When considering Abraham Lincoln as a individual as a mechanism of social/governmental change, how does this help us to contextualize significant events, people, and intellectual developments and to identify the similarities among events separated by significant chronological, cultural and geographic distance?
We often hear the debate about whether or not the man created the times, or the times created the man. Would Lincoln, FDR or Washington be considered great Presidents if they were in office during another time, or if events such as independence, the Civil War or the Great Depression had occurred earlier or later than they did? It's a fair point to start a discussion with.
As far as Lincoln goes, as brilliant as he was, I am of the opinion he has been polished and lionized too much as a liberator of slaves/agent of social change. From my view, he was much more pragmatic about saving the Union, and at various points he advocated freed slaves resettling somewhere else, namely Latin America.
He largely is let off the hook for the unconstitutional acts of his presidency, suspension of habeus corpus, threatening the Supreme Court, imposition of an income tax, etc., as there is no other example in American history of a national emergency so clear as the Civil War and secession.
Most leaders of countries try to avoid civil war as such conflict is terribly detrimental to a country. For one thing, countrymen kill countrymen, so there is never any victory. But some of the actions that Abraham Lincoln took were unconstitutional, such as his suspension of the writ of habeus corpus.
It is curious how many countries have a northern part that feels itself superior to the southern part of the country such as Italy, Ireland, etc.
I suppose that you could look at Lincoln and compare him with other historical (and modern) figures who have had to respond to civil wars. What Lincoln did seems to be similar to what many leaders have done. Leaders do not seem willing to give up parts of their country, whether or not others might think that the rebellious areas should be allowed autonomy.
This can be seen in figures as diverse as Lincoln, Santa Anna (not wanting to let Texas leave Mexico) and Vladimir Putin (Chechnya). Therefore, there seems to be a major similarity between events that are widely separated in time, place, and culture.