Facebook Twitter

The party of Lincoln should follow his lead

Abraham Lincoln’s “Blind Memorandum” illustrates the importance of accepting election results.

SHARE The party of Lincoln should follow his lead
AP20311463681490.jpg

The statue of President Abraham Lincoln is seen at the Lincoln Memorial, Friday, Nov. 6, 2020 in Washington.

J. Scott Applewhite, Associated Press

Republicans today, especially GOP leaders, are fond of calling themselves the party of Lincoln. But if they want to claim his legacy, they should follow his example. This year, there is no more important way to do so than abiding by the results of the presidential election. 

The history of Lincoln’s “Blind Memorandum” illustrates his powerful precedent. 

In the summer of 1864, the president’s chances of reelection seemed slim. The war went poorly, and the public favored the Democratic platform of seeking peace with the Confederacy. On Aug. 23, Lincoln wrote the following in a short memo:

“This morning, as for some days past, it seems exceedingly probable that this Administration will not be re-elected. Then it will be my duty to so co-operate with the President elect, as to save the Union between the election and the inauguration; as he will have secured his election on such ground that he can not possibly save it afterwards.”

Lincoln sealed the memo and took it to a cabinet meeting, where he had all cabinet members sign its exterior without seeing the contents (which is why historians now refer to it as “Blind”). Lincoln thus committed himself and his cabinet to accept the 1864 election results, protect the Union in the time they had left and support the next administration.

In one sense, the Blind Memorandum’s commitments are nothing more than what an oath to support and defend the Constitution requires. But what makes this episode extraordinary is that Lincoln decided to honor those oaths when he so vehemently disagreed with his opposition — even believing that a Democratic administration would mean the end of the Union. 

President Trump and his supporters have made their own opposition to a Democratic administration abundantly clear. And though our nation’s current turmoil is a far cry from the Civil War, partisan differences and tensions may — in their minds — make a change in administration seem like an existential threat.

Lincoln ... understood that maintaining his own power, however wrong he believed his opponents to be, was not worth the price of our nation’s democratic institutions.

But Trump, unlike Lincoln, appears unwilling to accept the people’s choice. Rather than accepting the results of the election, the president has, without evidence, repeatedly claimed the outcome is “fraudulent” and “rigged,” declaring himself the rightful victor and pressuring local and state officials to reject or overturn legitimate vote counts. His allies have echoed and amplified these baseless claims.

Of course, every person — including the president — has a right to their day in court. But the choice to continue supporting unfounded claims of fraud and corruption is not only misguided; it is also dangerous. Whether they intend this result or not, Trump’s current enablers corrode the public trust essential to peaceful transfer of power and lay the groundwork for a catastrophic constitutional crisis if the president refuses to step down.

Some prominent Republicans, including Utah’s own Senator Mitt Romney, have spoken out against the President’s undemocratic rhetoric and actions. But most have not, either by explicit affirmation of Trump’s behavior or merely acquiescent silence. As states certify their results in the coming weeks, the difference between these choices will only become starker.

Lincoln decided ahead of time to accept the results of the 1864 election because he understood that maintaining his own power, however wrong he believed his opponents to be, was not worth the price of our nation’s democratic institutions. Trump has chosen a different path, and that leaves GOP leaders at a crossroads. Whose example will they follow: Lincoln or Trump?

Soren J. Schmidt is a graduate of Brigham Young University and Yale Law School.