Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum


America was forged by great peace and greater war. The wars fought were for territory or for independence and from invasion. The peace enjoyed afterwards would generally improve the overall quality and equality of life, but a war had to always be fought in order to ensure this peace. Abraham Lincoln inherited a fiercely divided nation locked in a bitter struggle for equality of opportunity and emancipation against slavery. Franklin D. Roosevelt inherited a ferociously unified nation teetering on the brink of economic collapse created by a disproportionation in both economic and educational equality of opportunities. Both men oversaw a nation fraught with despair; they individually identified the issue and committed to combat the disparity with one difficult resolution: to advance equality. Lincoln and Roosevelt were tenacious advocates for equality of opportunity, and they were hesitantly waged war to ensure its prosperity.

In context, equality of opportunity may speak to many different levels of understanding. The pursuit of equality of opportunity is a long, often treacherous endeavor for the protection of those who have not from those who have.  Those who participate in this endeavor often encounter resistance, criticisms, protests and in one case, a cold-blooded assassination attempt and subsequent success. This pursuit is the reestablishment of the current status quo; it is the formulation and execution of an explicit agenda to effectively destroy that status quo and establish a new one. The pursuit is to establish a greater quality of standards; it would lead to a greater quality of living and improved relative protection from what had subjugated the ‘have not’ populace prior to its application. Lincoln and Roosevelt sought to reestablish the status quo by their own unique applications, through bloodshed and economic hardship.

“…The true pilot must pay attention to the year and seasons and sky and stars and winds, and whatever else belongs to his art, if he intends to be really qualified for the command of a ship, and that he must and will be the steerer, whether other people like or not…” (Plato 321). In the years preceding the American Civil War, Abraham Lincoln was a precocious young politician from Illinois. Lincoln was a fervent admirer of Henry Clay. As described by Fredrickson, [Lincoln] was drawn to particular political parties by his admiration for [Clay] and [Clay’s] sincere adherence to the Kentuckian’s principles and programs (41). As time progressed from the 1830s on to the 1850s, Lincoln’s views and ethics were molded largely by Clay’s influence; this influence included the “conscientious effort to adapt a certain set of personal principles and preferences to the circumstances of the time (40). As the budding question of slavery dramatically escalated to a fiery controversy that began to bitterly divide the nation into pro and anti-slavery camps, Lincoln withheld his opinions.

He instead proposed several alternative arguments to the gradual emancipation and introduction of relative equality of black slaves. As opposed to addressing whether slaves ought to be liberated or whether abolition could demolish the Southern economy, Lincoln took hold a different position in the matter. He took his position in a speech before the Wisconsin Agricultural Society in 1859. The argument was for the positive virtue of free labor and against James Henry Hammond’s ‘mud-sill theory’; the ‘mud-sill’ concept of how there will always be a lower class for which the upper class may rest. In this speech, he separates the distinction between education and free labor and the ‘mud-sill’ theory. Lincoln subtly insinuates that the institution of free labor is the “just, and generous, and prosperous system, which [would] open the way for all, gives hope to all, and energy and progress, and improvement of condition to all” (664).

By contrast, Lincoln points out that the ‘mud-sill’ theory assumes that there is a distinct separation between free labor and education, that the two concepts are unsuitable for each other. Because Hammond’s ‘mud-sill’ theory holds the perception that there will always be a lower class for which the upper class may use as a foundation for their success. A man without education is more likely to be content with manual labor than a man with education. Lincoln argues the opposite, which free labor and education are not only connected, but education acts as “the natural guardian, director, and protector of the hands and mouth inseparably connected [to the head]” (664). Later in his speech, he later points out that he was able to illustrate the opposing theories without advocating for one theory over another. Lincoln eschewed his own personal opinions about abolition and advocated for a number of alternative theories that also included colonization. According to Fredrickson, Lincoln’s “ well known advocacy of colonization [would be] the only solution to the race problem followed inevitably from his premise that insurmountable white prejudices made racial equality impossible in the United States” (48). While he made numerous allusions to gradual abolition of slavery including the virtue of free labor as opposed to indentured labor and the possibility of ‘shipping off’ freed slaves to colonize their own country, Lincoln never made an outright proclamation for abolition. That would come later during the height of his first term as president.

When faced with either advocating for a unified nation or for the abolition of slavery, Lincoln would choose the former. While the controversy of slavery would be a point of contention for many Northerners including Lincoln, it was the controversy of a unified nation that kept Lincoln from making his proclamation for abolition. His argument for the ‘virtues’ of free labor and against Hammond’s ‘mud-sill’ theory, his Henry Clay-infused proposition of colonization, all had connotations of his intentions to increase the blacks equality of opportunity though through ambiguous courses of word and action. Lincoln was an ethicist and rarely contained his own personal opinion of slavery, as Dorothy Ross had written, as a particular “revulsion from the inhumanity of slavery” (381).

Lincoln disputed his opponent’s accusations that Lincoln advocated for abolition as he ran his campaign for the presidency. The Union began to crumble and Lincoln’s focus was that to maintain its existence in lieu of advocacy for abolition. He advocated for the subtle nature of equality of opportunity for slaves, made a strong case for instead of slavery, free labor and the possibility for colonization in case the residence of freed slaves would cause further contention. Despite his best efforts to repudiate his accuser’s perceptions of Lincoln’s stance on slavery, the nation would secede not only ideologically but physically as well. Lincoln’s reserved stance on abolition and emancipation took a subordinate position to his goal of preserving the Union. Sharply divided on slavery, the Union and the Confederacy would engage in the bloodiest, most brutal and abhorrent war the young nation had and would ever engage. Lincoln fought a war to preserve the Union and to improve the status quo; he would improve the status quo of slaves, freed or otherwise, through blood spilt by both soldier and himself alike and through legislation. Though he never would see the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments ratified, Lincoln’s ambition and struggle for equality of opportunity was ensured. Lincoln was the ‘true pilot’ that kept ever mindful of the Union’s struggles. Whether people liked it or not, Lincoln kept his hand steady on the wheel of the ship as it steered away from exclusion and into a new era of equality.

Seventy years later, a different type of war would send the nation careening into a different direction. The nation was being torn apart by an economic depression unlike any the world has ever seen before. Joblessness, homelessness, poverty, and a catastrophic disparity is the dispersion of wealth between the have’s and the have not’s. According to Donavan, by 1929 the top 0.01% controlled as much wealth as the bottom 42%. She goes on to lecture that the same 0.01% controlled 34% of all savings whereas 80% of the population had no savings whatsoever (Donavan 2015). The stock market had continued to trend explosively upwards with an increasing amount of people purchasing stocks on margin and credit instead of using tangible currency. By the end of 1929, the stock market margin called, asking for the money owed. With turned out pockets, those who had bought on margin had nothing to give. Inflation exploded and employment imploded. As a result, the stock market collapsed and sent the nation into an economic tailspin.

Government non-intervention and lack of oversight from key executive bureaucracies had plunged the nation into an economic depression. “State and local governments, along with private relief agencies, did try to respond to the needs of the [newly] unemployed, but they were overwhelmed by the magnitude of the task” (Harvey 89). Hoover fiddled as America burned and by 1933, newly elected President Franklin D. Roosevelt inherited the ashes. Whether America felt that Roosevelt would be the “true pilot” the nation needed was irrelevant at that time; Hoover did nothing to prevent the economic catastrophe that had stricken the nation. According to Harvey, “when the Roosevelt administration assumed office in early 1933, a consensus existed across the political spectrum that some form of government intervention was needed to meet the relief needs of the unemployed, reduce the levels of unemployment, and facilitate a return to prosperity” (90). Franklin’s administration quickly got to work on an audacious and bold plan to set America back on its feet and reset the status quo for equality of opportunity.

Roosevelt resolved to put American to work. In what would come to be known as the New Deal, Roosevelt sought to employ as many able-bodied Americans as possible to build skyscrapers, dams, roads, whatever it took to restore a few extra coins in an American’s purse. Roosevelt subscribed to a Keynesian theory of economics in deficit spending and government intervention, to correctly steer the sinking American ship into shallow waters. Despite voices of opposition from Congress and critics, Roosevelt’s resolute agenda was set into motion. By 1937, Roosevelt’s New Deal became the First New Deal as Roosevelt proposed and employed the Second New Deal. Critics continued to cry foul the dramatic increase of government intervention; Roosevelt sought to silence those critics with his second inaugural address. In it, Roosevelt declared that a new chapter in self-government was being written and that “a century and a half ago [they] established the Federal Government in order to promote the general welfare and secure the blessings of liberty to the American people” (Roosevelt 1937).

From the inherited ashes of Hoover rose the phoenix by Roosevelt. While America would never truly snap the cold spell of depression until after the outrageous attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese in 1941, Roosevelt’s New Deals fought to reestablish the status quo. He did so by employing the unemployed, by improving their quality of standard by ‘leveling the playing field’ and writing specific legislation that would protect those who saved and gave the means to save to those who had not before the Depression. Roosevelt’s daring New Deal plans sought to improve the equality of opportunity for all as his predecessors had done nothing to stop the economic implosion or ensure the survival of America’s people. Through his experience, Roosevelt proposed a ‘second Bill of Rights’ in 1944. These ‘Bill of Rights’ was a set of “self-evident” economic rights including the right to a job, the right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing, the right to a home, among others (Roosevelt 1191). These ‘Bill of Rights’ would ensure the legacy of equality of opportunity Roosevelt and his administration had fought so hard to not only create but to maintain. As time would tell, Roosevelt was the “true pilot” who was well aware of his surroundings and sought to rectify that which he saw was a disparity in equality. Roosevelt declared a war on joblessness, a war he would eventually win.

Lincoln and Roosevelt ideological similarities came at a time when the nation was at its worse. Their fortitude and ability to see and understand what ailed the Union, America, the United States came at a time when those attributes were needed the most. Lincoln’s strong attitude towards slavery led to his drafting of plausible compromise only to be eventually met with secession and death. His resolve to reestablish the status quo and equality of opportunity for not some but all led to division and reunification of a young Union. His resolution cost him his life but his legacy continued through Constitutional Amendments. Franklin Roosevelt inherited a broken nation fraught with economic disparity. Roosevelt’s courageous plans to wage war on the Depression and to put America to work were his plan to solve the economic disparity and resolve America’s joblessness and improve their equality of opportunity. Lincoln and Roosevelt’s respective wars were met with peace, both militarily and economically speaking. Their resolution to improve the equality of opportunity was unwavering. Their examples are living proof that if one wants peace then one must prepare for war.

Works Cited

Donavan, Dr. Janet. “Part IV: Capitalism, Individualism, and Reform, 1865 – 1932, The Progressive Era (Cont.)” University of Colorado – Boulder. Clare 207 Boulder CO. Class Lecture. 07 Apr. 2015.

Harvey, Philip. “Learning From The New Deal.” Review Of Black Political Economy 39.1 (2012): 87-105. Business Source Complete. Web. 14 Apr. 2015.

Kramnick, Isaac, and Theodore J. Lowi. “A Second Bill of Rights.” American Political Thought: A Norton Anthology. New York: W.W. Norton, 2009. 1190-191. Print.

Kramnick, Isaac, and Theodore J. Lowi. “First Inaugural Address.” American Political Thought: A Norton Anthology. New York: W.W. Norton, 2009. 1179-83. Print.

Kramnick, Isaac, and Theodore J. Lowi. “Address Before the Wisconsin State Agricultural Society.” American Political Thought: A Norton Anthology. New York: W.W. Norton, 2009. 662-66. Print.

Niemi, William L., and David J. Plante. “The Great Recession, Liberalism, And The Meaning Of The New Deal.” New Political Science 33.4 (2011): 413-427. Academic Search Premier. Web. 14 Apr. 2015.

Plato, and Benjamin Jowett. The Republic. Seattle: Amazon, n.d. A Public Domain Book, 13 Apr. 2013. Web. 15 Apr. 2015. <;.

Roosevelt, Franklin D. “Second Inaugural Address.” Miller Center. University of Virginia, n.d. Web. 14 Apr. 2015.

Ross, Dorothy. “Lincoln and the Ethics of Emancipation: Universalism, Nationalism, Exceptionalism.” Journal of American History 96.2 (2009): 379-99. JSTOR. Web. 14 Apr. 2015.



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