Some things never change. Less than six years after its inception, the Republican party found itself in the midst of an identity crisis. By February of 1860, they had yet to establish themselves as a unified body with a common goal. Recording less Presidential victories than runs scored in this year’s Congressional baseball game, a new election approaching in November, and no clear “All-Star” for the May nominee deadline, members could not even agree decisively on the biggest issue of the century, slavery.
Thankfully, Abraham Lincoln was batting clean-up.
The ideological impasse that Republicans faced was rather simple. The wool had finally started to be lifted from the eyes of some politicians, and the blatant injustice of slavery was becoming more apparent. However, many party proponents struggled to find a Constitutional justification for uprooting a virtual cornerstone of American culture and economics during this time. Many people, both Republican and Democrat, looked on with great skepticism about the ramifications of allowing such an extensive and broad-reaching policy, the magnitude of which had no precedent.
With his team trailing in the bottom ninth with two outs, Abraham Lincoln stepped into the batter’s box on a cold February day in 1860 and prepared to address a crowd gathered at Cooper Union, New York. His speech would be one of the longest of his career and some say cemented his spot as not only the Republican nominee, but the first Republican President in history.
The speech presented a logical, lawyer-esque case for why the “framers of our Government” would have supported a decision to abolish slavery at the Federal level, an approach tailor made for Lincoln’s successful legal history. Proving this would make for a much easier task of persuading the people that Government prohibiting the practice of slavery across the nation was, indeed, in line with conservative ideas.
Consider that proposal for a moment. From a strictly political standpoint, to argue that the Government had the power to strip you of your “property” (as some considered their slaves) and disrupt the firmly established social order of the day would be a seemingly impossible task even today, especially in proportion to an issue of this magnitude. Not to mention claiming that such an idea aligned with our founders’ vision and ultimately furthered the conservative agenda. Talk about a curveball.
But accomplishing daunting tasks like these seem to have been a specialty of Lincoln’s. He created an impressive argument filled with historical facts and connections about the founders’ personal voting backgrounds and policy initiatives without a single Google search or Facebook inquiry. Using this information, he managed to sway his listeners that the founders would have, in fact, supported a federal move to end slavery across the board, and since good conservatives are committed to the ideas of those who built this country, they should be in favor of the notion as well. Talk about a homerun.
So what is the impact of Lincoln’s words at Cooper Union today? Obviously the Emancipation Proclamation and the 13th Amendment did nothing but good for the longevity of America. However, a larger lesson can be learned here. The most glorious ideal of Lincoln’s legacy is that he did not let the political pressures of his day dictate his morals. Sure, he may have leaned further to the right than to the left, but even when confronted with dissent from his own party and peers, he knew with confidence and conviction that his stance was correct. He knew the role of Government is to protect the rights of its people first and foremost, even if seemingly drastic action must be taken.
Perhaps the lessons from Cooper Union could be applied all the way from Capitol Hill rallies to legislative chambers. Do not be confined to the boundaries of rules and norms established by any particular political agenda. Morals should guide policy, not the other way around.
So lay conformity to the side, and step up to the plate. Choose your words carefully, and wait for your pitch. Then take your stand, and swing for the fences.