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In Mexico City there is a mural by Diego Rivera which depicts Hernando Cortez as a one-eyed syphilitic hunchback What this lacks in historical accuracy it makes up for by faithfully reflecting the artists attitude toward the conquistadors We are repeatedly told on public television that Lincoln was a clearly heroic figure If heroism is measured by the size of the pile of corpses a man leaves behind this is correct We must not let our emotions deprive us of objectivity Lincoln was neither one-eyed hunchbacked nor syphilitic but on the other hand he never deserved the name of Honest Abe Like some other politicians maybe all politicians he spoke with a forked tongueLincoln came to power at a unique time with a unique opportunity to decide the fate of the nation and of a million of his fellow citizens who wound up as casualties of the Civil War There was no lack of counsel Editor Horace Greeley and a host of others advised letting the seceding states go in peace More ardent abolitionists were outraged by this suggestion Ralph Waldo Emerson and James Russell Lowell welcomed a civil war as an antidote to the greed of Northern merchants and the cruelty of Southern slave owners Outgoing President Buchanan thought secession was illegal but so would be the use of force to prevent it But Lincoln needed no advice He reversed Buchanans policy of giving up Southern military posts on demand and the war was on How and why was this a rational decisionOf course Lincoln stoutly denied it was to abolish slavery The four slave states which did not secede had a greater population greater than half that of the eleven states which did To proclaim an anti-slavery crusade would substantially increase his problem As a minority president from a field of four candidates his mandate was thin his party platform did not call for abolition but merely containing slavery within its present borders
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