Lincoln remains most influential of past presidents

Today we celebrate the 200th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birth. He is the most widely honored president, certainly by Americans, and probably throughout the world.

Despite everything that has been written about him, Lincoln remains a mystery.

He was a quintessential politician: He would keep his word until it was expedient not to. He would shape or even discard his most cherished hopes for immediate gain. It is difficult to be certain whether anything he said wasn’t crafted and hedged to persuade.

Even the Emancipation Proclamation was carefully tailored for its political effect. To keep the good will of the border states, it did not free a single slave. Yet he and most everyone knew that, when the North won, it must free all the slaves. To use a modern term, the proclamation was carefully crafted to give him plausible deniability.