Thoughts on Abraham Lincoln from Cornel West

Abraham Lincoln as featured in the Lincoln Museum at Hodgenville, KY. Photo by B. Nash

Abraham Lincoln as featured in the Lincoln Museum at Hodgenville, KY. Photo by B. Nash



Once again, I found myself in a bookstore. This was no new bookstore-this business sold used books. I have in the past found many “treasures” in used bookstores. On this particular day, I came across a book by Dr. Cornel West- Democracy Matters: Winning the Fight Against Imperialism. This is not a book I would purchase.  However, I did look inside to see if there were any comments by Dr. West regarding Abraham Lincoln. There were, indeed, several references to Lincoln in the volume. I have seen Dr. West, by the way, interviewed on television-primarily by Bill O’Reilly. He is not unfamiliar to me. I don’t agree with him on certain things-but that could be said about anyone. So please find the excerpt I have chosen from his book about Lincoln and digest his thoughts as you will. As follows:

“The greatness of Abraham Lincoln was his courage to confront publicly the nightside of American democracy through deep Socratic questioning, unfailing prophetic love of justice, and excruciating tragicomic hope for a “more perfect union,” even in the midst of the white supremacist hurricane that nearly wiped out the American democratic experiment off the map. Despite his distance from fervid abolitionists, his authoritarian lifting of habeas corpus during the Civil War, and his reluctance to embrace multiracial democracy. Lincoln exemplifies the integrity of democratic energy. He knew that democratic experiments require not only courageous truth telling but also practical wisdom. Lincoln was morally opposed to slavery, yet the decision to free the slaves (though those in the Confederate South only) was nonetheless a herculean battle for him. That battle in itself is emblematic of the horrible intertwining of democracy, race, and empire at the core of the nation. He knew all too well the fragility of the support for the Union cause among key border states and that freeing the slaves would likely throw them over to the Confederacy, and so his love of the American democratic experiment caught him in a horrible irony that required him to condone the most antidemocratic of American practices…” 

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