GUEST APPEARANCE: The Compassion of Abraham Lincoln | Opinion


In her award-winning book “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln”, Doris Kearns Goodwin writes: “The melancholy imprinted on Lincoln’s nature stemmed in large part from an acute sensitivity to the pains and injustices he perceived in the world. He was exceptionally tender. Once he stopped and walked half a mile to rescue a pig caught in a quagmire… When his classmates tortured turtles by placing hot coals on their backs to watch them squirm, he told them said “that was bad”. He refused to hunt animals, which went against frontier mores.

According to a 19th century account of the rescue of pigs reported by the Springfield, Illinois To watch“Mr. Lincoln once remarked to another passenger in an old mud coach that all men are driven by selfishness to do good. His fellow traveler contradicted this position when they passed over a bridge in corduroy which spanned a quagmire. As they crossed this bridge, they saw on the bank an old sow with a shaved back who was making a terrible noise because her pigs had entered the swamp and were in danger of drowning. While the old As the coach started up the hill, Mr. Lincoln yelled, “Driver, can’t you just stop for a moment? So Mr. Lincoln jumped up, ran backwards, and pulled the little piggies out of the mud and the dirt.” water and placed them on the bank. When he returned, his companion remarked, “Now, Abe, where does selfishness come into this little episode? ‘Why, bless your soul, Ed, it was the essence of selfishness. I wouldn’t have had peace of mind all day if I went on and let that sick old sow worry about them pigs. I did it for peace of mind, can’t you see? »

In ‘The Elements of Moral Philosophy’, Professor James Rachels observed that ‘Lincoln was a great man but, on this occasion at least, he was not a very good philosopher. Why should we think, just because someone derives satisfaction from helping others, that it makes him selfish? Isn’t the selfless person precisely the one who derives satisfaction from helping others, while the selfish person does not? If Lincoln got “peace of mind” by saving the piglets, does that show that he is selfish or, on the contrary, does it not show that he is compassionate and kind? If a person was truly selfish, why should it bother him that others suffer, let alone pigs? »

Lincoln genuinely loved all animals and believed that all lives matter, including animal lives. While he was our president, he said, “I am in favor of animal rights as well as human rights; it is the way of a whole human being.

He not only saved many animals, but he was also saved by one of the animals he saved. A non-fiction children’s book, “Honey, the Dog Who Saved Abe Lincoln” by Shari Swanson / illustrated by Chuck Groenick, tells this story.

While collecting his family’s corn from a mill, young Lincoln discovered and cared for an injured and homeless dog, which followed Lincoln home. His parents allowed him to keep the dog and Abe named the dog Honey. Wherever Lincoln went, Honey followed him. One day, while exploring a cave, Lincoln got stuck between two rocks. Honey found Lincoln’s mother and another adult and led them to the cavern, where they rescued the future 16th President of the United States.

Lincoln wrote a school essay criticizing his classmates who hurt turtles. Her compassion even extended to insects, saying that “an ant’s life was, to her, as sweet as ours.”

On another occasion, Lincoln and his friends discovered a baby bird that had been blown from its nest by high winds. Although the others ridiculed Lincoln, he continued to search the area until he found the bird’s nest, where he carefully placed the little creature, refuting the idea that handling the fledglings would lead to their rejection. by parent birds.

Lincoln said, “I don’t care what a man’s religion is, whose cat or dog is none the better for it.”

Lincoln’s White House became a sanctuary for animals – cats, dogs, Nanny and Nanko goats (which were allowed to roam the White House and even chew on the furniture), rabbits, and horses. When a turkey arrived at the White House destined to be a holiday meal, Lincoln’s son Tad befriended it and named it Jack. Tad interrupted a Cabinet meeting to implore his father to spare the turkey’s life. Of course, the president complied, setting a precedent for future presidents to “pardon” a turkey every year on Thanksgiving.

Friends later recalled how President Lincoln spent quality time with the White House animals. A White House servant said Lincoln’s dog, Jip, sat on the president’s lap at lunch “to claim his share first.” He was caressed and pampered throughout the meal. On one occasion at a state dinner, Lincoln fed the Tabby cat with a gold fork, much to the chagrin of the First Lady. Lincoln told his wife, “If a gold fork was good enough for (President James) Buchanan, it’s good enough for Tabby.”

When the White House stable caught fire, Lincoln attempted to enter the burning building, but was stopped by other men. When he learned that six horses had perished, Lincoln wept openly.

Lincoln abhorred all cruelty. At a time when domestic violence was commonplace, he at least once administered “frontier justice” by leading a group of friends who captured and overpowered a cobbler who beat his wife, so his wife could give him a taste of his own medicine. The retaliatory beatings continued until Lincoln motioned for him to stop. Hope the cobbler got the message.

We know that Lincoln was opposed to slavery. He issued the Emancipation Proclamation and it was his election as President that prompted most of the slave-owning states to leave the Union. However, our history books and documentaries generally make no mention of Lincoln’s devotion to animals. I just wish some of Lincoln’s compassion would inspire President Biden and Democratic and Republican leaders in both houses of Congress to make ending animal cruelty a national priority.

Canandaigua resident Joel Freedman contributes essays and book reviews to the Finger Lakes Time frequently.


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