acres outside the original 13 colonies to any one who could improve the land and live on it for a period of years. The result was by the end of the century 10% of all public lands had passed to private individuals.

The Pacific Railway Act which tied the nation's coasts together in a steel ribbon that grew commerce and culture in a thousand offshoots and gave the nation a sence of unity.

The Legal Tender Act of 1892 created the parent of the greenback paper money we use today and replaced the hundreds of different bank issued notes previously used as tender.

The National Banking Act of 1863 established a system of uniform national charters for banks to support using the national currency issued under the Legal Tender Act.

The Morrill Land Grant Colleges Act which encouraged the founding of colleges and universities by making public land available as grants. The act lead to hundreds of colleges including MIT and Cornell University being founded.

And seminal to Lincoln's legacy is The Emancipation Proclamation, which errased all doubts about ending slavery once and for all.

To gain some insight on Lincoln's legecy and how it fits into today's world, I would recommend two recent books that distill the essence of what Lincoln and men like Henry Clay whose influence played into Lincoln's vision. First, Great Powers America and the World After Bush by Thomas PM Barnett where chapter three recaptures the history of the republic and how our economic system has led to 3 billion people moving out of poverty in the past two decades. Next Howard Bloom in The Genius of the Beast writes about how the Civil War took what Lincoln had called an "association of states," to "a more perfect union" and "a national government. If you want more indepth information, Daniel Walker Howe's What Hath God Wrought gives you 853 pages of incredible reading about the period of 1815-1848, followed by The Battle Cry of Freedom by James M McPherson at 952 pages of history at it's best.