Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Political Philosophy

Lincoln at 201

One way to celebrate Father Abraham's birthday is to memorize the Gettysburg Address.  This time first read the 90th Psalm (in the King James version) to appreciate the power of Lincoln's verses and to allow yourself to discover why Lincoln measured America's time in units of "scores."  Douglas Wilson gives a fine account of the different drafts of the speech.  Of course you need Harry Jaffa's books to appreciate all the details Wilson gives.

Discussions - 11 Comments

Bill O'Reilly is writing a book about Lincoln, too. I think I see an honored Ashbrook speaker on the horizon!


Rich, thanks for this. I've been intrigued by the comparison between Roe and Dred and the pro-life movement (or at least its more thoughtful supporters) embracing of Lincolnian reasoning. But recall too that Lincoln was no abolitionist. How does this prudence influence prolifers, who surely are abolitionists? Or maybe some aren't?

I was thinking, for example, of criminalizing abortion or even artificial contraception. I realize these may be degrees of prudence, but perhaps they raise issues of principle for some in the prolife movement. What do you think?

That is an interesting point you bring up, Ken. The prudential difficulty may be that the abortion issue does not manifest itself in a sectional way, as did slavery. And it would be hard to imagine anyone in the pro-life camp delivering a speech akin to Lincoln's Second Inaugural. In a way there isn't as much fire behind the issue. Abortion isn't in one group's self-interest in quite the way slavery was, though I see the Lincolnian influence insofar as there are some things that ought not be left up to the people a la Kansas-Nebraska (if that is what you are getting at).

And, I might add - some things that ought not be left to the people *owing to the doctrine of natural rights.* That is a fine distinction, which separates the right from the left whenever the left chooses to circumvent the many.

They hosted Glenn Beck, so why not O'Reilly? Because he'd be a "left turn"? ha-ha.


You're welcome. I made the case that, on the level of principle, the analogy between slavery and abortion is valid. Evidently, you think that because Lincoln was not an abolitionist for most of his career, somehow that veers off from today's anti-abortionists, who are abolitionists. There are difficulties with both these claims. Slavery was introduced to America in 1619, and was protected by the Constitution in the states where it existed, and though prohibited in the Northwest Territory was not stopped in its movement southward. Slavery was about as "traditional" a practice as drinking hard liquor was, and equally resistant to termination. Prudence, in the barest form, that is, bowing to the political reality, cautioned against abolitionism, though not hostility to slavery on principle and in practice.

But abortion lacked the constitutional sanctions or the widespread practice of slavery. It was unsafe, illegal and rare. (Now it is legal, common but not always safe.) After the adoption of the 14th amendment, laws were passed in many states to halt the practice, by reference both to the Hippocratic oath ("first do no harm") and the life and safety of the mother. Before Roe and Doe were decided, all states had imposed bans, with exceptions for those rare cases when the mother's life, rape or incest were factors. New York and California had liberalized their laws, on the other hand, foreshadowing the change in opinion wrought by years of liberal denunciations of "religious" qualms over abortion. I attended a debate at San Jose State College in the mid sixties in which the abortion advocate compared the unborn child in its early stages to an acorn, and entitled to the same disrespect. As you know, that is what Roe produced, as its striking down of all 50 states' laws on the grounds that they violated the mother's "privacy," legalized abortion for all nine months of pregnancy for any reason whatsoever. Although a Republican Congress has banned partial-birth abortions, that may not stand unless the predicted Republican gains for this year occur.

It is not lack of prudence which produces horror in millions of Americans at the nearly 50 million abortions performed since 1973. Prudence has shown itself in the acknowledgment that, in rare cases, as mentioned above, abortion is permissible. The mistake (if it was a mistake) that the Supreme Court made was to allow the exceptions to swallow the rule, i.e., to permit abortions anytime for the sake of the few sitations where it might be justified. There is no incosistency with the approach to slavery here, for the 13th amendment does not ban all slavery or involuntary servitude, permitting it as a punishment for crime. Allowing abortion in the few cases mentioned (two to three percent, by the way) takes account of either a crime against the mother or the family, or a threat to the mother's life. Similarly, civil liberty is not ended if the government has the power to suspend the writ of habeus corpus "in cases of rebellion or invasion when the public safety may require it."

Abortion was already criminalized before Roe and Doe, and it can be again. As to contraception, prevention of conception is not the same is destroying the product of conception.

Apropos of Lincoln's scathing indictment of slave catchers, whose loathsome ways and characters put them beyond polite society, years of legalized abortions have not made abortionists appreciably more respectable than before. The vast majority of medical interns want nothing to do with the practice, leaving the field, as before, largely in the hands of the butchers. "Law cannot make just what is by nature unjust."

Owl of Minerva,

Your tag line suggests moral decline, as certainly the widespread practice of legal abortion does. Abortion is not sectional, to be sure; in fact, it is national, which makes it worse, the very status which Lincoln fought successfully to deny to slavery. I don't know whether anyone in the pro-life camp has made a speech equivalent to Lincoln's second inaugural (how many Lincolns are there?), but there is ample warrant for it, as abortion is against nature and nature will not be infinitely mocked. Abortion in fact is in the interest of the feminists, Planned Parenthood and the libertine wing of the Democrat party and the "social liberals" in the Republican party. Abortion is about the most public "private" matter imaginable, as the hysterical reaction to the Super Bowl ad with Tom Tebow and his mother makes clear, as have the other numberless cases preceding it and those which will follow it. Like "domestic" slavery, "private" abortions indeed have given rise to a vested interest in their perpetuation. Public funding of abortions enriches the "providers" in a most tangible way, while legal abortions ensure a steady stream of customers.

Rich, you should do an op-ed on these themes for a serious publication. A Lincolnian anniversary would be a good occasion

Any serious publications you can steer me to?

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