Israel-Palestine polemicists have much to learn from Sean Wilentz’s thoughtful essay Who Lincoln Was in the current issue of The New Republic. Wilentz argues that politics is not an obstacle to the achievement of ideological goals, but rather a necessary and valuable means of achieving them. Lincoln ultimately succeeded in freeing the slaves, Wilentz argues, not because he put principle above politics, but because he was a genius at using politics to pursue principles.
Furthermore, he maintains, Lincoln understood that the preservation of the Constitution and the rule of law was essential if he was to achieve real and sustainable change. This necessarily meant accepting a Constitution that permitted slavery. Lincoln thought slavery was an unmitigated evil. But he understood that to end it he had to create a coalition of disparate groups that had been convinced that the end of slavery was in their own interest. Preaching principle would not do the job.
Quoting James Oakes, author of The Radical and the Republican, a study of Lincoln and Fredrick Douglass, Wilentz writes: