“The imperatives of his moment”

E. J. Dionne, Jr. argues that President Obama is facing the same challenge and opportunity that the agitation against slavery presented to Lincoln.  Claiming that the Occupy Wall Street movement is expressing widely held sentiments, he writes:

In their time, the abolitionists were radicals, too. Lincoln, a shrewd politician, understood that public opinion in the North did not fully embrace their cause but was moving in their direction. Lincoln remained a moderate at heart, but he abandoned moderation on slavery when this proved to be morally and politically unsuited to the imperatives of his moment. By following Lincoln’s example and acting against the injustices of our time, Obama could also come to occupy the high ground.

Lincoln’s receptiveness to shifting circumstances and the currents of public opinion—what Dionne calls “the imperatives of his moment”—is one of the central concerns of David Herbert Donald’s acclaimed biography.  Donald noted that Lincoln “preferred to respond to the actions of others.”

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