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Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Price of Fame (Part One)


(Note:  This is the first segment in a new three part series which begins here today.)

How dear is the price of fame?  Why is it that some stop at nothing to achieve it, yet it will elude them consistently?  Why do others pay little regard to fame, yet it will find them, become cemented into our culture and endure?

With President Obama’s successful 2012 re-election to a second term now behind us, the minds of ordinary citizens are free once again to draw upon the inspiration of the Great Emancipator.  Consider the case of Abraham Lincoln, who also faced significant second term headwinds.  Most would agree that Lincoln was a modest man of humble and ordinary ambitions.  Consider that Lincoln’s now legendary fame was not achieved until a bullet from the gun of John Wilkes Booth, the assassin, lodged in his brain.  And the success of his visionary leadership was not assured until many, many decades after his passing.

Lincoln held the belief, somewhat peculiar during his time, that a black man was entitled to that same fair chance in the race of life as his white counterpart.  It is interesting to study Lincoln from his own perspective:  “Understanding the spirit of our institutions is to aim at the elevation of men.  I am opposed to whatever tends to degrade them.”

In the election of 1860 that catapulted Lincoln to the presidency the South had split into divided political camps, each putting up their own man for president.  Lincoln’s name was not even on the ballot in 10 Southern states.  However, the split among his political opposition enabled Lincoln to win the election with less than 40% of the popular vote.  But, in an ominous sign, Lincoln had received exactly 0 electoral votes from the 15 southern slave states. [i]

These states believed, in essence, that they had the right to nullify the results of an election which they did not win.  So, it was no mystery that between the presidential election in November 1860 and Lincoln’s inauguration in February 1861, 7 Southern states would secede from the Union.  After the attack on Fort Sumter, South Carolina a few months later, 4 more states would secede, bringing the total to 11.  A new country, the Confederate State of America, had been born.

Frederick F. Dent, a Missouri slaveholder, and the father of General Grant’s wife, perhaps put it best:

Good Heavens!  If old Jackson had been in the White House, this never would have happened.  He would have hanged a score or two of them, and the country would have been at peace.  I knew we would have trouble when I voted for a man north of Mason and Dixon’s line.


Few people today remember that a rebel plot in 1861 to assassinate Lincoln in Baltimore before his inauguration on the train ride from Illinois to Washington, DC was foiled.  Disguised in a sleeper car and without guard, Lincoln rode through the station the night before he was scheduled to come through.  The would-be assassins were left scratching their heads, when the train Lincoln was supposed to be on came through the station the next day, empty.

The Civil War was upon us.  President Lincoln saw it not just as a conflict in arms but, rather, a “people’s contest:”

On the side of the Union, it is a struggle for maintaining in the world that form and substance of government whose leading object is to elevate the condition of men … to afford all an unfettered start, and a fair chance, in the race of life.


But to put it mildly, Abraham Lincoln’s war did not make him a very popular man.  The early prosecution of the war by the North was notorious for its incompetence.  Blame was, of course, laid at the feet of the Union’s commander-in-chief.

If President Lincoln harbored any ambition at all toward re-election, he guarded that ambition closely.  And the odds were not favorable in any case.  For since the time of George Washington, no northern president had ever won re-election.  It was highly unlikely that Lincoln should be the first.

(In the next segment readers follow President Lincoln to the depths of his political lows during the 1862 Congressional midterm elections.)


-Michael D’Angelo



 [i]  In the presidential election of 1860, the national vote tally was as follows:

    Candidate:                     Party:                Popular Vote:              Electoral Vote:      Voter Participation:

    Abraham Lincoln         Republican      1,865,593 (39.8%)               180                              81.2%

    Stephen A. Douglas    Democratic      1,382,713 (29.5%)                 12

    John C. Breckenridge  Democratic         846,356 (18.1%)                 72

    John Bell                       Union                  592,906 (12.6%)                 39

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting! I didn't know the South seceded between the time Lincoln was elected and the inauguration. Also didn't know there was a previous assassination attempt while he was enroute to his 1st inauguration! Thanks!

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