The general theory that Republicans feel strongly about the idea of "history," but don't know much about it, is rarely on plainer display than when the historical subject happens to be "Abraham Lincoln." For instance, if you feel remotely comfortable burping a home team bromide like, "the Party of Lincoln," but don't feel haunted in your waking hours by the idea of the "Red Republicans" who helped sweep him into office, thenstrike me where I standyou just don't know what you're talking about. 

Lincoln in his late 30s as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives around 1846

The good news is that there are two simple solutions to the problem, both of which will do more for the broad idea of universal justice than to simply carry on torturing the evidence that Honest Abeyes, the man who declared war on the political philosophy of what we now call "the Red States"could possibly be one of the great marble busts of the current party that serves that philosophy. The first: do the 16th President of the United States a huge solid and leave him out of your next political diatribe against the left. The second, more useful, is to man-up and admit that Abe Lincoln was exactly who he said he was, and was gunned down for it. I'll offer here an anecdotal example, which is but one radical sliver of sunlight that belongs to the blinding white light of the the true political Abe Lincoln, champion and martyr of labor: his long-distance friendship with a foreign correspondent for the Pro-Lincoln New York Herald Tribune named, "Karl Marx." 

Karl Marx 

That's right: Honest Abe and Karl Marx were pen pals. What brought them together? A mutual concern for the interests of the working class. (You know...those people that we used to call "labor" before it became a dirty word.) If you're voting for Trump, I am going to assume you're not too keen on Bernie's insistence that "wealth and income inequality is the great moral issue of our time." Abraham Lincoln, on the other hand, was super worried about it. Here's an excerpt from his first message to Congress in December 1861:

"Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration."

Since talking about labor wasn't a taboo subject for Republicans back in the 19th-century, Lincoln was reelected by a landslide. How'd Marx react? He sent the President a congratulatory "Address" on behalf of the London-based International Workingmen’s Association. The entire missive makes for powerful reading. But we have to give "the father of communism" credit for his cold opener:

"We congratulate the American people upon your re-election by a large majority. If resistance to the Slave Power was the reserved watchword of your first election, the triumphant war cry of your re-election is Death to Slavery. From the commencement of the titanic American strife the workingmen of Europe felt instinctively that the star-spangled banner carried the destiny of their class. The contest for the territories which opened the dire epopee, was it not to decide whether the virgin soil of immense tracts should be wedded to the labor of the emigrant or prostituted by the tramp of the slave driver?"

Page of the Minute Book (General Council meeting of November 29, 1864) with the printed text of the address to President Lincoln pasted into the Book

Say what you like about Marx, dude knew how to parse. But a well-written letter doesn't guarantee you the President's attention. If you're interested in the relationship between Lincoln and Marx, Robin Blackburn's 2011 Jacobin article is a must-read:

"Lincoln saw only a tiny selection of the avalanche of mail he was sent, employing several secretaries to deal with it. But the US Ambassador in London, Charles Francis Adams, decided to forward the 'Address' to Washington. Encouraging every sign of support for the Union was central to Adams’s mission. The Emancipation Proclamation of January 1863 had made this task much easier, but there were still many sections of the British elite who sympathized with the Confederacy and some who favored awarding it diplomatic recognition if only public opinion could be brought to accept this."

Long story short, the US Ambassador to London made sure it wound up on the President's desk and Abe Lincoln was super pumped. How can we be sure? Because Blackburn collected their correspondence and put it into An Unfinished Revolution: Karl Marx and Abraham LincolnIn January 1865, the US Ambassador sent a response via The Times:

"I am directed to inform you that the address of the Central Council of your Association, which was duly transmitted through this Legation to the President of the United [States], has been received by him. So far as the sentiments expressed by it are personal, they are accepted by him with a sincere and anxious desire that he may be able to prove himself not unworthy of the confidence which has been recently extended to him by his fellow citizens and by so many of the friends of humanity and progress throughout the world...

Nations do not exist for themselves alone, but to promote the welfare and happiness of mankind by benevolent intercourse and example. It is in this relation that the United States regard their cause in the present conflict with slavery, maintaining insurgence as the cause of human nature, and they derive new encouragements to persevere from the testimony of the workingmen of Europe that the national attitude is favored with their enlightened approval and earnest sympathies."

Lincoln wasn't exactly blindsided by Marx's congratulatory letter. The United States had been flooded with German Marxist immigrants in the wake of the 1848 revolutions. Many of these free-labor espousing intellectuals ended up receiving senior commissions in the Republican party. As chance would have it, Lincoln had been reading Marx's articles in the New York Daily Tribune for years. How'd Marx land a steady freelancing gig with the most influential Republican newspaper of the 1850s? Charles A. Dana, the publisher of the Tribune, had dome some hardcore bonding with him in the bowels of revolutionary Cologne. When he got set up in the USofA, Dana asked Marx to become a correspondent: 

"Over the next decade he wrote — with some help from his friend Engels — over five hundred articles for the Tribune. Hundreds of these pieces were published under Marx’s name, but eighty-four appeared as unsigned editorials. He wrote on a global range of topics, sometimes occupying two or three pages of a sixteen-page newspaper."

Dana during his tenure at the Tribune

Marx and Lincoln weren't carbon copies of each other. They had very different opinions on the roles of corporations and wage labor. Lincoln was a staunch defender of the working class, but he believed in the American dream of social mobility: 

"The prudent, penniless beginner in the world, labors for wages awhile, saves a surplus with which to buy tools or land for himself; then labors on his own account another while, and at length hires another new beginner to help him. This is the just, and generous, and prosperous system, which opens the way to all—gives hope to all, and consequent energy, and progress, and improvement of condition to all."

I don't think Bernie would disagree. What's the key takeaway here? Marx, Lincoln, and the original "red Republicans" spoke the same language. There was a natural "affinity between the German democratic nationalism of 1848 and the free labor doctrine of the newly-established US Republican Party." How would Abe Lincoln feel about this speech?



First off, he'd be extremely confused and start hyperventilating over the state of Republican Party. But he's Abraham Lincoln so he would probably go deal with his panic attack in private. What would he do next? Grill Bernie on superdelegates and hit the campaign trail.