Losing Lincoln's Legacy
If you visit the excellent new Ford's Theater Center for Education and Leadership, there is a stack of books on Abraham Lincoln that rises three or four stories. We know that of the making of many books there is no end, but does that also apply to books about our sixteenth president? Apparently so.
Today we celebrate the birthday of the Great Emancipator. In that Ford's Theater exhibit, there are large panel portraits of later presidents who were influenced by, and who sought to guide their steps by, the principles and precedents of Abraham Lincoln.
The first panel shows President Barack Obama. The text below the handsome portrait of our forty-fourth president informs us that he began his career -- as did his fellow Illinoisan -- in the state legislature in Springfield.
The text does not say that Lincoln stood firmly in the State House of Representatives against slavery. He said it was based on "injustice and bad policy." That took a lot of courage for an ambitious politician in the Illinois of that day. It was clear that Illinois voters -- all white -- may have been against slavery, but they were also against abolitionists and against allowing free Negroes to move into their state.
Nowhere does State Sen. Barack Obama's greatest achievement in Springfield get attention these days. But he made it his business to take a stand on Illinois' Infant Born-Alive Protection Act. On many controversial matters, he voted "Present," but on this one bill, he led the effort to kill the measure.
That bill would have required protection for a child born alive following an unsuccessful attempt to kill it through abortion. The bill was intended to protect newborns like those cradled and comforted by Chicago nurse Jill Stanek. Nurse Stanek was horrified to learn that some premature infants born alive had been placed in a dirty laundry closet to gasp out their young lives. Jill Stanek rocked them and sang to these poor little ones as their young lives ebbed away.
Now, when State Sen. Obama killed that measure, it was a most doubtful constitutional matter. The Fourteenth Amendment was passed in 1868, shortly after President Lincoln had succeeded in freeing the slaves through his Emancipation Proclamation, and just three years after the Thirteenth Amendment formally abolished slavery throughout America.
Why would the Fourteenth Amendment be necessary? Because some states were still denying "the equal protection of the laws" to freedmen and women. This amendment stated that "All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside."
Barack Obama was a teacher of constitutional law at the University of Chicago. Surely, he had read the text of one of the most important of Civil War Reconstruction Amendments.
And yet, he voted to deny equal protection of the law to infants born in the United States.
He led the fight to strip the citizenship rights of these children born in Illinois.
So, for Barack Obama, abortion through the entire nine months of pregnancy is not enough. The lives of children already born must be pursued. The license of abortion he defends would extend to the right to a dead child.
How chilling. And yet, the world is being told that Barack Obama is the true inheritor of the Lincoln legacy. He launched his presidential campaign from the steps of that same Illinois state legislature where Lincoln had served. His pre-inaugural journey included a train trip to Washington, D.C. that retraced Lincoln's 1861 route.
He has tried in every way to identify with Lincoln's legacy -- in every way except following his principles and precedents.
There is no doubt that his zealous support for abortion -- extending even to blocking protection for the infant who survives a lethal assault -- has helped President Obama. Hillary Clinton had once been the leading proponent of abortion in the Democratic Party, but Hillary said -- only once -- that "abortion is wrong." (Newsweek, October 31, 1994) And Sen. Hillary Clinton had not objected when the Senate gave unanimous consent to passing the federal Infant Born-Alive Protection Act.
In this, President Obama is much more like Illinois' U.S. Senator Stephen A. Douglas.
Douglas agreed with the Supreme Court that blacks could not be citizens. He agreed with the infamous Dred Scott ruling that said slaves could be taken into free territories and still not be free.
Stephen Douglas said "I don't care" if slavery is voted up or down, so long as the [white] citizens of the territories got to choose. He was the original pro-choice Democrat.
Lincoln watched in dismay as Douglas's career rose like a rocket. He did not envy his Springfield neighbor, but he did say this:
Twenty-two years ago Judge Douglas and I first became acquainted. We were both young then; he a trifle younger than I. Even then, we were both ambitious; I, perhaps, quite as much so as he. With me the race of ambition has been a failure. With him it has been one of splendid success. His name fills the nation and is not unknown, even in foreign lands. I affect no contempt for the high eminence he has reached. So reached, that the oppressed of my species might have shared with me in the elevation, I would rather stand on that eminence, than wear the richest crown that ever pressed a monarch's brow.
We know who the oppressed of our species are today. They are the nearly five million unborn children killed by abortion since President Obama took the oath of office in January, 2009. They are surely the young mothers of Harlem, where the abortion rate for black women is six times that of whites.
No, Abraham Lincoln was not envious of Stephen Douglas. He respected the "high eminence [Douglas] has reached." But Lincoln was not willing to reach that eminence by "blowing out the moral lights around us."
We will continue to pray for President Obama, but today we honor the Lincoln Legacy. He spoke clearly to us when he said the Founders believed: "Nothing stamped in the divine image was sent into the world to be trod upon." We must continue respectfully to confront President Obama with this question: "Mr. President: Are not unborn children so stamped?"
Ken Blackwell and Bob Morrison are senior fellows at the Family Reseach Council, in Washington, D.C.