Lincoln in the Canadian Mind
Only days ago Americans celebrated the bicentennial of Abraham Lincoln. Today, historians have ranked Lincoln the United State’s greatest President ever.
Lincoln, clearly, means a lot to Americans. Few scholars, for example, question the importance of his Emancipation Proclamation to the course of the Civil War and, by extension, the deep changes enacted by the Reconstruction Republicans thereafter in the Thirteenth, Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution; the Thirteenth being the provision that would, with the help of Congress, eventually smote all traces of slavery from the face of America forever.
But what, if anything, does the name Lincoln mean to Canadians? Most Canadians have heard of him and many, like myself, admire his achievements and vision (one must be deaf to the sirenic call of lyricism to be unmoved by the Gettysburg Address and its promise of “A New Birth of Freedom”). Sadly, Lincoln was assassinated only years before Canada was forged from the British colonies he would certainly have been familiar with as a legislator from Illinois. So we rarely hear how he understood the Canadian colonies that soon would constitute a nation. What would he have thought of the young country on his northern borders? What sort of allegiances and ties would he have forged?
No room here to postulate historical counterfactuals. But I think it’s worthwhile to point readers to this thoughtful piece by historian JDM Stewart, who offers some insights about Canadian public opinion during the time of Lincoln and an interesting comparison between Lincoln and one of our greatest political figures, Wilfred Laurier.