45 pages • 1 hour readJames M. Mcpherson
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The Greek poet Archilochus wrote that “the fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing” (113). Interpreted by Isaiah Berlin to mean that the hedgehog is a thinker with a single central vision and the fox pursues many unrelated goals, this passage also reflects on Lincoln, who governed the United States during the Civil War with a firm centrality of vision. This vision is expressed in the Gettysburg Address: “This nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal […] shall not perish from the Earth” (114). Lincoln wished to preserve the American republic as democratic nation focused on liberty for all people.
Lincoln allowed his hedgehog quality to govern his military policy, and it characterized his skill as a lawyer before becoming president, being a slow and methodical analyst of cases who would often yoke his entire argument on a single, simple point. In politics Lincoln brought his goal of maintaining America as the nation embodying the original ideals of freedom and democracy into each of his decisions. Though Republican cabinet member Horace Greeley advised to allow secession in 1861, Lincoln understood that if the Union broke, it could never be mended.
By James M. Mcpherson