Government’s role within the american democracy
Debate of whether the government should be a union of states or the various states being sovereign independent units.
In the Gettysburg address, President Lincoln brings out certain aspects of America as a nation and the civil war, especially the battle at Gettysburg, which is very controversial.
In referring to the reason for the civil war, and the sacrifice of the soldiers, Lincoln tends to assume that the issues he represents and his way of thinking are what all Americans wanted and needed.
In Lincoln’s speech, he mentioned the war being a test of endurance with respect to the principles that the founding fathers had: all men are created equal and should live in liberty. Lincoln’s view of a democracy involved unity through a single centralized government. He led his party to believe and fight for unity in administration. This view is supported by most aspects of the formation of America as the United States of America. A central government represented the unity of the American people. (Herndon, William H. and Jesse W. Welk.111-134) However, the other divide in the civil war, the confederates, believed that they represented the true principles of the founding fathers. The confederates advocated for independent states without the rule of a central government. To the confederates, this was indeed in accordance with the liberty principle.
The unionists and the confederates seemed to have a common vision, a government of the people, for the people and by the people, but they differed in the strategy to achieve the vision. The unionists’ preference was for unity through a central government, while the confederates’ preference was for liberty through individual state governments.
In my view, although the individual government’s rule propagated by the confederates best represents the principle of liberty; it does also misrepresent the description of a government of the people, for the people and by the people. In this case it would be governments of the people, for the people and by the people.
Lincoln’s believe in a single government represented the democracy principle adequately by advocating for a single central government. However, his view diluted the liberty principle of single independent states.
The Gettysburg address clearly gave the correct founding principle of the United States of America. The speech brought out the sacrifice of the soldiers who died during the Gettysburg battle as a sacrifice against the disintegration of the United States of America.
In his speech, Lincoln not only put forward the challenge of future governments but also challenged future generations to continue with the struggle that the soldiers at Gettysburg had fought for. The role of government from this address, clearly comes out as to ensure the unity of the United States of America through a single government. The American civil war was a clear indication of the potential threat that lay in individual states’ rule. It was clear that many central governments would jeopardize the unity and peace in the nation. Individual states’ government could not be given a chance of existence, and that is the role of government in the democracy of a nation as insinuated in the Gettysburg speech.
Role of Slavery and States Rights in the Civil War
The American civil war, which was a precedent to the Gettysburg battle and subsequent address, was itself instigated by the slavery and states rights issues. (Herndon, William H. and
Jesse W. Welk.99-127)
By the onset of the civil war, slavery and its implications was a major point of diversion in the American administration. The republicans, led by President Lincoln, believed in restoring and preserving the principle of ‘all men are created equal’, which was laid down by the founding fathers of the United States of America. The democrats of whom some became leaders of the Confederation faction, were strongly against the proposal that one government should abolish slavery in all the member states (McPherson, James M .35-63).
Most of the southern states fought against the calls of slavery abolishment. They felt that they had the right to choose whether they would abolish slavery or not. This slavery issue divided America into two: those for and those against slavery. Slavery created a point of diversion between the to-be unionists and the confederationists (Shaw, Albert, 56-81).
In his Gettysburg address, Lincoln stressed the preservation of the founding principles of the United States of America, one among them being that all men are created equal. This point of stress seemed to be now unpopular in America; it was a huge gamble for Lincoln
Considering that elections were due to be held the next year in 1864, which would explain
Why he did not refer to it directly in his speech.
Through his speech, the role of government in the democracy of America is shown as: to protect the interests of all its citizens whether majorities or minorities, whether the decision is popular or unpopular. This role of government was earlier confirmed by the signing of the emancipation proclamation in 1862, which marked the onset of freedom for the slaves in calling for the living to continue with the struggle enhanced by the dead soldiers at Gettysburg and consequent protection of liberty, Lincoln was asking for the support of his administration’s decision to sign the proclamation. This act marked he renaissance of the principle that all men are created equal and should have equal rights, privileges and opportunity.
The states rights issue formed the basis of the civil war. The unionists fought against the principle of a individual government while the confederationists fought against the principle of a central government, which was in existence at the time of the civil war. In the view of the Unionists, the government’s role was to preserve the principle of democracy as the united states of America. The unionists believed that single state governments would jeopardize the unity of America and would therefore undermine the principle and the name of their country since there would be no uniting factor. (Herndon, William H. and Jesse W. Welk.22-45)
The confederationists on the other hand believed that democracy would be practiced best if the single states were left to rule themselves. (McPherson, James M .39-52).
They propagated that each state should have the right to make its own laws and enforce them totally exclusive of the greater nation of America. This believes were founded on the argument that the single central government would impose laws which were not favored by all, with the
Act as an example.
The American war according to the confederationists was indeed a fight for the restoration of democracy. Democracy in the sense of self rule more than a government of the people, by the people and for the people (Shaw, Albert.119-140).
In view of the confederationist’s argument, the role of the government is portrayed as: to protect the individual rights and decisions of its citizens. The signing of the Emancipation Proclamation by Lincoln was seen as a misrepresentation of the wishes of some of the Americans.
If the wishes of the confederationists were to be met, each state would have the right to make its independent decision on the slavery issue. The civil became an indication of the strength in unity against individualism. This was stressed by Lincoln in the Gettysburg speech, at the beginning, gives that very unity of the nation as the foundation on which America was formed.
By accepting the calls for states’ rights, Lincoln would be undermining this foundation.
The Evolution of Lincoln’s thinking.
Up to the point of the Gettysburg address, Lincoln had demonstrated a new kind of thinking among the leaders of the United States of America. He negated and questioned several conventionalities, such as slavery. This new and different kind of thinking rubbed many people the wrong way including those of his colleagues. Lincoln’s fundamental differences in thinking was in the slavery and the states’ rights issues. On the slavery issue, Lincoln felt that if America was founded on the principle that all men were created equal, why then were some people (Blacks) serving others (whites) as slaves? To Lincoln, to abolish slavery was more of a moral obligation than an act of state administration. In signing the Emancipation Proclamation, Lincoln showed that it wasn’t in another man’s power to decide the whether another man should be free.
Every man has the right to be free. (McPherson, James M .102-111) The signing also Portrayed Lincoln as a morally driven leader since the proclamation was unpopular amongst the white majority and the following two years, 1864, a national election was due. Indeed, president Lincoln had a change in view about the government, slavery and the war’s meaning. I think that Lincoln’s view of government changed when his position on slavery was objected by his Colleagues who later became the leaders of confederation army. Lincoln felt that individual States’ government was threatening to the future unity of the United States of America. (Shaw, Albert.133-154).
He felt that he had to do everything in his power to protect the principles by which the United States of America was founded on. He realized that he had to change his thinking towards the system of government that America adopted to that of unifying the whole nation other than one which would interpret democracy as individual rule by the member states of America. Lincoln had a change in his thinking towards slavery. Earlier on in his political career, Lincoln’s view on the matter was just like any other American…we was born when slavery was right and therefore he did not see any reason to abolish it. (Shaw, Albert.72-99).
In his earlier political career, Lincoln never brought up the slavery issue, we however see it in the middle of his first administration. Lincoln seemed to have received a flash of insight this forever changed his legacy.
The civil war and the meaning of it changed for Lincoln when to him and the rest of America, the purpose of the war changed from that of protecting individual interests to that of protecting the founding principals of the United States of America. The aggressors in the civil war fought harder as it dawned to them what was at stake in the war. Lincoln, just like every other party in the war, changed his view on the war and resolved to protect the founding principle of America, that every man is created equal. (McPherson, James M .44-51)
In view of the American civil war, its beginning, its casualties, its implications and the Gettysburg address, it is safe to say that the role of government in the democracy of America is to protect the collective interests of the united nation, against credible but threatening individual preferences. (Shaw, Albert.160-178).
Herndon, William H. and Jesse W. Welk. Abraham Lincoln: The True Story of A Great Life New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1892
McPherson, James M.””The Art of Abraham Lincoln””. The New York Review of Books, Volume 39, Number 13. (1992)
“Pericles’ Funeral Oration from Thucydides: Peloponnesian War””. Liberty Library of Constitutional Classics. The Constitution Society (2007).
Shaw, Albert, The American Monthly Review of Reviews: The Review of Reviews Company, 1901.