Let every American, every lover of liberty, every well wisher to his posterity, swear by the blood of the Revolution, never to violate in the least particular, the laws of the country; and never to tolerate their violation by others.

As the patriots of seventy-six did to the support of the Declaration of Independence, so to the support of the Constitution and Laws, let every American pledge his life, his property, and his sacred honor; let every man remember that to violate the law, is to trample on the blood of his father, and to tear the charter of his own, and his children's liberty.

Let reverence for the laws, be breathed by every American mother, to the lisping babe, that prattles on her lap; let it be taught in schools, in seminaries, and in colleges; let it be written in Primers, spelling books, and in Almanacs; let it be preached from the pulpit, proclaimed in legislative halls, and enforced in courts of justice. And, in short, let it become the political religion of the nation; and Let the old and the young, the rich and the poor, the grave and the gay, of all sexes and tongues, and colors and conditions, sacrifice unceasingly upon its altars.

While ever a state of feeling, such as this, shall universally, or even, very generally prevail throughout the nation, vain will be every effort, and fruitless every attempt, to subvert our national freedom.

- Abraham Lincoln, January 27, 1838
  Address Before the Young Men's Lyceum of Springfield, Illinois

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Salon: How would Lincoln vote today?

This morning I read an excellent -- and undoubtedly for some, explosive -- essay in Salon. Michael Lind uses Lincoln's own writings as an indicator of how the former president might view today's issues (immigration, Christianity, buying American-made goods and the federal government's role in maintaining public infrastructure, among others.)

I have come to many of the same conclusions as the author while reading Lincoln's extensive writings, speeches and correspondences. The GOP of today bears little or no resemblance to the Republican party platform of the 1860s. About the only similarity I've found is the word 'Republican.' I guess that is enough for some people.

I've also noted that Lincoln's views changed and at times expanded as he grew older and more experienced (and especially when the full weight of 'Commander in Chief' descended upon his shoulders during the Civil War.)

The Lincoln who ran for president in 1860 was not the same man who gave the towering second inaugural address in 1865. Lincoln was by all accounts a deep thinker; he wasn't afraid to change his mind or learn from watching events unfolding all around him.

I believe this willingness to grow and re-evaluate his long-held conceptions was one of the keys to his greatness.

Excellent essay:

How would Lincoln vote today?

Everyone, from President Obama to the GOP, wants a piece of Honest Abe on his bicentennial. Here's where Abraham Lincoln really stood on the issues.

By Michael Lind


What about immigration? While Lincoln did not question the white-only immigration policy of his time, he did reject the anti-Catholic, anti-European nativism of many of his fellow Whigs: "I am not a Know-Nothing," he wrote his former law partner Joshua Speed in 1855. "As a nation, we began by declaring that 'all men are created equal.' We now practically read it 'all men are created equal, except negroes.' When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read 'all men are created equal, except negroes, and foreigners, and catholics.'" Someone with Lincoln's basic values might be concerned that ill-devised immigration policies could reduce wages for some citizens; that, after all, was one of the arguments of the Lincoln Republicans against the expansion of slavery. But Lincoln's dismissal of prejudice against Irish and German Catholics naturally leads to dismissal of all arguments about immigration based in bigotry.

What about economics? In his first campaign manifesto of 1832, the young Whig Party politician declared: "My politics are short and sweet, like the old woman's dance. I am in favor of a national bank ... in favor of the internal improvements system and a high protective tariff." In short, Lincoln was in favor of a strong federal government that actively promoted American infrastructure and manufacturing.

Would a modern Lincoln denounce infrastructure spending projects as boondoggles? Unlikely. As an Illinois legislator, Lincoln promoted an ambitious infrastructure scheme that bankrupted the state. Undeterred, Lincoln led the federal government to lavish subsidies on the railroads, which as a result nearly doubled American track miles between 1860 and 1870.

Would a contemporary American sharing the values of Lincoln oppose "Buy American" provisions in the stimulus package? Lincoln was a lifelong economic nationalist who favored federal government support for American industry against foreign competition. In 1859, shortly before becoming president, Lincoln wrote: "I was an old Henry Clay-Tariff-Whig. In old times I made more speeches on that subject [the need for protectionist tariffs] than any other. I have not since changed my views." Thanks to Lincoln and his congressional allies, the average U.S. tariff on dutiable imports ranged between 40 and 50 percent. The U.S. policy of import substitution, in defiance of free trade theory, helped to make the U.S. the world's greatest industrial powerhouse in the world in the generation following Lincoln's death. (Having made effective use of protectionism to become the dominant manufacturing power, the U.S. eventually changed its tune and began promoting free trade to gain export markets.)

Would Lincoln join the fiscal conservatives who fret over the size of the national debt? Largely because of the Civil War, the federal budget grew from $63 million in 1860 to $1.2 billion in 1865. Following his assassination, his widow, Mary, explained that Lincoln had wanted to take a trip to Europe, after leaving office: "After his return from Europe, he intended to cross the Rocky Mountains and go to California, where the soldiers were to be digging out gold to pay the national debt." I don't think that today's deficit hawks would be amused by Lincoln's joke.

Would Lincoln join today's Republicans in calling for more tax cuts as the answer to every problem? President Lincoln signed the bills creating the IRS and the first U.S. income tax.

[Read the rest...]

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