[Marxism] Marx on Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation

Ralph Johansen mdriscollrj at charter.net
Mon Mar 13 22:14:10 MDT 2017

I just stumbled on this while looking for something else:

Lincoln is a /sui generis/ figure in the annals of history. He has no 
initiative, no idealistic impetus, no cothurnis, no historical 
trappings. He gives his most important actions always the most 
commonplace form. Other people claim to be "fighting for an idea," even 
when it is for them a matter of square feet of land. Lincoln, even when 
he is motivated by an idea, talks about "square feet." He sings the 
bravura aria of his part hesitatively, reluctantly and unwillingly, as 
though apologizing for being compelled by circumstances to "act the 
lion." The most redoubtable decrees - which will always remain 
remarkable historical documents - flung by him at the enemy will look 
like, and are intended to look like, routine summonses sent by a lawyer 
to the lawyer of the opposing party, legal chicaneries, involved, 
hide-bound /actiones juris/. His latest proclamation, which is drafted 
in the same style, the manifesto abolishing slavery, is the most 
important document in American history since the establishment of the 
Union, tantamount to the tearing up of the old American Constitution.

Nothing is simpler than to show that Lincoln's principal political 
actions contain much that is aesthetically repulsive, logically 
inadequate, farcical in form and politically contradictory. as is done 
by the English Pindar of slaves, /The Times/, /The Saturday Review/ 
and/tutti quanti/. But Lincoln's place in the history of the United 
States and of mankind will, nevertheless, be next to that of Washington! 
Nowadays, when the insignificant struts about melodramatically on this 
side of the Atlantic, is it of no significance at all that the 
significant is clothed in everyday dress in the new world?

Lincoln is not the product of a popular revolution. This plebeian, who 
worked his way up from stone-breaker to Senator in Illinois, without 
intellectual brilliance, without a particularly outstanding character, 
without exceptional importance - an average person of good will, was 
placed at the top by the interplay of the forces of universal suffrage 
unaware of the great issues at stake. The new world has never achieved a 
greater triumph than by this demonstration that, given its political and 
social organization, ordinary people of good will can accomplish feats 
which only heroes could accomplish in the old world!

Hegel once observed that comedy is in fact superior to tragedy and 
humourous reasoning superior to grandiloquent reasoning. Although 
Lincoln does not possess the grandiloquence of historical action, as an 
average man of the people he has its humour. When does he issue the 
proclamation declaring that from January 1, 1863, slavery in the 
Confederacy shall be abolished? At the very moment when the Confederacy 
as an independent state decided on "peace negotiations" at its Richmond 
Congress. At the very moment when the slave-owners of the border states 
believed that the invasion of Kentucky by the armies of the South had 
made the "peculiar institution" just as safe as was their domination 
over their compatriot, President Abraham Lincoln in Washington.

- MECW 19:250

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