Lincoln and Samuel

A reader writes:

You may not believe this, but your quote from Lincoln moved me (completely unexpected, sitting at my desk during a normal workday) close to tears. Writing 150 years ago, Lincoln hit upon the primal cause of the whole sorry tragedy of our past four years: we turned our president into a king, and we allowed him to act as kings do, waging useless wars with our children and our treasure for their own self-aggrandizement.

Lincoln, of course, knew his scripture, and when he wrote those words undoubtedly had this verse in mind: (I Samuel 8:10-18 )

Samuel told all the words of the LORD to the people who were asking him for a king. He said, "This is what the king who will reign over you will do: He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots. Some he will assign to be commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and others to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants. He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants. Your menservants and maidservants and the best of your cattle and donkeys he will take for his own use. He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves. When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, and the LORD will not answer you in that day."

I've always rejected arguments that our ancestors were somehow wiser than us. But reading Lincoln's words reminds me that, in a few key cases, some of our ancestors were indeed wiser than anyone alive today.

Another reader notes:

Lincoln had it right of course (as usual). But this country did go to war against Mexico anyway, and it was a highly popular war, while Lincoln's career suffered almost terminally for opposing it.