Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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Andrew Ferguson on Lincoln’s Religion

Nice essay by the author of Land of Lincoln (and Weekly Standard editor) in First Things magazine. Excerpts:

Ferguson on Lincoln’s view of the Civil War: "This is no ordinary war, because this is no ordinary country."

"At Gettysburg, Lincoln explained why the country—the Union—was worth preserving. It was not any Union that was being ­preserved, it was a particular kind of Union: a Union dedicated to a timeless proposition that existed before the Union was even conceived."

"The war would determine whether such a proposition could be safely entrusted to human institutions."

The country, Lincoln believed, is the carrier of a precious cargo, a proposition that is the timeless human truth, and the survival of this principle will always be of providential importance. We assent to Lincoln’s creed, wide open as it is, when we think of ourselves as Americans."

Discussions - 18 Comments


In our discussion below, I indicated that the Lincoln cultists/apologists want it both ways on slavery. I submit the post above as exhibit # 1.

You are right that no serious scholar suggests that Lincoln went to War to free the slaves per se. But this kind of nonsense above is evidence of what I meant when I said they (Jaffaites in particular) imply he actually did. What exactly was this "timeless proposition" that it is suggested Lincoln wished to preserve if not a reference to the freeing of the slaves? So he didn't go to war to free the slaves, but, then again, he really did. Surely they are not such mindless statists that they believe that the "precious" proposition that was being preserved was the sanctity of an indivisible sovereign against the menace of secession.

How often do we have to go through this? The idea that America is a "proposition nation" is pure unadulterated liberalism. No conservative can believe such foolishness without getting their card taken away.

I sometimes wonder if y’all posts one of these obnoxious, totemistic paeans to Lincoln whenever page views are going down.

Here's Lincoln's explanation for the origin of the war:.

One eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the Southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was, somehow, the cause of the war. To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union, even by war; while the government claimed no right to do more than to restrict the territorial enlargement of it. Neither party expected for the war, the magnitude, or the duration, which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with, or even before, the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding.

He says slavery "somehow" was the cause of the war. More to the point, Lincoln acknowledges that emancipation was not on the rebels' agenda (obviously--just check the Confederate Constitution) nor was it on Lincoln's agenda (just read the first few paragraphs of his 1st Inaugural Address). "Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding." If we disagree about this, then there is no point in discussing this further; find some other blog to while away your time.

Well of course each side looked for an easier triumph. What fool wouldn't. The South to peacefully secede and the Unionist elements of the North for a quick victory or the South to reconsider. (Some elements in the North were fine with letting the South go.) Is this what I am being asked to agree with or the whole paragraph?

But the one inarguable, irreducible fact in all this is that if Lincoln hadn't invaded, there would have been no War. Period.

The Lincoln quote is his usual doublespeak. Absolving himself of guilt. "Insurgents," "rend the Union," "even by war" blah, blah, blah while poor little ol' me was only trying to ... Yeah, and the dog ate my homework.

Red thanks for reducing this conversation to "blah, blah, blah"! Can we now focus on the subject of this post?

It really is impossible to have a debate about the legality of secession with a Lincoln cultist. They immediately switch the debate to the morality of slavery. It's a classic red herring.

Along the way they throw out two pathetic excuses for an argument: 1. Secession equals anarchy. 2. The Articles of Confederation has the word "perpetual" in it.

It's as if they really expect me to believe that Robert E. Lee was an anarchist. It's as if the Articles hadn't been made null and void some seventy plus years before South Carolina left the Union.

I like Ferguson's tie in of the Fragment on Union/Proverbs 25:11. I like to think that the Bible was read again and again by a young Lincoln to fill his time as he plowed rows and performed heavy labor. As I was reading this section of the article another Proverb came to mind; Proverbs 1: 2-7 "To know wisdom and instruction,
to understand words of insight,to receive instruction in wise dealing,in righteousness, justice, and equity;
to give prudence to the simple,
knowledge and discretion to the youth—
Let the wise hear and increase in learning,and the one who understands obtain guidance,to understand a proverb and a saying, the words of the wise and their riddles. The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge;fools despise wisdom and instruction."

I can only imagine a mind as immense as Lincoln's latching on to a passage like this and coming to a great understanding of "fear of the LORD" especially later during the war.

Red Phillips, well, now there's a commenter I haven't seen for a little while. Why I am seeing him here now? Could it be because someone dared to put in a good word about LINCOLN? Oh, and the post is by someone who is a Lincoln scholar. Oh, and the timing is coordinated with Lincoln's birthday. But we at NLT we can't talk about what the Lincoln scholar posted, or just let it be, oh no, we have to hear you and others of your ilk go at it again. You've been patiently waiting for this week at NLT so you can regale us with your anti-Lincoln wisdom. But we already know your beef with Jaffa-ite Lincoln "cultists." Either we buy it or we don't. We've already had the 100plus comment threads re-arguing the Civil War, with your two bits thrown in at regular intervals. Enough already. There is no policy at NLT about kosher thought, but my advice to NLT readers is: Red Phillips + Lincoln topic = TROLL. And Trolls are for ignoring.

"Red Phillips, well, now there's a commenter I haven't seen for a little while."

I comment here often on a wide variety of topics. I guess you missed those.

"And Trolls are for ignoring."

That's right. Because you wouldn't want to be challenged by someone who doesn't spout the dogma.

Silent Majority,

Lincoln was a profane lout who was openly disdainful of Christianity. I hardly think he spent much time reading Proverbs. Are you spoofing?

Red just jumped the shark.

I can think of worse fates than being ignored by Carl Scott. In fact, "if you ignore us we will go away" probably would have been a pretty good motto for the Confederacy.

Every year Ashbrook people celebrate Linclon's birthday the same way. They act as if the equality theory expressed in the Declartion was something other than it was: a rather conventional statement of modern natural rights theory. It's something that had been going on in the English-speaking world at least since Hobbes.

All men are equal in the state of nature. Big deal. Adding a little metaphysical dribble to it apparently gives Ashbrook people the right to celebrate a war that refuted every other part of the Declaration: the "consent of the governed"; the right of the people to "alter or abolish" the government when it ceases to fulfill the ends for which it was made. And, of course, "exciting domestic insurrection" (i.e. slave revolts) which is exactly what Lincoln did when he found out he could not take away the South's right of self government in any other way.

Lincoln may or may not have read the Bible as much as any other frontier boy. Who knows? I suspect that would have a lot to do with how devout his parents were. But I hardly think he was reading the Bible as he "plowed rows" or performed "heavy labor." What I was reacting to was the hagiographic language. Lincoln surely made use of religious symbolism and idiom. And his supporters have certainly made use of it in his canonization, to the point of blasphemy on some occasions. (The Lincoln as national savior/salvation garbage.) But the use of religious language does not a devout Christian make. Lincoln was not one. Some have argued, including D. James Kennedy, that he became one before he died, but as far as I know there is little to suggest this is anything more than fanciful wishful thinking. For the sake of his immortal soul, I hope it is true.

Oh, no. I spoiled everything. I actually read the Andrew Ferguson article Lucas posted. It turns out to be a balanced and sensible discussion of the question, yes question, of his religious convictions. Turns out that we can't be altogether sure, although many people want us to be--one way or the other.

Thanks for noticing, Will. For those who have not read the article, due attention to the last sentence I cited in the original post would have suggested as much:

"We assent to Lincoln’s creed, wide open as it is, when we think of ourselves as Americans."

Thank you, Lucas.

By the way, First Things is a very good journal of which I let a subscription lapse.

Well it's wide-open creed. I can agree with that much.

The Democrats use it to justify race preferences and social leveling. The Republicans use it to justify their invade the world, invite the world foreign policy.

You can get a lot of mileage out of misinterpreting the basic modern natural rights teaching. But even if you use it correctly it's still a teaching that, as one scholar who shall not be named once said, is "wholly alien to the Bible."

Brutus, who needs the Bible when there is Natural Law to be interpreted from the tea leaves. Better yet when the interpretation of all things "self evident" are determined by a self-selected in group. :-)

Those Founding Fathers, who strongly believed in natural law (at least a great deal many of them anyway), and those pesky Founding Fathers who built their regime of liberty based upon those self-evident truths sure didn't know what they were talking about. It seems repeatedly that your version of the kind of country that you would very much like to have have made, and that which was created in the 1770s and 1780s are rather different.

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