Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Abraham Lincoln on our Internal Divisions

On this July 4th, Revisit Lincoln's Lyceum Address

This is Lincoln as a 20-something with the wisdom of the ancients and profound messages for us today!

Lincoln began by expressing gratitude to our ancestors who founded and built our nation. Demonstrating conservatism at its very best, he connected the generations of the living, dead, and yet unborn in a community of mutual obligation. It is our task, Lincoln said of the living, to protect and then pass on to posterity what we have inherited.

Where, Lincoln asked, will the threat to our inheritance and our survival as a nation come from? Will it come from an army overseas? Profoundly not, Lincoln asserted. No military force could “take a drink from the Ohio, or make a track on the Blue Ridge, in a trial of a thousand years.” The great danger to the United States will come from inside America, he said. “As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time or die by suicide.”

What are the dangers Lincoln saw that may come to undermine the United States? He warned first of the “mobocratic spirit”—“the increasing disregard for law which pervades the country; the growing disposition to substitute the wild and furious passions in lieu of the sober judgment of the Courts.”
When I recently discussed this text with students, many of them immediately saw parallels with today’s “social media mobs” passionately denouncing those with whom they disagree or sentencing people for perceived crimes of political incorrectness. To counter this spirit of the mob, Lincoln taught a strict dedication to the Constitution and the rule of law, going so far as to say that everyone must remember that “to violate the law, is to trample the blood of his father, and to tear the character of his own, and his children’s liberty.”

Second, he warned in very stark terms of the dangers of political leadership. Rather than celebrating great leaders who would come in the United States, he feared that men would arise with grand ambitions to be satisfied. Where our founders were able to satisfy their ambitions by founding the United States, he feared future leaders, having inherited America already built, would seek to gain their own fame in destruction and rebuilding. Those who scorn “to tread in the footsteps of any predecessor, however illustrious,” he said, belonged to “the family of the lion, or the tribe of the eagle.”

Read my full article here.

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