Mahatma Gandhi was a prominent Indian political leader who campaigned for Indian independence. He employed non-violent principles and peaceful disobedience. He was assassinated in 1948, shortly after achieving his life goal of Indian independence. In India, he is known as ‘Father of the Nation’.
“When I despair, I remember that all through history the ways of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants, and murderers, and for a time they can seem invincible, but in the end they always fall. Think of it–always.”
Short Bio Mahatma Gandhi
Mohandas Gandhi was born, 1869, in Porbandar, India. Mohandas was from the social cast of tradesmen. His mother was illiterate, but her common sense and religious devotion had a lasting impact on Gandhi’s character. As a youngster, Mohandas was a good student, but the shy young boy displayed no signs of leadership. On the death of his father, Mohandas travelled to England to gain a degree in law. He became involved with the Vegetarian society and was once asked to translate the Hindu Bhagavad Gita. This epic of Hindu literature awakened in Gandhi a sense of pride in the Indian scriptures, of which the Gita was the pearl.
Around this time, he also studied the Bible and was struck by the teachings of Jesus Christ – especially the emphasis on humility and forgiveness. He remained committed to the Bible and Bhagavad Gita throughout his life, though he was critical of aspects of both religions.
Gandhi in South Africa
On completing his degree in Law, Gandhi returned to India, where he was soon sent to South Africa to practise law. In South Africa, Gandhi was struck by the level of racial discrimination and injustice often experienced by Indians. It was in South Africa that Gandhi first experimented with campaigns of civil disobedience and protest; he called his non violent protests – satyagraha. Despite being imprisoned for short periods of time he also supported the British under certain conditions. He was decorated by the British for his efforts during the Boer war and Zulu rebellion.
Gandhi and Indian Independence
After 21 years in South Africa, Gandhi returned to India in 1915. He became the leader of the Indian nationalist movement campaigning for home rule or Swaraj.
Gandhi successfully instigated a series of non violent protest. This included national strikes for one or two days. The British sought to ban opposition, but the nature of non-violent protest and strikes made it difficult to counter.
Gandhi also encouraged his followers to practise inner discipline to get ready for independence. Gandhi said, the Indians had to prove they were deserving of independence. This is in contrast to independence leaders such as Aurobindo Ghose, who argued that Indian independence was not about whether India would offer better or worse government, but that it was the right for India to have self government.
Gandhi also clashed with others in the Indian independence movement such as Subhas Chandra Bose who advocated direct action to overthrow the British.
Gandhi frequently called off strikes and non-violent protest if he heard people were rioting or violence was involved.
In 1930, Gandhi led a famous march to the sea in protest at the new Salt Acts. In the sea they made their own salt – in violation of British regulations. Many hundreds were arrested and Indian jails were full of Indian independence followers.
However, whilst the campaign was at its peak some Indian protesters killed some British civilians, as a result Gandhi called off the independence movement saying that India was not ready. This broke the heart of many Indians committed to independence. It led to radicals like Bhagat Singh carrying on the campaign for independence, which was particularly strong in Bengal.
Gandhi and the Partition of India
After the war, Britain indicated that they would give India independence. However, with the support of the Muslims led by Jinnah, the British planned to partition India into two – India and Pakistan. Ideologically Gandhi was opposed to partition. He worked vigorously hard to show that Muslims and Hindus could live together peacefully. At his prayer meetings, Muslim prayers were read out along side Hindu and Christian prayers. However, Gandhi agreed to the partition and spent the day of Independence in prayer mourning the partition. Even Gandhi’s fasts and appeals were insufficient to prevent the wave of sectarian violence and killing that followed the partition.
Away from the politics of Indian independence Gandhi was harshly critical of the Hindu Caste system. In particular he inveighed against the ‘untouchable’ caste, who were treated abysmally by society. He launched many campaigns to change the status of the untouchables. Although his campaigns were met with much resistance, they did go along way to changing century old prejudices.
At the age of 78, Gandhi undertook another fast to try and prevent the sectarian killing. After 5 days, the leaders agreed to stop killing. But, ten days later, Gandhi was shot dead by a Hindu Brahmin opposed to Gandhi’s support for Muslims and the untouchables.
Gandhi and Religion
Gandhi was a seeker of the truth.
“In the attitude of silence the soul finds the path in a clearer light, and what is elusive and deceptive resolves itself into crystal clearness. Our life is a long and arduous quest after Truth.”
Gandhi said his great aim in life was to have a vision of God. He sought to worship God and promote religious understanding. He sought inspiration from many different religions – Jainism, Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism and incorporate them into his own philosophy.
“With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds…. “
– Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln was born Feb 12, 1809, in Hardin Country, Kentucky. His family upbringing was modest; his parents from Virginia were neither wealthy or well known. At an early age, the young Abraham lost his mother and his father moved away to Indiana. Abraham had to work hard splitting logs and other manual labour. But, he also had a thirst for knowledge and worked very hard to excel in his studies. This led him to become trained as a lawyer. He spent eight years working on the Illinois court circuit; his ambition, drive and capacity for hard work were evident to all around him. He also had a good sense of humour and was depreciating about his looks.
“If I were two-faced, would I be wearing this one?”
He married Mary Todd and had four children, although three died before reaching maturity.
As a lawyer, Abraham developed a great capacity for quick thinking and oratory. His interest in public issues encouraged him to stand for public office. In 1854 he was elected to the House of Representatives and he tried to gain nomination for the Senate in 1858. Although he lost this election, his debating skills caused him to become well known within the Republican party. In particular, during this campaign he gave one of his best remembered speeches.
A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure, permanently, half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved — I do not expect the house to fall — but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other. Either the opponents of slavery will arrest the further spread of it, and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in the course of ultimate extinction; or its advocates will push it forward, till it shall become lawful in all the States, old as well as new — North as well as South.
In this House divided speech, Lincoln gave a prophetic utterance to the potential for slavery to divide the nation.
The reputation he gained on the campaign trail caused him to be elected as Republican nominee for President in 1860.
The election of Lincoln as President in 1861, sparked the South to succeed from the North. Southern independence sentiment had been growing for many years and the election of a president opposed to slavery was the final straw. However, Lincoln resolutely opposed the breakaway of the South and so this led to the American civil war. The civil war was much more costly than many people anticipated and at times Lincoln appeared to be losing the support of the general population. But, he managed to keep the Republican party together, stifling dissent by promoting the various Republican factions into the cabinet. Lincoln oversaw many of the military aspects of the war and promoted the general Ulysses S Grant to oversee the northern forces.
Initially the war was primarily about succession and the survival of the Union, but as the war progressed Lincoln increasingly made the issue of ending slavery paramount. To Lincoln, slavery was fundamentally wrong.
“Whenever I hear anyone arguing for slavery, I feel a strong impulse to see it tried on him personally.”
On January 1, 1863, Lincoln issued his memorable Emancipation Proclamation that declared the freedom of slaves within the Confederacy.
“… all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free; and the Executive Government of the United States, including the military and naval authority thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of such persons,…” (Emancipation Proclamation)
Eventually, after four years of attrition, the Federal forces secured the surrender of the defeated south. Lincoln had saved the union and also brought to head the end of slavery.
Dedicating the ceremony at Gettysburg on November 19, 1863, Lincoln declared:
“that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain–that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom–and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
Lincoln was tragically assassinated by John Wilkes Booth, an actor on, April 14, 1865. He is widely regarded as one of America’s most influential and important presidents. As well as saving the union, Lincoln was viewed as embodying the ideals of honesty and integrity.