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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 The most redoubtable decrees - which will always remain remarkable historical documents - flung by him at the enemy will look like, and are intended to look like, routine summonses sent by a lawyer to the lawyer of the opposing party, legal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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