Lincoln was a truly great politician and president–with qualities of decency and morality–kindness, sensitivity, compassion, honesty, and empathy. After recently reading Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, I recognized that Lincoln’s morality included a duty to animals. I think he believed in animal rights.
Let me share an excerpt of Goodwin’s book:
“The melancholy stamped on Lincoln’s nature derived in large part from an acute sensitivity to the pains and injustices he perceived in the world. He was uncommonly tenderhearted. He once stopped and tracked back half a mile to rescue a pig caught in a mire—not because he loved the pig, recollected a friend, ‘just to take a pain out of his own mind.’ When his schoolmates tortured turtles by placing hot coals on their backs to see the wriggle, he told them ‘it was wrong.’ He refused to hunt animals, which ran counter to frontier mores,” (103-104).
In a political speech, Lincoln later compared tortured turtles wriggling out of their shells to crooked politicians wriggling out of their skin. Lincoln’s diet also gave me a hunch to his possible vegetarian and animal rights viewpoint; he ate bread, jam, usually one egg, and coffee and stayed away from meat. He was thin for a reason! In arson on the White House horse stables, six horses died. President Lincoln was in tears over the horses’ deaths (603). Lincoln also got a kick out of humanizing animals: Lincoln’s son Tad had a pet turkey and Lincoln asked his son whether or not his turkey intended to vote. Tad replied that his turkey was “not of age”. Lincoln dearly loved the quick-witted answer and recounted the story to others for days (664).
I also found quotes online from Lincoln that confirmed my suspicions that Lincoln believed in animal rights:
“I care not for a man’s religion whose dog or cat is not the better for it…I am in favor of animal rights as well as human rights. That is the way of a whole human being.”
“I could not have slept to-night if I had left that helpless little creature to perish on the ground. (reply to friends who chided him for delaying them by stopping to return a fledgling to its nest.)”
Lincoln’s animal rights beliefs were probably founded from the same principles he applied to civil rights. Blacks were tortured and treated like animals when enslaved. If it was conceivable that blacks suffer, feel pain, and deserve rights, then it is conceivable that animals suffer, feel pain, and should have rights, as well. In the US, we now recognize blacks not as animals, but as humans, as citizens—with rights in this country. Can this also be extrapolated to animals?
Lincoln was a man ahead of his time in many regards. Was he on to something?
(Other famous vegetarians: Einstein, Aristotle, Darwin, Kant, Thoreau, Tolstoy, Da Vinci, Plato, Socrates, Rosa Parks, Corretta Scott King, Susan B. Anthony, van Gogh, Voltaire, Edison, Emerson, Henry Ford, Gandhi, Steve Jobs, Kafka, Martin Luther, Newton, Pythagorus, Rousseau, Upton Sinclair, Mark Twain, Kellog, and possibly Franklin, Jefferson, and Paine.)