Revered today across the political spectrum, Abraham Lincoln believed in a small but active government in a nation defined by aspiration. All his life, he preached a gospel of work and discipline toward the all-important ends of self-improvement and individual advancement. As a Whig and then a Republican, he worked to smash the rural backwardness in which he was raised and the Southern plantation economy that depended on human bondage.
Both were unacceptably stultifying of human potential. In short, Lincoln lived the American Dream and succeeded in opening a way to it for others. He saw in the nation’s founding documents the unchanging foundation of an endlessly dynamic society. He embraced the market and the transportation and communications revolutions beginning to take hold. He helped to give birth to the modern industrial economy that arose before the Civil War and that took off after it.
His vision of an upwardly mobile society that rewards and supports individual striving was wondrously realized. To meet the challenges to this way of life that some in modern America are advocating, Rich Lowry draws us back to the lessons of Lincoln. It is imperative, Lowry argues, to preserve a fluid economy and the bourgeois virtues that make it possible for individuals to thrive within it.