Exactly How “Conservative” Was President Abraham Lincoln?

Abraham Lincoln is a controversial figure in American history, not because of policy or beliefs, but because each of the two main political parties would like to lay claim to his legacy. Progressive Liberals believe a modern-day Lincoln would be much more in line with their beliefs, while right-wing Republicans often refer to themselves as the “party of Lincoln,” claiming ultimate responsibility for freeing the slaves. But exactly how Conservative was Lincoln? It depends on what how you define Conservative.

Lincoln was the first Republican president. It’s hard to imagine that modern-day Republicans would have supported the mind-bending societal shockwave that would have slammed the south with the liberation of its slaves. After all, most states with Conservative dominance are in the south, and seceded from the Union because they were in direct opposition to the right of a state to make known its own opposition of slavery by refusing to return escaped slaves. That’s why modern-day Liberals find it somewhat comical when Conservatives name themselves the party of Lincoln.

Of course, both political parties were extremely different in 1860, and many of their views have shifted. It’s probably impossible to accurately guess which way President Lincoln’s policies would have fallen were he alive today, but his policies back then certainly didn’t run parallel to those of today’s Republicans. At all.

In addition to his anti-slavery beliefs, he wasn’t exactly for state rights (at least in practice). His use of federal power to keep the Union together and oppose slavery is why the Civil War started in the first place. He’s also the reason why tuition-free state schools became more popular in 1862, a phenomenon lasting until the 1960s. He opposed free trade. Lincoln was more moderate than anything else, and his policies shaped both social and political agendas for decades.

Had the war to keep the Union from breaking apart never occurred, then we likely wouldn’t have an income tax. It was only imposed as a means to fund the war. The tax was small at first, and only affected the rich. Is that something modern-day Republicans would support?

He also imposed new tariffs, the circulation of “greenbacks,” and a national inheritance tax. He helped pave the way for a better national infrastructure by supporting new spending on a transcontinental railroad. He was responsible for the Department of Agriculture. He’s the reason we had Federal protection for Yosemite National Park.

America in 1860 was very different, as were the laws under which its citizens lived.