In the spring of 1860, the city of Chicago completed the construction of “The Wigwam.” It was a 12,000 seat convention hall, built to house the Republican Convention. It was only the second time the party assembled to select a Presidential Candidate. Entering the convention New York Governor William Seward was the favorite, followed by Senators Salmon P. Chase of Ohio and Simon Cameron of Pennsylvania, and Congressman Edward Bates of Missouri. The dark-horse was a little-known attorney and one-term Congressman from Illinois, named Abraham Lincoln.
As was the tradition of the day, none of the candidates attended the convention. They instead, relied upon their operatives on the floor to do the dirty work. The local son Lincoln had the advantage; his supporters packed the hall, and literally left the Seward, Chase, Cameron, and Bates supporters, outside in the cold. On the third ballot, Abraham Lincoln was nominated as the Republican Candidate for President.
Lincoln defeated a split democratic party and became the 16th President of the United States. In a display of humility that befuddles the modern political mind, Lincoln appointed his one-time adversaries to his cabinet. William Seward became the Secretary of State, Salmon Chase the Secretary of Treasury, Simon Cameron the Secretary of War, and Edward Bates the Attorney General. When asked why he selected his political rivals, Lincoln responded, “We needed the strongest men of the party in the cabinet. These were the very strongest men. I had no right to deprive the country of their services.”
Abraham Lincoln is considered by many to be the greatest American President. Russian author Leo Tolstoy said he was, “Christ in miniature, a saint of humanity, whose name will live thousands of years in the legends of future generations.” Still, understanding Lincoln’s greatness isn’t easy, because he was an extremely complex individual. He grew up in dire poverty and had an inferiority complex. He experienced the loss of two siblings and a mother early in life, and suffered from bouts of depression. Nevertheless, despite this adversity, he was, as his friend and law partner William Herndon described, “A man totally swallowed up in his ambitions.”
As President, Lincoln endured the insubordination of his military commanders, the ridicule of the press, and the scorn of his own party. Yet, he masterfully led the nation through its darkest hour, abolished slavery, and restored the Union. However, the source of Lincoln’s greatness isn’t found in his ambition or drive, or even in his accomplishments. The true foundation of Lincoln’s greatness is rooted in his compassion for others, and in his humility.
In Christian Theology, humility is one of the seven contrary virtues, which counteracts the seven deadly sins. Humility counters pride, which is the original sin, from which all other sin flows. Humility begins with the acknowledgement that we are all products of original sin. That is, flawed and imperfect beings, prone to selfishness, egotistical in nature, and often arrogant and unfeeling in our actions. Humility establishes in us an understanding of Christian equality, and affirms the inherent worth of all persons. As C.S. Lewis said, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but rather thinking about yourself less.”
Humility enables us to overcome our selfishness, and instills in us a sense of fairness, and a passion for justice. It gives us the courage to undertake the tasks, which are difficult, tedious and unglamorous, and helps us to graciously and willingly accept the sacrifices involved. Humility distinguishes the wise leader from the arrogant power-seeker, and enables us together, with the grace of God, to accomplish truly great things.
Today, however, humility is passé. It is a remnant of the Judeo-Christian ethic that is being displaced by our new incubator of virtue, the Secular-Progressive ethic.
So, what is the Secular-Progressive ethic, and what are the virtues that it promotes? The Secular-Progressive ethic rejects the notion that there is a divine moral authority, and relies solely upon the logic, reason, and moral intuition of the individual. It further rejects the concept of original sin, believing that man is inherently good, and capable of being his own moral authority. There are no moral absolutes, all morality is relative to the individual; their training, education and cultural norms. Subsequently, the focus is on the individual; their fulfillment, enjoyment and satisfaction.
The Secular-Progressive ethic gave rise to the “do your own thing,” and “if it feels, good it can’t be wrong” philosophies that emerged in America during the sixties. The primary virtue that it promotes is selfishness, because it’s all about me, what I want, and what makes me happy. The secondary virtues it promotes are; materialism, greed and arrogance.
Fifty-years of the Secular-Progressive ethic has metastasized and overwhelmed the traditional American family; half of our marriages end in divorce, forty-percent of our births are out-of-wedlock, and the number of children raised in single-parent households has doubled. It has raised a generation of self-absorbed, materialistic, and entitled narcissists, and created a class of citizens who are terminally dependent upon the state. It has produced political leaders who are arrogant, and so certain of their own infallibility, that they are unwilling to compromise, and incapable of tolerating anyone with a different opinion. The Secular-Progressive ethic has forever altered the American virtue, and the concept of what it is to be an American.
Not all of Lincoln’s cabinet members served throughout the war, Secretary Cameron, to avoid scandal and prosecution, resigned his post and became the Ambassador to Russia. He was succeeded by Secretary of War Edwin Stanton.
Lincoln first met Stanton in 1855, when Stanton, a prominent Washington lawyer was involved in a patent case against the powerful McCormick Reaper Company. The trial was scheduled to take place in Chicago, and Stanton needed a local attorney. Someone recommended Lincoln, and Lincoln sight unseen, was invited to join the legal team. However, the trial was moved to Cincinnati, and Lincoln had to pack up his briefs and travel to Ohio. Upon seeing the gangly, unkempt Lincoln for the first time, Stanton remarked, “I will not have that long-armed ape on my team.” Lincoln, handed over his research, and watch the trial from the gallery.
A decade later, Abraham Lincoln lay dying in the Petersen Boarding House, across the street from Ford’s Theater, with his son Robert, Secretary Stanton, and a number of other dignitaries gathered at his bedside. Finally, on April 15, 1865 at 7:22 in the morning, Abraham Lincoln died, and stenographer James Tanner recorded the following.
“Mr. Stanton raised his head, the tears streaming down his face, a more agonized expression I never saw on a human countenance, as he sobbed out the words: ‘He belongs to the angels now.’”