Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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David Brooks "Stuck in Lincoln’s Land"

NY Times columnist David Brooks reminds us why Lincoln remains, at least for most Americans, the lodestar of political principle and practice in today’s op-ed entitled, "Stuck in Lincoln’s Land". Perhaps it is just a sign of the times, but Brooks feels compelled to tout Lincoln’s moderate credentials as the genius of his statesmanship, even as he affirms Lincoln’s devotion to the Declaration of Independence. Somehow, "Lincoln the Moderate" doesn’t quite do justice to the traditional (and correct) appellation, "Lincoln the Great Emancipator." One hopes we can agree that there were a few things Lincoln was not moderate about, and foremost among these was his belief in human equality.

Discussions - 5 Comments

Emancipator certainly. But also defender of the Constitutional Union via war. Brooks’ recasting Lincoln as an urban meterosexual is silly. Lincoln served God and the Founders, and used his office to prosecute the most savage war in the Nation’s history to achieve just ends.

Equality was not foremost among Lincoln’s ideals. He said he would free the slaves if it would hold the Union togather. He also said he would keep them slaves if it would hold the Union together. He sounds much more like a pragmatist than whatever Brooks means by "moderate." I like Lincoln too, but we should stop trying to canonize him.

Lincoln once wrote, "All this is not the result of accident. It has a philosophical cause. Without the Constitution and the Union, we could not have attained the result; but even these, are not the primary cause of our great prosperity. There is something back of these, entwining itself more closely about the human heart. That something, is the principle of ’Liberty to all’--the principle that clears the path for all--gives hope
to all--and, by consequence, enterprize, and industry to all.

"The expression of that principle, in our Declaration of Independence, was most happy, and fortunate. Without this, as well as with it, we could have declared our independence of Great Britain; but without it, we could not, I think, have secured our free government, and consequent prosperity."

For Lincoln, freedom and prosperity were due to the Founders’ devotion to establishing a government that would secure "liberty to all." If the "all" does not imply equality, no word does.

Yes, slavery existed in America. But instead of waiting for it to perish on its own--an unlikely event--they fought for the right to govern themselves, and erected constitutional structures upon the principles of human equality and government by consent of the governed. As the nation made progress in securing equal rights through the imperfect mechanism of the consent of the governed, to that extent slavery was put on the course of ultimate extinction.

Lincoln constantly referred to the Declaration of Independence in his effort to restrict the spread of slavery. Only by recurring to first principles, esp. the first principle of human equality, did he believe the nation could return slavery to what he called "the course of ultimate extinction." He thought the union and Constitution were not worth saving if they were not understood to enshrine the principle of human equality. As he put it, "This is a world of compensations; and he who would be no slave, must consent to have no slave. Those who deny freedom to others, deserve it not for themselves; and, under a just God, can not long retain it."

Lincoln Continental - Read the Cooper’s Union Address. Lincoln was anti-slavery. The Union was his first priority, but he was always anti-slavery, and campaigned that way.

What a selective reading of Lincoln, Mr. Morel. How do you explain this?

While I was at the hotel to-day an elderly gentleman called upon me to know whether I was really in favor of producing a perfect equality between the negroes and white people. [Great laughter.] While I had not proposed to myself on this occasion to say much on that subject, yet as the question was asked me I thought I would occupy perhaps five minutes in saying something in regard to it. I will say then that 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, [applause]---that I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will for ever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality.

Abraham Lincoln, 4th Lincoln-Douglas Debate

From Hastert’s website:


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