Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Published in The Civil War & Lincoln


A Largely Forgotten Man

A hero to many contemporary conservatives and libertarians, William Graham Sumner (who penned the phrase "the forgotten man," which was then misappropriated by FDR), takes a beating from Steve Hayward. Sumner joined the attack on Progressive Darwinists who, along with this Social Darwinist, renounced the Declaration of Independence.

Categories > Conservatism

The Civil War & Lincoln

America's Good Friday

Abraham Lincoln was assassinated on April 15, 147 years ago today. The event fell on Good Friday.

The Civil War & Lincoln

A Southern Strategery for America

Jonah Goldberg proposes federalism as means of peaceful coexistence betweeen the left and right. Trouble is, it has been tried before: Stephen Douglas. The other guy eventually won. Let's stick by Abe's "tough nut to crack."

In California, among other states, the left has long been at work on "independent state grounds" laws. In this regard, opponents of abortion are misguided in their focus on Roe v. Wade, which certainly should be overturned. Overthrowing Roe would permit state legislatures to restrict abortion, but it would leave other, liberal states with abortion rights protected. For more on "independent state grounds" see this book on democracy in California and this article by Edward Erler.

The Sage of Mt. Airy has more theoretical speculations on the meanings of federalism for the right and for the left.

The Civil War & Lincoln

Lincoln as Shakespeare Critic

Douglas Wilson, who recovered how Lincoln criticized and edited his speeches (link corrected, thanks, reader), reflects on his serious study of Shakespeare. Wilson notes that Lincoln knew the differences between Shakespeare's texts and the stage versions used by actors. It does give insight into his direction of America's greatest drama--the Civil War.


Obama Abuses Lincoln

Of course, you say, but Harry Jaffa corrects Obama's SOTU misquotation precisely, in Charles Johnson's interview with him:

Professor Jaffa noted that this quotation leaves out a great deal. The 93-year-old Jaffa recited the full statement from Lincoln's speech, "The Nature and Objects of Government, with Special Reference to Slavery" (July 1, 1854) by memory:

"The legitimate object of government is to do for a community of people whatever they need to have done, but cannot do at all, or cannot so well do, for themselves in their separate and individual capacities."

Notice the difference? The emphasis is on the need to have done, not on government doing the action. "That distinction was missing from his quotation," Jaffa explains. Yet Obama has repeatedly invoked this misleading Lincoln quotation on both the campaign trail and during his presidency.

Johnson is the go-to guy for reporting on all things Claremont, including the recent admissions scandal. He is working on more stories on the scandal, one that could result in further resignations, including that of the President, who has effectively undermined the conservative scholars at the College.

Categories > Presidency


"Embarassment" of Debates (update)

The current Republican exchanges? Besides those, the Lincoln-Douglas debates, according to the popularizing Lincoln scholar Harold Holzer. He responded to Newt Gingrich's call for Lincoln-Douglas debates against Obama. Holzer, however, reassures us that "Rather than inspiring memorable words, they proved for the most part an embarrassment." In fact, in his view, they show Lincoln's racial bigotry: 

"I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races," he declared in Charleston, Ill., to robust cheers, "nor ever have been in favor of making voters of the negroes, or jurors, or qualifying them to hold office, or having them to marry with white people." It was not the future emancipator's finest hour.

This is mediocre historian shallowness, which ignores what Lincoln might do in the future--shown clearly by the Emancipation Proclamation, his allowing blacks to fight in the Union army, and his early policies for reintegrating the South. Lincoln had no reason to speak of such civil and political equality, when most blacks were slaves. This superficiality breeds ignorant Lincoln haters and other cyncial leftists who despise their country. Though Holzer describes well the excitement of the debates, he, like most historians, simply doesn't see the principles involved. Ultimately, he does not understand the subjects as they understood themselves.

Read Harry Jaffa, author of the best book on political science since The Federalist. Crisis of the House Divided is also available via google books.  Ashbrook has a pdf as well, but I can't find it. In the meantime here are some short essays by real Lincoln scholars.


Our friend Jack Pitney is skeptical of Newt's debating skills.


Categories > Presidency


The Martin Luther King Memorial Opens

This Sunday the Martin Luther King memorial officially opens, though beginning yesterday the grounds were open to the public.  I am skeptical--it seems too grandiose--but I withhold judgment on the 30-foot sculpture until I get a chance to view it:

The design gave form to a line from Dr. King's "Dream" speech -- "With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope," said Mr. Jackson. In the memorial, he noted, Dr. King is seen emerging from the stone of hope. The two towering mounds set slightly behind him, forming a sort of passageway to the statue, are mountains of despair.

Some visitors said they did not like the fact that Dr. King was facing the Jefferson Memorial, not the Lincoln Memorial, but Mr. McNeil said he did not mind.

That Dr. King looks at Jefferson raises a few questions:  Is he acknowledging Jefferson's good start?  Is he reproaching him for the incompleteness of his achievement?  Is he recognizing the thralldom of blacks to FDR's memorial and the Democratic party? 

There is another angle on Dr. King that demands reflection:

A bizarre paradox in the new secular order is the celebration of Dr. King's birthday, a national holiday acclaimed as the heartbeat of articulated idealism in race relations, conscientiously observed in our schools, with, however, scant thought given to Dr. King's own faith.

This is Willliam F. Buckley, Jr., from his speech in response to an Oct. 20, 1999 tribute by the Heritage Foundation.  H/t Lucas Morel. 


Categories > Race


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.

Categories > Presidency

The Civil War & Lincoln

Lincoln on Dred Scott and Self-government

Abraham Lincoln delivered one of his greatest speeches 154 years ago today, on the Dred Scott decision.  The speech explains the meaning of the Declaration of Independence but also the place of the Supreme Court in a democratic, self-governing society.  The principles of equality and self-government demand the elimination of slavery and the containment of the Supreme Court.  Lincoln's speech clearly indicates that Justice Holmes, not Chief Justice Taney, would be the worst justice the Court has ever known.


Overturning Plessy v. Ferguson

The descendants of the litigants in the great civil rights case of 1896 form a foundation.  Sweet idea, and I'm wondering whether serious tea party-style activists might follow suit by forming similar foundations devoted to ending irrational discrimination.  They might find inspiration in Jennifer Roback Morse's libertarian scholarship, which notes the City of New Orleans overriding the railway's preference for integrated seating.  (Clint Bolick has also performed great service along these lines.)  Here is another way to put natural rights-thinking to practical use.  Reading Charles Lofgren's classic work on Plessy is essential background.  The Claremont historian shows the direct ties between Plessy's arguments and the Declaration of Independence.

The Tea Party's most appealing argument is for the restoration of the principles of the Declaration of Independence in everyday life.  The fight for color-blind justice is an essential part of that argument.  Thanks to Mike in the comments.

Treppenwitz:  Here is one version of Edward Erler's argument on Plessy's persistence in our jurisprudence.

Categories > Race