This week in history: Lincoln the socialist?

In February 1909, President Abraham Lincoln would have celebrated his 100th birthday. One Chicago Daily News reader wrote in to highlight Lincoln’s more socialist leanings.

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Graphic with Abraham Lincoln’s face from the Feb. 11, 1909 edition of the Chicago Daily News commemorating his 100th birthday.

A graphic from the Feb. 11, 1909 edition of the Chicago Daily News commemorating Abraham Lincoln’s 100th birthday.

Chicago Daily News

As reported by the Chicago Daily News, sister paper of the Chicago Sun-Times:

The most recent national poll average from Real Clear Politics shows Sen. Bernie Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist, in the lead, prompting many to ask: Is the U.S. ready for a socialist president?

According to one Chicago Daily News reader, we’ve already had one: Abraham Lincoln.

In a Feb. 13, 1909 letter to the editor published in the paper, Charles N. Ettinger of Beaver Dam, Wis., honored what would have been Lincoln’s 100 birthday by highlighting the 16th U.S. president’s more socialist leanings, at a time when being a socialist could be dangerous.

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Lincoln, Ettinger wrote, said in 1847, that “inasmuch as most good things are produced by labor, it follows that all such things of right belong to those whose labor has produced them.”

As president, he warned against “returning despotism.”

Ettinger also noted that Lincoln wrote a friendly letter “to the first international gathering of working people held in London, of which Karl Marx was secretary.”

“If Lincoln were alive to-day and repeated word for word his utterances of nearly fifty years ago,” Ettinger concluded, “he would be denounced by the conservatives of modern civilizations as a dangerous man, an intolerable revolutionist.”

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