Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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Presidency

Stephen Douglas Obama, the Great Compromiser

For Obama, America is great because of its moments of compromise--not for its uncompromising moments (Declaration of Independence, Civil War).  I guess Obama thinks the Compromise of 1850 (Fugitive Slave Act) is our grand model.  Reflect on his conclusion below:

America, after all, has always been a grand experiment in compromise.  As a democracy made up of every race and religion, where every belief and point of view is welcomed, we have put to the test time and again the proposition at the heart of our founding:  that out of many, we are one.  We've engaged in fierce and passionate debates about the issues of the day, but from slavery to war, from civil liberties to questions of economic justice, we have tried to live by the words that Jefferson once wrote:  "Every man cannot have his way in all things -- without this mutual disposition, we are disjointed individuals, but not a society." 

History is scattered with the stories of those who held fast to rigid ideologies and refused to listen to those who disagreed.  But those are not the Americans we remember.  We remember the Americans who put country above self, and set personal grievances aside for the greater good.  We remember the Americans who held this country together during its most difficult hours; who put aside pride and party to form a more perfect union.  

Well, out of the Compromise of 1850 we got California into the Union.

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"Well, out of the Compromise of 1850 we got California into the Union"

I guess you can look on the bright side. The Stupid State gave the other 49 states a place to send the whackos, nuts, fruits, drug addicts, hippies and the bane of society that the 49 other states did not want.

Interestingly, I just read Abraham Lincoln's famous eulogy of Henry Clay...

To Otis: Do tell. Just what about Lincoln's Eulogy to Clay sheds light on our current political situation? I can think of a few pertinent passages: "Mr. Clay's predominant sentiment, from first to last, was a deep devotion to the cause of human liberty---a strong sympathy with the oppressed every where, and an ardent wish for their elevation. With him, this was a primary and all controlling passion. Subsidiary to this was the conduct of his whole life. He loved his country partly because it was his own country, but mostly because it was a free country; and he burned with a zeal for its advancement, prosperity and glory, because he saw in such, the advancement, prosperity and glory, of human liberty, human right and human nature. He desired the prosperity of his countrymen partly because they were his countrymen, but chiefly to show to the world that freemen could be prosperous."

There's also this: "A free people, in times of peace and quiet---when pressed by no common danger---naturally divide into parties. At such times, the man who is of neither party, is not---cannot be, of any consequence. Mr. Clay, therefore, was of a party."

Of course, one couldn't praise Clay without noting his raison d'etre: "Whatever he did, he did for the whole country. In the construction of his measures he ever carefully surveyed every part of the field, and duly weighed every conflicting interest. Feeling, as he did, and as the truth surely is, that the world's best hope depended on the continued Union of these States, he was ever jealous of, and watchful for, whatever might have the slightest tendency to separate them."

In a speech where one would expect the virtues of compromise to be trumpeted, Lincoln places Clay's noble principles and aims center stage--before the backdrop of his more commonly remembered appellation as the Great Compromiser and Pacificator. (The word "compromise" appears only twice in the eulogy, whereas "union," "liberty," and "free" [or "freedom"] each appear at least 10 times, and "right" or "rights" six times.)

America is where "every belief and point of view is welcomed"? Yes, if one means that one is free to discuss a diversity of opinions but only as a means to discern what is right and good. I fear our president mistakes the means for the end, and so concur with the title of this blog point associating POTUS with Lincoln's nemesis, whose chief notoriety is mistaking a means (popular sovereignty) as the end or summum bonum of American self-government.

Dr. Morel,

Thank you for your response, and your analysis of the piece in question. Let me say, first, that President Obama is flat wrong in saying “every” point of view and belief is welcomed (take cannibalism as an extreme example). In that regard Mr. Obama is wrong, and you are right to point out that the backdrop ought to “points of view” ought to be with an eye to securing Liberty and the Union. In this regard you are quite right.

But, in his second paragraph, which I don’t think you remarked upon, he does make remarks very similar to those you pointed out from Lincoln’s speech.

Finally, my comment, in part, came from this portion of the speech:

“Cast into life where slavery was already widely spread and deeply seated, he did not perceive, as I think no wise man has perceived, how it could be at once eradicated, without producing a greater evil, even to the cause of human liberty itself. His feeling and his judgment, therefore, ever led him to oppose both extremes of opinion on the subject.”

My main point is that a compromise, like those initiated by Mr. Clay, can be useful in solving problems in the long run. Republicans, the “nemeses” of Obama, ought to remember this in dealing with the President, for instance in the debt ceiling. If the deficit is an “evil” (obviously incomparable to slavery), then a lack of a deal may be a worse evil. The need is for prudence and “far-sightedness”, in proposing a solution that avoids the greater evil and puts the lesser evil on a path to extinction. The Republicans may run into the problem of becoming the ideologues that President Obama wants to paint them as if they refuse to compromise.

Otis and Professor Morel,

those two comments are great examples of what make this blog so excellent. Thank you.

"We remember the Americans who held this country together during its most difficult hours; who put aside pride and party to form a more perfect union."

And then collectively vilify them in the schools for compromising with people who would not compromise on slavery. Dead white males all, I suppose, none to be honored. Except of course, we forget that the world we live in was made because they made it, even with their faults, and it didn't have to work well in *any* respect, much less in the respects that it actually works. We could, after all be France, still trying to get it right (think of their strikes), or Russia, seemingly to never get it right.

Looking at modern school texts, I hope I would be forgiven if I got the idea that Harriet Tubman single-handedly wrote the Gettysburg Address and the Declaration of Independence in between bouts of inventing the telegraph and telling George Washington to surround Cornwallis at Yorktown. Now, perhaps I am wrong to look askance at the President's embrace of those in the past who had to do "harder rights" to make America thrive, but it seems that even if *he* believes in those of the past who made the Great Experiment work--men of the past; largely white, largely Anglo-Saxon, largely protestant men of the past--I don't think his party does. Based on the observable evidence.

But perhaps I am wrong.

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