The excellent new Steven Spielberg movie, Lincoln, which has just been released here in the United States, brings this point out nicely. In the film, critics derisively refer to Lincoln as "King Abrahamus Lincolnus." At one point, a member of his own cabinet chides him for acting like an autocrat. (For what it's worth, such criticisms of Lincoln can be heard from many Americans even today -- especially among libertarians, miscellaneous small-government conservatives, and neo-confederate nostalgics.)
So maybe Satanovsky's right? Perhaps Assad and Lincoln have much more in common than we're willing to admit?
No. I actually don't think so. But why, exactly?
Because there's one big difference between the two leaders -- a big difference with many important implications. One of them is a true dictator, an absolute ruler in a country that hasn't known a free election or freedom of speech in decades. The other was elected in a free and fair election by a majority of his compatriots. And that's pretty much all the difference that you need.
As renowned Civil War historian James McPherson pointed out to me, Lincoln's opposition to the secession of the southern states -- who didn't even wait for him to assume office before they left the Union -- derived directly from the notion of popular sovereignty. Lincoln was at most eloquent about this in his magnificent First Inaugural Address:
This country, with its institutions, belongs to the people who inhabit it. Whenever they shall grow weary of the existing Government, they can exercise their constitutional right of amending it or their revolutionary right to dismember or overthrow it.