Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns


"Embarassment" of Debates (update)

The current Republican exchanges? Besides those, the Lincoln-Douglas debates, according to the popularizing Lincoln scholar Harold Holzer. He responded to Newt Gingrich's call for Lincoln-Douglas debates against Obama. Holzer, however, reassures us that "Rather than inspiring memorable words, they proved for the most part an embarrassment." In fact, in his view, they show Lincoln's racial bigotry: 

"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," he declared in Charleston, Ill., to robust cheers, "nor ever have been in favor of making voters of the negroes, or jurors, or qualifying them to hold office, or having them to marry with white people." It was not the future emancipator's finest hour.

This is mediocre historian shallowness, which ignores what Lincoln might do in the future--shown clearly by the Emancipation Proclamation, his allowing blacks to fight in the Union army, and his early policies for reintegrating the South. Lincoln had no reason to speak of such civil and political equality, when most blacks were slaves. This superficiality breeds ignorant Lincoln haters and other cyncial leftists who despise their country. Though Holzer describes well the excitement of the debates, he, like most historians, simply doesn't see the principles involved. Ultimately, he does not understand the subjects as they understood themselves.

Read Harry Jaffa, author of the best book on political science since The Federalist. Crisis of the House Divided is also available via google books.  Ashbrook has a pdf as well, but I can't find it. In the meantime here are some short essays by real Lincoln scholars.


Our friend Jack Pitney is skeptical of Newt's debating skills.


Categories > Presidency

Discussions - 3 Comments

of course, everything (almost) you need from American politics is on that site!

Maybe not. You want to get to an end point, so you blast the author for superficiality.

But no one is or can be quite sure of the role played by pitch fork yielding superficiality in american history.
"This superficiality breeds ignorant Lincoln haters and other cyncial leftists who despise their country."

You can't actually cut the abolitionists out of history, but certainly the abolitionists were in their own time Lincoln haters and cynical leftists who despised their country. They went so far as to call the constitution a bargain with the devil.(a reaction mainly to Dred Scott).

If not for the idealistic abolitionists who made up the volunteers under the command of General Butler, this pragmatist might never have coined the term "contraband" or otherwise freed the slaves.

The same historical shallowness can be used against General Butler. Contraband as a term is highly insulting.

Also in general if you like Administrative law, you generally argue that the hallmark of a good rule is that it is clear and has a good mechanism for being enforced.

But the contraband policy, which in theory provided a means for returning slaves to owners who did not oppose the union, in practice depended upon a sorting out who the owners were. By any workable legal measure it was horribly bad law. Great because it was so bad.

It is a free country and no one is quite sure what the effect of historical shallowness is. If you hated Lincoln because he wasn't egalitarian enough, you were in some sense usefull to the moral arc of history.

A very good argument could be made that absolutely no revolutionaries understood King George as he understood himself. A good chunk of prominent americans wanted in on the stamp act gig...until the mob convinced them otherwise. The tea dumped in Boston harbor made very little sense. It was actually being provided for cheaper than the stuff being smuggled, and it was the americans who were all about contraband who rallied to dress as indians and dump it. Self serving assholes with no respect for property.

By a certain catholic logic we should all have been Canadians, but the damn protestants were always itching to be highly contemptuous of authority.

At this point it hardly matters if Lincoln was a racial bigot, or a genius stateman. He made the best of a series of difficult situations. Even the Lincoln haters give him credit.

But the big question that no one is quite sure of is the role of inflamatory moralists. Sure "Lincoln had no reason to speak of such civil and political equality, when most blacks were slaves."

But that means he had "no reason"...the inflamatory moralists gave him reasons, they pushed events, they worked to free slaves, they stocked resentments.

The Holzer version of history seems close to FDR's statement: "You've convinced me. Now go out and make me do it."

The Mobs and the fact that Franklin didn't get a monopoly on stamped paper helped persuade him.

Seeing as how in some ways the U.S. is both less progressive and less Capitalist than Canada(ranked below Canada by Heritage and the Wal Street Journal). You wonder if the american experiment in Mob induced political action is misguided.

Do you really have to storm washington and occupy the Mall to get results? Does everything have to be the 1960's, with threats of Boston in 1919?

Also it is hard to say that Washington hasn't simply adjusted. Political rallies and PAC's equal awesome/tourist dollars.

It might go so far as to be the case that the Washington D.C. Chamber of Commerce welcomes the AFL-CIO...come march and fill our hotel rooms and convention centers.

It isn't so much historical shallowness, since it actually argues that some ignorance in pursuit of an ideal is preferable to greater wisdom and general apathy. It is a confrontational view of history rather than an academic one.

Where would the tea party be if everyone tried to understand Obama as he understood himself? (They would be much better constitutional law scholars?) (They would learn a great deal about administrative law?)

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