As we honor the birth of our first Republican president ten score and nine years ago, and his struggle to keep us united, we wonder what his reaction would be to today’s greatest threat to our union, a divisive monetary gap between those who create our wealth (labor) and those who seize the profits (capital).
“And, inasmuch [as] most good things are produced by labour, it follows that [all] such things of right belong to those whose labour has produced them,” according to him in 1847.
Human progress from the beginning is a story of work: Hunter-gatherers in nomadic life foraging for survival, and then homesteaders raising livestock and working the soil. Families engaged in honest toil, banding together, creating tools, goods and services. With diversification came the need for a system of economic exchange and the origins of capital which, Lincoln concedes in 1861, is worthy of some protections.
“But it has so happened in all ages of the world,” he says, “that some have laboured, and others have, without labour, enjoyed a large proportion of the fruits. This is wrong, and should not continue. To [secure] to each labourer the whole product of his labour, or as nearly as possible, is a most worthy object of any good government.”
And in 1838, he warns of inevitable threats from ambitious men who would use “the passions of the people as opposed to their judgement,” to undermine our democratic form of government.
Corporate billionaires, Lincoln’s “ambitious men” of today, use wealth, power, and control of government not to seek a “large proportion of the fruits;” but to take it all. They siphon the toil of others into their profit margin games of hedge funds, economic gimmicks and stock manipulation. Meanwhile, they dole out to workers only what is necessary to keep them producing as long as they are needed. Freedom to move among jobs, protection from abuses, livable wages, on-job safety, workers rights, collective action, and all the requirements for a decent living are discarded.
It is difficult to imagine anyone who would be more offended than Abraham Lincoln by today’s Republican stance for unsafe, underpaid, voiceless, and forced labor. The only way for all of us to enjoy the fruits of our work, our rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and the preservation of our democracy, according to Lincoln, is through “general intelligence, sound morality and ... a reverence for the Constitution and laws.”