One of the most important roles of a President is to be a moral leader, a person who sets the standard for what is moral and ethical in public affairs,
And nothing is more important than to have the courage to take leadership on human rights matters, whether in the United States or in other nations.
In that regard, Barack Obama will always stand out for what he did on Wednesday, speaking up for gay rights, including the right to marry.
Who else among our Presidents can be seen as a moral leader on human rights issues?
John Quincy Adams, as President and in his post Presidential career in the House of Representatives, campaigned against slavery and the slave trade, and was censured by the House of Representatives for fighting the gag rule (forbidding discussion of slavery in the House chamber) over and over again. He also represented the slaves aboard the slave ship Amistad, and won the court case for their freedom in 1841.
Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, a move many thought was unwise and might undermine the Union effort during the Civil War. But he believed that African Americans should be given freedom.
Harry Truman took the earliest steps in promoting civil rights for African Americans in the 1940s when segregation reigned in the South, and he went ahead anyway and promoted integration of the military and of the nation’s capital, Washington, DC.
Dwight D. Eisenhower alienated the white South when he sent in National Guard troops to Little Rock, Arkansas, to enforce integration of a public high school.
John F. Kennedy followed Eisenhower’s lead, in promoting National Guard intervention at the University of Mississippi and the University of Alabama, to bring about integration, and also proposed a civil rights law that he had to know would be extremely difficult to accomplish.
Lyndon B. Johnson, despite his Southern heritage, became the great proponent of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, knowing it would turn the white South over to the Republican Party, as it did.
Richard Nixon signed affirmative action into law, which became one of the great advancements in civil rights for women and minorities.
Jimmy Carter became the advocate of promoting human rights overseas, instead of accepting violations by so called “friendly” nations, as part of the business of diplomacy. He was bitterly criticized as naive, but his human rights beliefs remain one of his great legacies.
And now Barack Obama joins this group on Presidential courage in relation to the advancement of human rights! Kudos to him!