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Presidents’ Day, What Would Abraham Lincoln Say?

By Dr. Harold Pease

President Barack Obama’s favorite president, as is the case with so many Americans, is Abraham Lincoln who now shares a national holiday—Presidents Day—with George Washington. But the Obama/Lincoln bond certainly could not be because of shared political ideology. Lincoln was for the free market and decidedly against socialism—just opposite of President Obama. He saw nothing in the Communist Manifesto, published in 1848, worthy of emulation.

On the ownership of property Abraham Lincoln’s feelings were especially strong, he said, “Property is the fruit of labor; property is desirable; is a positive good in the world. That some should be rich shows that others may become rich, and hence is just encouragement to industry and enterprises” (The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln edited by Roy P. Basler, Volume VII, pp. 259-260). To him there was no need to take by force the wealth of those who produce and give it to those less productive. The “share the wealth” philosophy and “envy politics” so articulated by Obama would have been foreign ideology to the Civil War president.

The answer to ending poverty is not class envy, first identified by Aristotle some 2,500 years ago as being the natural inclination of those with less, a philosophy implemented by Lenin in Russia when the communists identified those holding property as enemies of the state and liquidated some four to eight million farmers, the “Kulaks” (“The Russian Kulaks,” Then they wondered why the country had such a horrific famine in 1921-1922 when millions starved.

No money was set aside for, or provided to, any class or special interest group in our Constitution. The power distributed benefited all equally and at the same time. The federal role was as referee only. Our Constitution does not redistribute wealth; it leaves the individual to do that by his work ethic. It remains the fairest way. Will income inequality be the outcome? Yes! Free men are not equal and equal men are not free. But all will have more than had we instead forced income equality by taking from those who produce and giving it to those who do not. We remain anxious to share our wealth producing philosophy with our less prosperous neighbors and the world so that all can have more but individuals steeling it from us, or using the government to do it for them, known as legalized plunder, is just wrong.

Lincoln’s answer to the poor, from which he sprang himself, “Let not him who is houseless pull down the house of another, but let him labor diligently to build one for himself, thus by example assuring that his own shall be safe from violence….” Unfortunately, many in our society have forgotten the “labor diligently” part of his phrase and have come to expect the government to provide, from the industry of others, their every need. On that score Lincoln also had words. “You toil and work and earn bread, and I will eat it.” He viewed this principle as a form of tyranny to those who work. Today 47.5 % of the adult population pays no federal income tax; many actually receive benefits for which they have paid nothing.

Watching others acquire wealth was, in fact, a sign of a healthy economy for Lincoln. “I take it that it is best for all to leave each man free to acquire property as fast as he can. Some will get wealthy. I don’t believe in a law to prevent a man from getting rich; it would do more harm than good.” Nor would he have supported the hundreds of laws that we have today that disincentivise a man trying to acquire wealth.

Lincoln might have added, “When has a poor man ever created a full time job for anyone?” Hate the Wal-Marts’ or the McDonalds’ all you want but they provide the poor thousands of jobs. Do not bite the hand that feeds you then wonder where the jobs and prosperity went, as did the early Russian socialists. The “share the wealth” philosophy, which Lincoln opposed, and Obama endorses, has never brought long term general prosperity for any people, any place, or any time.