Be sure you put your feet in the right place; then stand firm. —Abraham Lincoln
In the gray half-light before the dawn, a leader offers a vision of moral clarity, while avoiding the trap of self-righteous moralizing. As the Proverb teaches, where there is no vision, the people perish. Yet, a leader often has to rein in his more zealous followers in service of the broader cause. Otherwise, the zealots by their intolerance will repel many of the undecided who could still be persuaded.
Abraham Lincoln mastered the political craft during decades of seasoning in the rough-and-tumble of local politics before he took his trade to the White House. Although influenced by the racial prejudice common to white people of his day, his conviction never wavered that, “If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong.” Lincoln’s clarity on the immorality of slavery was a beacon for his countrymen, and his sincerity was his bond with the common people. Having found his own solid ground, he stood firm in curbing the excesses of the Abolitionists, whose rigidity would have sabotaged the Union’s cause before battle with the Confederates had been fairly joined.
If the trumpet is uncertain, asked St. Paul, who will answer the call to battle? Times of great change, whether in Lincoln’s day, our Revolution, the New Deal, or the New Frontier, call for leadership that provides moral clarity, and keeps the movement to the straight and narrow path, rather than straying into self-righteous posing. To America’s sorrow, no such leader has come forward for almost 50 years. This lack results in an impasse: “The old is dying, yet the new cannot be born.”