Don Benito Juarez and Abraham Lincoln: A Powerful, Ethical Tandem
By Joe Olvera ©, 2012
Webster’s Dictionary defines ethics as: “pertaining to or dealing with morals or the principles of morality; pertaining to right and wrong in conduct; to be moral, upright, honest, righteous and virtuous” – it seems, however, that too many political and business leaders in El Paso and throughout the United States are ignoring the ethical standards set by some of our greatest world leaders.
It is evident that from former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, who tried to sell Barack Obama’s senatorial seat after Obama was elected President, to Carlos “Coach” Cordova, ex-EPISD trustee who traded votes for money, the proof is that some leaders just don’t understand what it means to be ethical. Corruption in all walks of life has wide-ranging tentacles that reach far and poison even the most virtuous. Yet, corruption is something that does not necessarily afflict every single person. Two men who exhibited high standards and who have stood above others in exemplifying their true and honest virtues are Abraham Lincoln and Don Benito Juarez. Would that the dozens of men and women who have been accused of corruption across this land of ours had followed their example.
Abraham Lincoln and Benito Juarez followed their true hearts to capture their individual nation’s attention and admiration for their high standards of living and governing. Lincoln, known as “Honest Abe,” said about the way others perceived him, “being ethical means being honest…(Honest Abe) was a good name, and I believe that a good name is more to be desired than great riches.” William Lee Miller in his book about Lincoln, “An Ethical Biography,” said that Lincoln was “a great man who was also a good man. He never left behind or rose above the role of politician, but rather fulfilled the highest possibilities of his honorable democratic vocation. Lincoln’s was a moral self-education – he was notable for learning from his own mistakes. He had penetrating insight, wisdom about human nature, tenacious purpose, a wonderful sense of humor, and an eloquent style of expression.”
Lincoln said: “If you’re ethical, you’ll strive to have good judgment. The true rule in determining to accept or reject anything is not whether it has any evil in it, but whether it has more of evil than of good. There are few things wholly evil or wholly good. I made it a practice to be so clear that no honest man could misunderstand me and no dishonest one could misrepresent me.”
Lincoln practiced an ethic of responsibility, as did Mexican President Benito Juarez. Like Lincoln, Juarez was born of modest means. He was a strong leader when his nation needed one. He took a stand on an issue which drove his nation to war, at the once, he was a trailblazer in Native Indian rights and justice. Mexico’s greatest president, Juarez – a Zapotec Indian born in the village of San Pablo Guelatao – became orphaned at an early age and did not speak Spanish until his later years. Known as a liberal reformer, he took on the powerful Catholic Church, an institution that wielded tremendous power in Mexico. A contemporary of Lincoln, both leaders were friends who have been honored in each other’s nation. So intertwined are the two great men in each other’s history that statues grace and honor each other’s countries.
For instance, a statue of Benito Juarez graces Washington, D.C. It’s probable that very few Washingtonians know about it, even though it stands across the street from the Watergate Mall – that most infamous of D.C. landmarks. Don Benito stands in supposed indignation, with finger pointing directly at what was once the office of the National Democratic Party, as if accusing then-President Richard M. Nixon of misdeeds to come and to be discovered. Don Abraham Lincoln’s statue, on the other side of the spectrum, is located in two great Mexican cities, namely Mexico City and Cd. Juarez. Not only that, but a major thoroughfare in Juarez is named after him – as in, Avenida Lincoln. The truth is that Juarenses and other Mexicans know more about Lincoln than Americans know of Benito Juarez, even though both great men shared similarities.
Believe it or not, but Benito Juarez started out life as a shepherd. And who hasn’t heard about Abraham Lincoln splitting rails and working as a toughened laborer. Both men became apprenticed to lawyers, were pushed into politics and, eventually became great leaders. They both were great orators, making profound remarks and speeches – words that have had everlasting effects on their societies. Benito Juarez became the first Constitutional President of Mexico in 1858, with Lincoln becoming the first Republican President of the United States in 1860. The two men respected each other and corresponded about common national problems.
The gist and the whole idea is that it is possible to be ethical and honest, yet, achieve greatness. A good name, as Lincoln said, “is more to be desired than great riches.” One wonders why someone would risk losing a reputation, losing a good name for a few paltry dollars. Is the money that important? Is the power that important? Those who have been caught, as it were, with their hand in the cookie jar must now realize their huge mistake. Albeit, that realization, for some, has come much too late. Yet, there is hope that others must learn from those mistakes. Only time will tell.