Prudence, or practical wisdom, is essential for effective political leadership. The historian James M. McPherson recalls how early in his career he found Abraham Lincoln to be too cautious and wondered why the president could not have made ending slavery a central objective of the Civil War. In later years he came to a different perspective:
Only after years of studying the powerful crosscurrents of political and military pressures on Lincoln did I come to appreciate the skill with which he steered between the numerous shoals of conservatism and radicalism, free states and slave states, abolitionists, Republicans, Democrats, and border state Unionists to maintain a steady course that brought the nation victory – and the abolition of slavery – in the end. If he had moved decisively against slavery in the war’s first year, as radicals pressed him to do, he might well have fractured his war coalition, driven border-state Unionists over to the Confederacy, lost the war, and witnessed the survival of slavery for at least another generation.
A leader of a democratic nation cannot rule by edict. He or she must persuade others that moving in a certain direction is both wise and just. Let us pray that our present and future leaders will possess the virtue of prudence as they seek to lead our nation in the coming years.