Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Lincoln and self-government

I’m in Anchorage, having just heard (at 7 a.m.!) the president of the University of Alaska talk some academic politics. Seems like a smart enough fellow and I was pleased to hear him note that, never minds that president’s day stuff, today is Mr. Lincoln’s birthday. And I will be speaking tonight on "Lincoln’s Majestic Interpretation of the Universe." (Which speech, if it works, I’ll put out later.) But this speech on Abe is the best oration ever, and worth re-reading. Andrew Ferguson has a very nice essay on Lincoln’s cabin and its logs. If you ever wondered about the details and rumors surrounding it, it’s all here, explained in a clear and charming way. Besides, as the last paragraph explains, its the undeniable truth about Lincoln and the American miracle that counts more than the logs.

I was in New Delhi some twenty years ago, with a brief four-hour break from my labors. So my Indian driver asked if he could take me to the soul of India. I said, sure, if it isn’t too far. He took me to Ghandi’s tomb and explained to me that he was their "great souled" man, great as in "ma" and soul as in "hatma." We talked about that for a while, and then we talked about the Greek word for soul and how that is related to Hindi (Sanscrit) and he asked who our great souled man was. He was testing me. He already knew the answer, but I got it right. We noted two things: that the word soul means breath (and the word sounds like breath in most languages, perhaps even in non Indo-European ones, at least the one’s we knew between us two), and that the great of soul of a man differs from India to America. It is related to justice, and excellence, and a kind of love, but in our version it was vitally important for Lincoln to speak, and to speak clearly, and always to be understood by his audience. In his soul he knew this. He wanted to lift them to his thoughts, and then, of course, persuade them if he could. But he wanted them to come to their own conclusion, to prove to themselves that they could. They should feel at ease and at home in the presence of their reason and their language and the great truths about the human soul, and know that they could get it on their own. Lincoln’s great gift to his friends and citizens was to show them how they may come to know the great truths about their purpose and freedom as human beings, and then to act like men in the world and become worthy of those truths. My driver saw the difference.

Discussions - 34 Comments

Freedom is a solvent, not a guiding political or cultural principle. Freedom from what? Freedom for what? Once those questions are answered then "freedom" becomes circumscribed.


Seriously, Lincoln as America's Ghandi? I bet the 30 or 40 million unborn children slaughtered since roe v wade would have a slightly different perspective...

Well, since Ghandi was a peace at all costs kind of guy, the 30 to 40 million unborn children slaughtered would have still happened even under his watch.

What I found interesting here was Peter's taste for great oratory: he puts what Douglass said at the top, and surely that's right. It is a truly remarkable and dramatic speech.

The comparison with Gandhi is also interesting. Peter's point was that greatness of soul takes its shape from the justice and excellence of a particular people and their regime, and that Lincoln was the apotheosis of the democratic political leader. Gandhi was no democrat, but he helped prepare a people for democracy.


I look forward to listening to your speech, I have faith that it will work.

All Hail the Most Holy Father Abraham! All Hail the Most Holy Father Abraham! He shed Southern blood to atone for all our sins.

Happy Birthday Abe! Peter I hope the weather there is not too frightful. Enjoy a Torano, fill a glass, and be thankful that the Almighty has given us these great men like the Apostle Paul, President Lincoln, and Ben Kingsly er Gandhi to act prudently in times of crisis. Cheers!

Good grief George. Are you deliberately trying to validate Real Conservative's parody?

So it was "prudent" to start a war, trample the Constitution, destroy the Old Republic, and get 620,000 of both countries' best and brightest killed? I would hate to see rashness.

For those who objected to my past characterization of "prudence" as Straussian code, I submit the above as evidence. So what Paul, Lincoln and Gandhi had in common was prudence? Whatever buddy.

Happy Birthday, indeed. Enjoy Alaska, Peter. I have yet to get up there but from what my father tells me, its beautiful country.

Bear with me, Red. You too real conservative. I'm not trying to be a revisionist but since according to your earlier statements, all I've been weened on growing up was Lincoln cult-worship:

The last time I checked, Seven seceded from the Union before Lincoln took office and Ft. Sumpter was attacked by the confederacy. The logic of causality would indicate that the Union (and Lincoln) did not start the War. The South did.

So in terms of being prudent vs. rash: it wasn't Lincoln. Sorry to disappoint.

Ahhh come one, don't you know Lincoln is the source of all modern day evils in America? (sarcasm ended)

And we thought Bush was the beginning of the derangement syndrome.

Luke, you just demonstrated that you have been weened on Yankee propaganda. Secession IS NOT an aggressive act. It is not an act of war. It is a peaceful act. In fact, it is a peaceful alternative to revolution. Sending ships to resupply a fort in what was by then another country is an aggressive act of war.

But, I suppose that's not neo-Confederate propaganda?

So, Red, if that is your defense ... well ... it is weak.

And, if that isn't spin, I don't know what is.

Note, Red, the North was attempting to resupply. The South stopped the attempt.

That would be considered an act of war.

Of course, the first shot was fired by the South.

Are you attempting to state that was not an act of war?

Are you attempting to state that resupplying deserves an all out war, while actual military action (firing the first shot) doesn't?

Again, it is a very weak defense.

Also, Red, why is the fort automatically Confederate property?

On what basis did the South have any clear claim to the fort?

It appears you are excusing theft by force.


Well, I'm not a Yankee. I may currently live in Yankee territory (that being the great state of PA), but I ardently consider myself a Californian (which all the conundrums that accompany that title).

That said, I'm wondering how secession is not aggressive? Peaceful, sure but to say that dissolving the bands that tie a people together is not aggressive is down right naive.

The aggressive act is obstruction of resupply because it means physical force or the imminent threat thereof to prevent the LAWFUL entry of parties to and from property that is rightfully theirs.

It is not naive, but a calculated argument designed to soften the realities of the Southern Confederacy.

Why did Lincoln abandon other Forts in the South, but stay in Sumter? This was clearly a way for him to manipulate the South into firing the first shot. Yes it was clearly an aggressive act for him to attempt to resuply Fort Sumter after it was no longer in US territory the same way it would be an aggressive act if we tried to resuply Clark AB in the Philippines. It was not his country to do so anymore.

The South was willing to compensate the US for some of these things and sent peace emissaries to Washington to negotiate. The "peace loving" Lincoln refused to see them. It arguably was a strategic PR mistake for the South to play into Lincoln's hands and fire the first shot. The fact that the modern day justifiers of violence in the name of maintaining the Hobbesian Leviathan state still cling to that thin reed is evidence of this.

It all comes back to whether or not secession was legal and right. But you keep on pimping for Leviathan boys if it makes you feel better. Just don't act surprised at three trillion plus budgets or take seriously your own rhetoric in favor of "limited" government. Limited as long as the all powerful central state sovereign allows it.

Red -Do you think that slavery was the cause of the Civil War?

Fair question George. Slavery was clearly a cause of secession. It was not the only cause of secession, as the mythology would have it, but it was certainly a major cause. This is clear. No serious person should deny it.

But it absolutely was not a cause of the War. The War was caused by one thing and one thing only, Lincoln invaded us. As I indicated above, I refuse to conflate the causes of secession with the cause of the War because I do not buy the Yankee position that secession was an act of war. No invasion by Lincoln, no War. This is very simple.

Uhhh, Red, we formally gave up Clark in P.I.

Just exactly when did that happen in regards to Sumter like Clark?

It didn't, so, the comparison is invalid.

Try again.

Also, it is clear Red is choosing to ingore the decades of history regarding slavery that came before the Civil War.

Again, Red is spinning.

Dale, I really don't know what you want from me. I think the States had and still have a legal right to secede, and the Federal government has no authority to prohibit it. In addition, I think the concept of secession is important from a philosophical standpoint. The modern state conceptualized as it is as one unified indivisible sovereign is a danger to liberty and the natural order. It is a threat to truly sustainable government on the human scale. Almost all moderns are Hobbesians whether they know it or not. Sovereignty, to be reigned in, must be divided and competing. Hence the concept of states' rights, withholding revenue, nullification, and secession. In addition, some sovereignty should reside within competing social institutions such as Church, Guilds, etc. Secession is ultimately more important than revolution, and it of right should be peaceful. Nothing exemplifies how sold out moderns are to Hobbesian statism than their willingness to defend violent revolution but be horrified by the concept of peaceful secession.

What is unclear about that? What else do you want me to say? What exactly am I "spinning"?

You're spinning that secession is a valid right because it isn't. You can say that it is all you want until you're blue in the face but it doesn't change the facts.

You're also flat wrong on secession being peaceful and about Lincoln "invading"; and about offering to pay for those lands being a reasonable peace loving option; and also about secession making those lands de facto not the U.S.'. Wow. that was a lot to be wrong about...

(1) Name a country that has seceded without needing to back it up by force or the threat of force (from them or from another third party). Australia! And they're still in the commonwealth. It's a fact that breaking the bonds that tie two parties which were part of one a hostile, aggressive act.

(2) I am not a Hobbesain and calling me one isn't going change that: Lincoln and the Union were well within legal justification not to acknowledge the South as an independent nation. That's Wilsonian self-determination liberalism, Red. Or didn't you get the memo? The burden of proof of legality and peaceful discourse was on the South because they made the first act of aggression by seceding and started the hostilities by firing the first shot. It's not an invasion when you're the second shooter.

(3) If all moderns are Hobbesians, doesn't that make you a Hobbesian too? Or do you have some secret truth we don't know about yet?

(4) For someone who claims to be about tradition and an organic process to change, where does a radical break with what was established fit into that? I at least have no conflict with the American Revolution being hard break and with the Civil War being a necessary evil because I accept Natural Law as working hand-in-hand with tradition (Not natural law over and above tradition).

Let's see, Norway seceded from Sweden. The Slovaks seceded from the Czechs. The Ukranians, Lithuanians, Estonians, and God knows who else seceded from the Soviet Union. Ireland, India, Israel, and the thirteen "FREE AND INDEPENDENT STATES" seceded from the British Empire.

It's called "consent of the governed." Something you Lincoln lovers obviously don't give two sh*ts about.

Well, Brutus, the 'consent of governed' cuts both ways.

You can argue it was the consent of the governed that the Union be kept intact.

So, we have competing consents, if you will, but yet we are supposed to believe that only the Southern consent, if it truly was that, should have prevailed.

Red and Brutus demonstrate the selfish attitude that the South itself demonstrated since the inception of the United States of America.

Go points, Brutus. But Dale is right. Those states that broke away had the consent of those people remaining in the original union. I can't speak for most of those nations but I know a few of them had bloody conflict before hand so there were hardly peaceful.

If 25 million Brits say that 4 million Americans cannot leave their empire that's consent of the governing, not consent of the governed. Ditto for 1861.

As for the charge of "selfishness" that's exactly what the Tories said in 1776. Read Samuel Johnson's "Taxation no Tyranny" for a good example.

Johnson mocks the fact that slaveholders thought they could declare themselves independent: "how is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of negroes?"

And, like Lincoln, Johnson thought freeing the slaves would be a good way to punish those selfish Southerners. "It has been proposed, that the slaves should be set free, an act, which, surely, the lovers of liberty cannot but commend. If they are furnished with firearms for defence, and utensils for husbandry, and settled in some simple form of government within the country, they may be more grateful and honest than their masters."

So, we have to go to the late 1700s to address the issues of the day in the mid 1800s?

If that is so, why are you ignoring and have ignored the bear in the room, Red?

Uhhh, excuse me, Brutus.

Also, couldn't you apply the same logic that Johnson used in regards to the non-slave defenses used by the South, in particular (to wit) the taxation (tariffs) defenses?

So, how is this helpful?

Well it's not very helpful for you, unless you want to come out and say that you would have been a Tory in 1776. Would you have been?

Still ignoring the bear, I see.

But no matter, for it is clear that Johnson's arguments are very appropriate for the non-slavery arguments put forth by the South.

I'll take that as a "yes."

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