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jeudi, février 14, 2013

Lincoln's Constitutional Leadership

Must a government, of necessity,” he asked, “be too strong for the liberties of its own people or too weak to maintain its own existence?”  Abraham Lincoln (1).




"Political genius" or "aspiring tyrant" ? Understanding the political legacy of Abraham Lincoln and his life's work has posed throughout the years a great challenge to many.  Scholars have described as an exemplary leader, a symbol of moral grandeur and heroism during times of hardship for the United States. Describing Lincoln as a complex mind and leader is an understatement.

Abraham Lincoln (February 12, 1809 – April 15, 1865) political leadership is back on the limelight. The philosophy of the 16th president of the United States has long been the subject of public scrutiny, interest in his legacy has never waned, even more recently thanks to the Academy's award nominated movie by Steven Spielberg, in which Daniel Day-Lewis offers us a stunning performance playing a Civil War time president, battling in the political field to pass the thirteen amendment regarding slavery abolition.

Yale political science professor Stephen B. Smith (2), presents the principles of constitutional government according to Lincoln, in a New York Times' article, poses the question 
What Sort of Leader Was Lincoln?

In essence one could summarize A. Lincoln views as:
  • The principles are opposed to that of majority rule.
  • constitutions are made :
    • to restrain power whether it is 
      • power of a king (It is a device that helps to prevent the boundless field of absolutism) or 
      • power of popular majority (its vote doesn't confer the absolute power to do what it wanted)
    • to avoid a descent to anarchy by means of the aforementioned power of popular majority.
  • Individual consent forms the essence of constitutional government.
  •  Secession impedes the operations of a free elected government
  • A government should carry on its constitutional duties regardless of political motives or opportunities
"To his infinite credit, Lincoln realized that free elections should not, even in principle, be sacrificed even if the cost might be the end of constitutional government. For constitutional leadership, the ends do not justify the means. Constitutional leadership is necessarily limited or bounded leadership. It is in this possibility of a leader operating within the limits of constitutional restraint that the hope of our republic rests."





(1) : Abraham Lincoln's Special Message to Congress of July 4, 1861.
(2): Stephen B. Smith article on Lincoln's constitutional leadership.
(3): images sources:  lincoln and constitution