November 4, 2016
-yăp), n., 1. A small gift from a store owner to a customer who has just made a purchase; 2. An extra or unexpected gift or benefit.)
What, a Lagniappe after a l l this time?
The forest is quiet as the sun rises, sending brilliant streaks of red and orange across the dark horizon. Here and there a crow starts to rise, and goldfinches began their daily search for thistle along the forest's edge. The oak, maple and birch rustle a little in a mild breeze. Just the usual calm morning sounds when ...
The earth seems to split with a tremendous
C-R-A-C-K. Oaks - OAKS - cascade like kindling down what is now, suddenly, a small but growing hill. Huge clods of earth and boulders the size of buffalos fall away as a giant, human in general form but vastly bigger and commensurately more powerful, rises from below the surface.
Within minutes, it stands tall, places its feet apart, reaches its arms up and screams:
LANDSMAN'S LAGNIAPPE IS BACK!
Indeed it is. There are desperate times. The nation is in peril, at risk of electing a fool, a prevaricator, a charlatan and a mountebank, as president.
The Lagniappe cannot but attempt to do its modest part to change this doleful course of events.
What's in store for you?
Like one of my principal competitors, The New Yorker, which took the usual step of devoting its entire "Talk of the Town" column this week to the election, I will do the same with this last pre-election Landsman's Lagniappe. Also like The New Yorker, I am appalled at the prospect of someone of the character of Donald Trump becoming president. Indeed, though I have always been a democrat, as well as a Democrat, the fact that someone so spectacularly unqualified could get this far, and this close, only underscores Winston Churchill's observation, which I will quote from the November 11, 1947 House of Commons debate when he said this much paraphrased or misquoted remark:
Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time....
And so it is. It is in the spirit of thinking about democracy that - facing the risk of electing the worst major party candidate for president in American history - I think it useful that we think about the best ever to hold that office, Abraham Lincoln, of course. I may be a fan of Lincoln's, as regular readers of this august journal are now doubt aware, but I am hardly alone in holding that view of Lincoln. This is not to say Lincoln was without flaws, nor that he did not commit grievous errors, both political and governmental, and indeed inconsistent with more than a few democratic principles. He directed the Army officers who had received a writ of habeas corpus issued by none other than Roger Taney, author of the
Dred Scott decision, to disregard the order. He explained a short time later, in his July 4, 1861, address to Congress calling upon it to provide resources to resist secession, "[A]re all the laws but one to go unexecuted and the Government itself go to pieces lest that one be violated?" Such it is in time of war and dire threats to the nation itself. It bears emphasis that when he so acted, it was out of long and deep consideration of the greater mandate that he bore.
I will give this issue over to a review of some of the highlights of Lincoln's life and tenure as President. I will comment from time to time on Donald Trump, but will leave it to the readers to contemplate the enormity of the gap between the two. I will close with a few words about the other candidate, Hillary Clinton.
|Ron M. Landsman, P.A. Newsletter
TRUMP: THE ANTI-LINCOLN
Nothing so marks the decline of the Republican Party as its descent from Abraham Lincoln, the first Republican president, to Donald Trump, the current Republican candidate for that position. On any measure of character, ability, insight, intelligence, compassion, principle, or manliness, where Lincoln is a paragon, Trump is a parody.
To be sure, few leaders of any era - let alone us quotidian members of the hoi polloi - look all that good compared to Lincoln. Even after discounting for the idealization attendant to his martyrdom, Lincoln was an exceptional man. He rose from poverty and want of education to exercise supreme political power, in part through rare, spare, timeless eloquence. He achieved what no other person could have, preservation of the Union and the republican form of government, against horrific odds. But if other political leaders cannot match him, most are at least playing the same game, in the same ballpark, by similar rules. If none can measure up, at least they consider Lincoln a model to admire and to aspire to, and we can measure them by their success in that effort.
Donald Trump is something else, a fool, a prevaricator, a charlatan and a mountebank, a reverse Midas who dirties all that he touches, and who confirms the warning (wrongly attributed to Lincoln) that you can fool some of the people all of the time.
Most readers of this journal have surely read all they want to about Donald Trump. I will not add to your indigestion. Rather, I will pick those topics about which both Donald Trump and Abraham Lincoln can be said to have spoken or acted, and provide a somewhat detailed review of what I know of Lincoln's history, and perhaps not well known to my readers.
For each word or deed, try to imagine Donald Trump. What would he say? What would he do?
Would he appeal, as did Lincoln did in his First Inaugural, to the "better angels of our nature" in an attempt to forestall looming civil war?
Would he, as Lincoln did, against tremendous pressure to do something, wait out a potential adversary until it fired the first shot, thus providing Lincoln with the aroused and angry majority that he needed to unite a people to wage four years of bloody and, until the very end, largely indeterminate war?
Would he, as Lincoln did, study trial records and overturn the convictions of 264 out of 303 men - members of a despised minority - condemned to hanging for brutal attacks on whites, including many women and children, when there was no possible political benefit to him - and only risk - for doing so?
Could he ever, if he lived another 100 years, ever think to write to a mother who had lost all five sons in battle:
I have been shown in the files of the War Department a statement of the Adjutant General of Massachusetts that you are the mother of five sons who have died gloriously on the field of battle.
I feel how weak and fruitless must be any word of mine which should attempt to beguile you from the grief of a loss so overwhelming. But I cannot refrain from tendering you the consolation that may be found in the thanks of the Republic they died to save .
I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom.
Yours, very sincerely and respectfully,
To ask these questions is to answer them.
Where shall I start?
Integrity. Lincoln was ambitious, very much so, to be sure - no one in public life does not succeed without substantial ambition - but Lincoln only knew one way to obtain public esteem: by meriting it. His public statement in his first campaign for public office, for a seat in the Illinois House in 1832 (and the only popular vote he ever lost), began,
Every man is said to have his peculiar ambition. Whether it be true or not, I can say for one that I have no other so great as that of being truly esteemed of my fellow men, by rendering myself worthy of their esteem.
That Lincoln statement ends with familiar modesty.
[I]f the good people in their wisdom shall see fit to keep me in the background, I have been too familiar with disappointments to be very much chagrined.
Respect for others. Lincoln had an intense interest in other people and what they had to say. Like many great politicians - Bill Clinton and Lyndon Johnson come to mind - he focused intensely on the person he was talking to.
There is no better illustration of this than Lincoln's meetings with Frederick Douglass, the former slave and Abolitionist leader, first at the White House on August 10, 1863, to discuss the unequal treatment of blacks in the Army, and on August 19, 1864, to talk about recruiting blacks to serve in the Union Army. Douglass was one of the first blacks to walk into the White House as a guest rather than servant or workman, and Lincoln talked with him each time undisturbed for hours. 'I have just come from President Lincoln,' Army Chaplain John Eaton recalled Douglass saying after the latter meeting; Douglass made no attempt to suppress his excitement. "He treated me as a man; he did not let me feel for a moment that there was any difference in the color of our skins! The President is a most remarkable man. I am satisfied now that he is doing all that circumstances will permit him to do."
Trustworthiness - keeping one's word. The Emancipation Proclamation, issued by President Lincoln under his war powers as president, freed slaves in all areas of the United States still in a state of rebellion on January 1, 1863. His stated purpose was to weaken the Confederacy and strengthen the Union and so to shorten the war. There were more than a few in the North who disapproved, for the usual reasons. Lincoln wrote a letter to his supporter, James Conkling, on August 26, 1863, to be read at a meeting of Union supporters in Springfield, Ill., on September 1, answering those who wanted him to revoke the Proclamation. Negroes, like all people, he wrote, act for motives, and thus,
[I]f they stake their lives for us, they must be prompted by the strongest motives - even the promise of freedom. And the promise having been made, must be kept.
To Lincoln the last sentence was self-evident.
[T]he promise[,] having been made, must be kept. It was not part of his argument with his hypothetical opponent; making the promise and the need for it is where the argument was. But having made the promise, it was self-evident that Lincoln would do as he said he would: a man keeps his promises. That was perhaps not the only marker of a man, but it was one, a necessary one, a fundamental one. Lincoln avoided giving impromptu public speeches or making public statements that he had not thoroughly thought through, exactly to guard against the risk of committing himself to something he could not or wanted not to do. But conversely, when a commitment was made, there was no alternative but to keep one's word.
In reviewing the Lincoln-Douglass meeting of August, 1863, I came across this related gem. Douglass went to protest the unequal treatment of blacks in the Union armies. Douglass later wrote that Lincoln asked him to
state what I regarded as the ... most disheartening feature in our present political and military situation, [and I responded:] It would be the tardy, hesitating, vacillating policy of the President of the United States.
Douglass recalled that Lincoln allowed that he might seem slow, but that he could not be accused of vacillation:
I think it cannot be shown that when I have once taken a position, I have ever retreated from it.
Honesty. Lincoln wasn't called Honest Abe for nothing, but it is useful to drill down a bit to make sure we neither understate nor overstate that quality. He could be as honest as he was and
still be a successful politician because he was careful in what he said. One approach to truth is to be more careful than one's listeners, knowing you might leave them with an impression contrary to one's state of mind. That may work in a one-off situation, but it does not work over an extended period. My impression is that Lincoln was more honest than that. In claiming that Lincoln could dissemble with the best of them, a columnist recently gave as an example Lincoln's statement in his First Inaugural:
I [have] declare[d] that "I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no awful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so." Those who nominated and elected me did so with full knowledge that I had made this, and many similar declarations, and had never recanted them. ....
was true. Lincoln believed slavery to be a great moral wrong, but as a constitutional lawyer of the first order he knew that as President he had neither the power nor the duty, and as successful politician not the mandate from his election, to interfere with slavery where it existed. Where he differed from Southern political leaders was over the power of the federal government to control slavery in the territories, and it was on that issue, primarily, that Southern fire-eaters led eleven states out of the Union and into rebellion after Lincoln's election.
The point is that Lincoln was honest about his positions. That is, he did not mold his words to obscure his position; rather, he shaped the position to be one he could advocate honestly. This is nowhere better illustrated than in his nuanced views on black rights. He insisted blacks and every other people were included in the Declaration of Independence's assertion that "all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights," but that did not extend, in the present, to perfect civil equality. He was assailed from the left by Abolitionists, and from the right for asserting - to use the words used at the time - "nigger equality." He did not, like some of his Republican colleagues, such as Sen. Lyman Trumbull, try to outdo Democrats in disparaging slaves and free blacks and would not step back from his commitment to the Declaration of Independence as a statement for all men and all times. But neither would he commit political suicide by advocating an advanced position that was outside the boundaries of mainstream political and social thought.
There were not two Lincolns in 1858, but there was a clear difference between the Lincoln of 1858 and the Lincoln of 1864 or 1865. The Civil War changed Lincoln, and his belief in the natural equality of all men helped make that change possible.... In 1858, when Lincoln had refused to sign [a] petition [to abolish Illinois anti-black laws], he viewed the question of equal social and political rights for African Americans as an unwanted distraction. Before such matters could be addressed, Lincoln believed the larger issue of slavery needed to be resolved.
Respect for and mastery of facts and history. Despite his utter lack of formal schooling (about one year, total, in so-called "blab schools" where he learned to "read, write, and cipher to the Rule of Three"), Lincoln was a serious student of history.
The key issue in the debate over slavery in the 1850s was whether Congress had the power to prohibit slavery in the territories - the lands that would in time constitute most of the states of the Union. The Missouri Compromise of 1820 was thought to have settled the issue for a generation by barring slavery above the southern boundary of Missouri, except for Missouri itself. The Compromise of 1850 dealt with the new issues presented by the admission of states from the territories taken in the Mexican-American War. But then, in the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, Sen. Stephen Douglas - to secure Southern Democratic support for a new state of Nebraska through which a trans-continental railroad would pass from his Illinois - agreed to have slavery controlled in the territories under a new doctrine, "popular sovereignty."
The North - and not just Abolitionists - went into an uproar, for this new compromise threw away the principal of Congressional control over slavery in the vast, new Western territory. Lincoln emerged from relative obscurity as a former one-term Whig Congressman by a series of acid-sharp speeches denouncing the spread of slavery. He got the Republican nomination for the Senate seat from Illinois in 1858, challenging Stephen Douglas, and matching him in the justly famed debates. Lincoln won the popular vote but the allocation of votes in the state senate saved the seat for Douglas. Lincoln then set his eyes on the presidency. Knowing he would have to make a name for himself in the East, he decided to make maximum use of a speech scheduled for New York in early 1860, in a series at which all serious Republic candidates would have a chance to speak.
Through the 50s, Douglas' claim had been that Congress lacked authority to control slavery in the territories and in a speech, "as reported in 'The New-York Times," Lincoln said, Douglas asserted, "Our fathers, when they framed the Government under which we live, understood this question just as well, and even better, than we do now."
Lincoln proceeded to review in detail the votes of all thirty-nine individuals who signed the Constitution on every act speaking to Congress' control over slavery in the territories. He identified every one who sat under the original Articles of Confederation and voted for central over state control, five, who he named, and then the sixteen members of the first Congress who adopted legislation endorsing the ban on slavery in the territories in the Ordinance of 1787; and on through laws accepting new states, regulating the Louisiana Territory, and the Compromise of 1820s, all of which involved Congressional authority over slavery in the territories. He thus could identify 21 of the 39 as voting at one time or another in favor of Congressional control of slavery in the territories, the views of the others being unknown.
Throughout, he returned to the recitative that these, and related votes that he analyzed, all spoke to what the Founding Father's knew "better than we."
It was a devastating critique, the product of painstaking work in the Illinois State library in Springfield tracking down the hard facts of history.
After a section addressed to Southerners, he finished with a rousing call to arms and had the audience on its feet, cheering:
Wrong as we think slavery is, we can yet afford to let it alone where it is, because that much is due to the necessity arising from its actual presence in the nation; but can we, while our votes will prevent it, allow it to spread into the National Territories, and to overrun us here in these Free States? If our sense of duty forbids this, then let us stand by our duty, fearlessly and effectively. Let us be diverted by none of those sophistical contrivances wherewith we are so industriously plied and belabored - contrivances such as groping for some middle ground between the right and the wrong, vain as the search for a man who should be neither a living man nor a dead man - such as a policy of "don't care" on a question about which all true men do care - such as Union appeals beseeching true Union men to yield to Disunionists, reversing the divine rule, and calling, not the sinners, but the righteous to repentance - such as invocations to Washington, imploring men to unsay what Washington said, and undo what Washington did.
Neither let us be slandered from our duty by false accusations against us, nor frightened from it by menaces of destruction to the Government nor of dungeons to ourselves. LET US HAVE FAITH THAT RIGHT MAKES MIGHT, AND IN THAT FAITH, LET US, TO THE END, DARE TO DO OUR DUTY AS WE UNDERSTAND IT.
Financial responsibility. Lincoln almost certainly never walked six miles to return a three cent overpayment (a lot more than what $.03 is today, but really, even then not all that much), but no doubt the story is told and re-told because it speaks to the deeper truth of who Lincoln was.
The story that is reasonably well documented is that as a young man, in his 20s, he paid off a much larger debt when he was not legally obligated to do so. He bought a country store in New Salem, Illinois, in 1833, 50-50 with another man, signing a note for his share of the cost, but his partner proved feckless and something of a drunk, and the store "winked out" within the year. Lincoln could have avoided the debt but he chose instead not only to pay it, but also to pay his partner's share when the latter died penniless in 1835. It took Lincoln some years to pay it off; he referred to it in jest as his "national debt."
Respect for the rule of law, even for despised minorities. In August 1862, a large number of Sioux Indians engaged in an uprising against whites in southwestern Minnesota, killing and torturing men and killing, torturing and raping women and children. Putting aside whether some protest was justified (rampant corruption in the Bureau of Indian Affairs with brutal effects on the Sioux), it was a ghastly affair. The response was delayed because of matters further South requiring attention, but within weeks the Sioux were quelled, and while many fled west, many stayed and were tried in military courts martial. Almost 400 of those who did not escape were judged in mass trials, with evidence against individual defendants often not consisting of more than one or two sentences from a single witness, without cross examination or opportunity to respond. Three hundred and ninety-two were tried in about five weeks, 272 "trials" held in just 11 days, from Saturday, Oct. 25, through Wednesday, Nov. 5. Three-hundred and three were sentenced to hang.
But one or two friends of the Sioux got Lincoln's attention, and since these were federal military courts martial, they were subject to his review, and he indicated he would review all of the records. The call for retribution from the white settlers of Minnesota was deafening. Local newspapers outdid each other in their call for quick and summary action:
We tell you, Abraham Lincoln, that the remaining twenty thousand men of Minnesota will never submit to such ingratitude and wrong. We tell you plainly and soberly, if these convicted murderers are dealt with more leniently than other murderers, the people of the State will take the law and vengeance in their own hands, and woe to any member of the hated race that shall be found without our borders.
Lincoln was undeterred. He and one or two aides reviewed all of the records and allowed only 39 of the 303 those initially convicted to be hung. If it was still the largest mass hanging in American history, it was also, by a lot more, the most substantial exoneration on procedural grounds of those convicted in haste.
... Lincoln did not explain ... why he chose to intervene in the Sioux proceeding in the first place when he could have easily ignored it or passed responsibility along to state or army officials. It was a risky move politically at a time when Lincoln's political career seemed to be hanging by a thread. He and his party had lost ground in the off-year  elections only a few weeks before, and the war was going badly. The overwhelming majority of voters in Minnesota were crying for Indian blood and opposed clemency for any convicted Sioux. ... Lincoln was politically astute enough to know that Whipple's [the missionary and friend to the Sioux who had Lincoln's ear] position was unpopular in Minnesota... Assuming a tight contest when Lincoln sought reelection two years hence - and everyone assumed a tight context inevitable - the loss of Minnesota could have ended his political career and even been the decisive factor in the irreparable breakup of the Union. His action in the Sioux matter was politically reckless.
Lincoln offered no explanation for his intervention, perhaps because he thought none was necessary. A grave injustice was about to be done against a despised people who had no friends in power to help them. ... [M]ost of the convicted were marginal players in the drama [;] the worst culprits had escaped. Lincoln had the power to extend mercy where mercy was appropriate, and he did.
This quote is from Hank H. Cox,
Lincoln and the Sioux Uprising of 1862 (Cumberland House 2005), pp. 182-183 (as is all of this discussion). Cox went on to say that Lincoln was "a wily and calculating politician," no doubt true, but that he was passionate about the republican form of government and the rule of law. As a young man, he gave a speech in 1838 in which he objected to the mob killing of an Abolitionist printed in Illinois and advocated obedience to the Constitution and law our "political religion."
In the election of 1864 Lincoln won reelection and carried Minnesota, albeit by a slim margin. Alexander Ramsay [governor at the time of the uprising], who was by then in the U.S. Senate, told Lincoln he would have taken more votes if he had hanged more Indians. "I could not hang men for votes," the President replied.
Id., p. 184.
I am in the Sanders-Warren-Krugman wing of the Democratic Party, and one who thinks that Bill Clinton gave away far too much in triangulating to the center, giving up our fundamental strength as the real party of the working and middle classes, the one that advocates and operates programs that work, not - like the other party - pablum and lip service while carrying water for the wealthy and corporate interests far beyond what serves the interests of the nation. I am not wildly optimistic that Hillary, despite her late conversion, will pursue that greater national interest in the small decisions and the larger strategic choices she makes.
But she has advocated for our shared values her entire life, and has pursued, or at least come to accept, the values that have made the Democratic Party what it is since the 1930s, the real party of the people.
Is she secretive and, as I read in the current New Yorker, feeling entitled more than a tad too much? No doubt.
But consider this. After a lifetime - thirty-five years in public life - of accusations, investigations, and hearings, she has never been formally charged, let alone convicted, of a crime. The fact that she is distrusted lies at least as much with the right-wing accusation machine as with her secretiveness.
Is there a better illustration than Benghazi? Much of the public believes that Clinton was guilty of something - they are not sure what - in her handling of the Benghazi attack as Secretary of State. But after ten Congressional committees held 33 hearings, with 107 witnesses interviewed and than 100,000 documents reviewed, at a cost in excess of $7 million, there has been no finding of administrative wrongdoing or intelligence failure, let alone crime.
I don't know about you, but I wouldn't come off one half so well.
Is she another Lincoln? Hardly. But as Joseph Heller said, when accosted with the fact that he had not written a second book as good as
Catch-22, "Who has?"
It is one thing not to stand up to the standard Lincoln set. It is quite something else to be his walking antithesis. Donald Trump is.
Copyright © 2016 Ron M. Landsman, P.A.
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Copyright © 2012 Ron M. Landsman, P.A.
Ron M. Landsman is a Founding Member (1987) of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys, and is a Fellow of that organization since 1991.
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