Passion, Politics, and Finance

By Erin Mast

Watching President-elect Obama’s acceptance speech tonight, it was not altogether surprising to hear him invoke a quote by Lincoln.  “As Lincoln said to a nation far more divided than ours, ‘We are not enemies, but friends…though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection.”  (First Inaugural, March 4, 1861).  Numerous presidents have quoted Lincoln to reflect on past hardship and change as a way of inspiring people to forge ahead or fight the good fight.

After his election, it would be nearly 3 months before Lincoln delivered his inaugural address.  Passions were flaring.  With the rumblings of secession and concerns over the state of financial affairs, folks were anxious to hear from Lincoln.  In response to one request, he wrote a letter that included his response to the state of financial affairs.  Given the nature of the country’s finances, I wanted to share a quote from that Lincoln letter, “I am not insensible to any commercial or financial depression that may exist; but nothing is to be gained by fawning around the ‘respectable scoundrels’ who got it up. Let them go to work and repair the mischief of their own making; and then perhaps they will be less greedy to do the like again.”  (A. Lincoln to T. Smith, November 1860)

Comparisons have and will be made between Lincoln and Obama.  Issues of unity and disunity, change and transformation, crisis and opportunity are not new to this nation.  But it’s always important to remember that while history does have a tendency to repeat itself and we have much to learn from our past, Lincoln and Obama and the challenges they had to/have to address are unique to their respective time and place.

Ms. Mast is the Curator at President Lincoln’s Cottage.

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