Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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Lincoln and the Current Secession Crisis

Has anyone been quoting Lincoln's First Inaugural on the secession in the Wisconsin and Indiana state legislatures?  That good ol' grit, the Sage of Mt. Airy nailed it.  Republicans, return to your roots and defend the rule of law.

From questions of this class spring all our constitutional controversies, and we divide upon them into majorities and minorities. If the minority will not acquiesce, the majority must, or the government must cease. There is no other alternative; for continuing the government, is acquiescence on one side or the other. If a minority, in such case, will secede rather than acquiesce, they make a precedent which, in turn, will divide and ruin them; for a minority of their own will secede from them, whenever a majority refuses to be controlled by such minority. For instance, why may not any portion of a new confederacy, a year or two hence, arbitrarily secede again, precisely as portions of the present Union now claim to secede from it. All who cherish disunion sentiments, are now being educated to the exact temper of doing this. Is there such perfect identity of interests among the States to compose a new Union, as to produce harmony only, and prevent renewed secession?

Plainly, the central idea of secession, is the essence of anarchy. A majority, held in restraint by constitutional checks, and limitations, and always changing easily, with deliberate changes of popular opinions and sentiments, is the only true sovereign of a free people, Whoever rejects it, does, of necessity, fly to anarchy or to despotism. Unanimity is impossible; the rule of a minority, as a permanent arrangement, is wholly inadmissible; so that, rejecting the majority principle, anarchy, or despotism in some form, is all that is left.

Categories > Politics

Discussions - 20 Comments

Ken. Great point. I have been making this argument lately but not yet in print. In the immortal words of Lou Costello, "That's a great idea. I was just about to think of it myself."

Thanks for the plug Ken, and for the salient citation.

So...Obama's not Reagan (haha) and he's not Jimmy Carter. He's James Buchanan.

Puts the 2012 Republican candidates field in a different light, doesn't it?

Only if you are selling Douglas as Lincoln.

"When one joins a democratic political union, the unanimously agreed upon assumption, whether explicit or not, is not only that the majority rules, but also that the minority will bow to it. If, when it appears one will be on the short end of a democratic vote, one exercises the right (if you can call it that) to withdraw from the process altogether, then it signals the end of the democratic process and is, effectively, an act of secession."

You guys are finally accurate about a principle held by progressive democrats, i.e. The Right to Collective Barganing, and you are willing to blow it.

"When one joins a democratic political union, the unanimously agreed upon assumption, whether explicit or not, is not only that the majority rules, but also that the minority will bow to it."(No republican would have written this during the health care debate.)

Yes on all questions of "value" and "pragmatism", and principles that can be commoditized and exchanged for consideration(pork projects for the centrist pragmatists's home state.)

Indeed issues of principle can be discovered empirically as those which give rise to the unwillingness of the minority to bow.

You are articulating a standard that can only exist if everyone or a quorum can be bought, if every issue is a political issue(minus the principled/ideological standouts.)

Actually democrats and republicans are far more amenable to politics(i.e., barganing, compromise and persuation) than a cookie cutter distinction between "conservative" and "proggressive" principles might indicate. This is what scares me about Ron Paul, while I admit he is principled and consistent, he is actually overly principled.

The tea party is generally overly principled, the true proggressives if such number more than 100,000 nationwide are extremely principled. There is no contract that can be entered into by the extremes of these groups.

Politics only exists in a sort of contract type setting of offer, counter-offer and battle of the forms. You can still disagree and agree to stage a protest and filibuster, and call the bill a contract of adhesion and a violation of the principles of consent. But the simple act of debating a bill means you are wiling to adjudicate differences of principle.

So I think you guys are absolutely right, where we aren't talking pure questions of principle or law, which is most of the time.

Also to think a bit on collective barganing and unions, certainly these bureacratic entities like political parties will sometimes produce RINO and DINO results, but your interests generally speaking are served by these "unions".

"If a minority, in such case, will secede rather than acquiesce, they make a precedent which, in turn, will divide and ruin them; for a minority of their own will secede from them, whenever a majority refuses to be controlled by such minority."

The truth of this is why if the worker wants to maintain barganing power he must be willing to put up with a certain degree of RINO(esque) or DINO(esque) behavior.

That is he has to authorize either the union or a politician to act as his agent.

This is an unadressed weakness of the Libertarian position, where each man is autonomous agent for himself.

Responding to John Lewis: Forgive me, but I don't recall any Republican legislators either leaving the country or even threateing to do so during the debate or vote over ObamaCare. Elections have consequences (2008) and consequences have elections (2010).

Some distinctions are in order here. It is one thing to oppose a bill, point to the lack of support for the bill in the country (or state) and work to repeal the bill. It is something else altogether to prevent the legislative process from operating by seceding from the legislative body or even from the body politic. Republicans at no time engaged in secession, whereas the Democrats in Wisconsin and Indiana clearly have. There is no equivalence here between the two parties' actions.

Hearty AMENS, Ken, Sage, and Richard. Those first few sentences of Lincoln's quoted above are precisely the ones to employ.

But, we need another word besides "secession" here. That only confuses things.

So when the peoples' right to have their representatives be able to represent them with the normal majority vote procedure is violated by boycott, what is the correct term describing this violation?

And if no term yet exists, what term shall we invent for this base anti-democratic action?

Thank you Carl and you're right about the awkwardness of the word, which is why I wrote "effective secession."

But not "boycott", which can carry a positive connotation.

The image I have is of a kid who doesn't like the way the game is turning out, so he takes his ball and goes home. But, to my mind, this is much more serious than simple infantile behavior (although it is that as well). My fear is that this maneuver will become a habit, and then, over time, a respectable one at that.

How about "anti-democratic stunt"? And then we can load it up with preceding adjectives like "irresponsible", "gutless", "childish", etc.

John Lewis, you have noisome way of saying so very little while using so very many words.

This is a little ironic. You folks do realize that Lincoln himself jumped out a window to avoid a quorum? It was wrong (and undemocratic) then, and it's wrong today.

Can we get a book ref and page number, if it's not too much trouble, Redwald? Very interested...

Lincoln jumped out a window to quorum-bust the Illinois state legislature in 1840:

Not one of his prouder and more principled moments as an ambitious young Whig politician.

On a single vote is one matter, but as an institutional shut-down is a different thing entirely.

Eh, so what. What Lincoln did is far different than what today's Democrats are doing.

No, not really OOM. A duly constituted legislative body was about to engage in actions that Lincoln and his associates disagreed with. Instead of letting protocol takes it course (as required by the Illinois constitution), Lincoln and his colleagues decided to play a decidedly undemocratic trick to avoid the vote. The will of the people, via their legitimately elected representatives, was thwarted, albeit temporarily.

I don't see a speck of difference between then and now. The real problem is that you folks think Lincoln was a conservative. By the standards of the day, he was decided Progressive, and such people routinely act as if the end justifies the means.

Redwald, Lincoln was no more a Progessive than John Qunicy Adams had been. You simply cannot label such ideals as Progressive. It's anachronistic.

Redwald, I see your point. True of probably every political party at some point in time, however.

Lincoln, like his opponent Douglas, appealed to the Founding. They had very different views on the Founding, but Lincoln's view jives more with today's conservatism than did Douglas'. I'll give you a million dollars if you can find a modern progressive you can say the same thing about.

Kate, Lincoln was essentially a Whig, and they were the corporatists of the era. If he seems less "progressive" today it's simply because we've allowed progressives to push us further to the Left. Remember that the GOP produced its fair share of progressives (e.g., TR).

Yes, I know and John Quincy Adams became a Whig. Still, Whigs didn't refer to progress; they spoke about improvement. It is different. If they used the word "progress" it was within the context of improvement. I agree that Whigs can legitimately be called predecessors of some Progressives and yes, of course, Lincoln was a Whig: there is a thread between them. Lincoln's Republicans are effectively the thread. However, it is a thread; the politics of one era are not the same as the politics of another era. Today's Progressives do not think about government and what it ought to do in the same way Lincoln did. Not even TR did.

I am saying you cannot project backwards. An acorn is not an oak tree, even if the genesis of the oak tree is in the acorn.

Kate, I guess we'll just have to agree to disagree on this one. Lincoln was the acorn from which the might oak tree of Progressivism grew in this country.On the other hand, he might well be horrified by the current state of statism in this country. But by golly we sure got our "improvements!"

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