On the Legitimacy of Syrian Elections: Is there not a common interest?

A little perspective from Lincoln


From the run-up to the election, to the expatriate voting, to the voting in Syria itself, much has been said to malign the notion of a Syrian presidential election.  (A typical representation here, from the BBC)  As absurd as it might seem, though, perhaps an election is preferable to the other means of settling the differences of a people—bombing the other side into submission.

At the height of a brutal civil war 150 years ago, US President Abraham Lincoln was re-elected.  Afterward, he offered some keen insight into social philosophy.  Beyond the issues that had gripped the nation in bloody conflict for over three years, Lincoln observed:

“What has occurred in this case, must ever recur in similar cases.  Human-nature will not change.  In any future great national trial, compared with the men of this, we shall have as weak, and as strong; as silly and as wise; as bad and as good.”

As his Secretary of State William Seward went on to comment, they would one day see the Secessionists fade away, just as the Tories and the Federalists had in years prior.  The course of the nation and the daily lives of the people would carry on.

It is the nature of society to have differences of opinion.  Conflict is sadly inevitable.  But eventually the smoke of battle will subside.  Even if hurting, the people will awake in the morning and take their breakfast.  One may choose coffee, another tea, but life will go on.  How much damage and how much heartache we inflict until we get there is up to us.


US President Abraham Lincoln, 10 November 1864:

“It has long been a grave question whether any government, not too strong for the liberties of its people, can be strong enough to maintain its own existence in great emergencies.

On this point the present rebellion brought our republic to a severe test; and a presidential election occurring in regular course during the rebellion added not a little to the strain.

If the loyal people, united, were put to the utmost of their strength by the rebellion, must they not fail when divided, and partially paralyzed, by a political war among themselves?

But the election was a necessity.

We cannot have free government without elections; and if the rebellion could force us to forego, or postpone a national election it might fairly claim to have already conquered and ruined us.

The strife of the election is but human-nature practically applied to the facts of the case.  What has occurred in this case, must ever recur in similar cases.  Human-nature will not change.

In any future great national trial, compared with the men of this, we shall have as weak, and as strong; as silly and as wise; as bad and as good.  Let us, therefore, study the incidents of this, as philosophy to learn wisdom from, and none of them as wrongs to be revenged.

But the election, along with its incidental, and undesirable strife, has done good too.

It has demonstrated that a people’s government can sustain a national election, in the midst of a great civil war.  Until now it has not been known to the world that this was a possibility.

It shows that, even among candidates of the same party, he who is most devoted to the Union, and most opposed to treason, can receive most of the people’s votes. It shows also, to the extent yet known, that we have more men now, than we had when the war began.

Gold is good in its place; but living, brave, patriotic men, are better than gold.

But the rebellion continues, and now that the election is over, may not all having a common interest reunite in a common effort to save the common country?

For my own part, I have striven and shall strive to avoid placing any obstacles in the way.  So long as I have been here I have not willingly planted a thorn in any man’s bosom.

While I am duly sensible to the high compliment of a re-election, and duly grateful as I trust to Almighty God for having directed my country to a right conclusion as I think for their good, it adds nothing to my satisfaction that any other man may be disappointed by the result.

May I ask those who have not differed with me to join with me in this same spirit toward those who have?

And now let me close by asking three hearty cheers for our brave soldiers and seamen, and their gallant and skilful commanders.”

(Context and speech, as reported by The New York Times, 11 November 1864)

By Brenda Heard, 4 June 2014

A banner with a picture of Syrian President Bashar Assad with a slogan reading in Arabic, “we build it together” hangs on a destroyed building in the Homs neighborhood of Khaldiyeh. JOSEPH EID/AFP/Getty Images


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