Perhaps with some preconceived prejudice, I believe Lincoln to be our greatest President, because of what he accomplished to keep the nation whole. Many a lesser man, would have reconciled with the South and allowed them to become their own nation. It would have been the easiest thing to do. Much of the North would have agreed to do this. Consequently, we would have two nations and the issue of slavery would have waited another generation or two before it may have been resolved. Lincoln's greatness also extended to his genuine philosophy of always doing what was right regardless of public opinion. He listened to his cabinet and advisors to further educate himself on issues but often did not follow the majority advice (or that of the general public) to follow the course of action that his own convictions determined were right.
Three good examples. Much of his staff (and army officers) wanted him to execute thousands of men (most for desertion), but he often commuted sentences to prison and hard labor. He stated, "I doubt it makes any man better by shooting him. We should keep a man alive and get some work out of him." Another example, when asked why he was so kind to his enemies when he should be destroying them, he remarked, "Do I not destroy my enemy if I make him my friend?"
He actually delayed issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation by more than a year, because his stated intention as President during the war was the preservation of the union and not the abolition of slavery. He thought that issuing anything that moved toward abolition might further alienate the southern states and also drive the four slave states that stayed in the union out of the union and into the Confederacy. His policies did retain all four of those slave states for the duration of the war. In his inaugural address he stated, "I have no purpose to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it now exists. ...In your hands, my dissatisfied countrymen, lies the momentous issue of civil war." He further wrote in 1862, "My paramount object is to save the union, not save or destroy slavery."
Third, he was often asked during his re-election campaign, if he would offer reconciliation to the south in order to guarantee his re-election (when it appeared he was otherwise un-electable). He answered, "I would not do so. I would rather lose the election and continue doing what is right, than to lose the country only to get myself re-elected." When asked also to end the draft to improve his popularity, he replied, "What is the Presidency worth to me, if I have no country?"
The only other President that deserves mention in Lincoln's "best" classification would naturally be George Washington, although a significant portion of his greatness occurred before he became President, when he was essential to founding the country. However, as President, he started everything in the right direction, including steering the Presidency away from a "King," maintaining the concept that the President is responsible to the people (although in his day the "people" were mainly white, male, landowners), and voluntarily limiting himself to only two terms, which all Presidents other than FDR (who seemed to think he was King - and should not get as much credit for greatness as sometimes accorded him) followed before it became law to limit all future Presidents to two terms.
Happy Birthday President Lincoln! In 2009, Lincoln would be 200 years old.
"Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me."
St. John 14:6