Saturday, February 25, 2006

Lincoln, Bush and the Lyceum Address

[Crossposted on DailyKos and ePluribus Media]

A little background: A recent thread by Kos (Prepare the noose for William F. Buckley) coincided with some light research I'd just completed on a couple Lincoln quotes. Originally intended to be a short comment with a quote, it ballooned. There was simply too much quality content to avoid excerpting it.

George Bush, through the tireless and unrelenting efforts of Karl Rove and the RWNM, has been vainly casting about attempting to generate a memorable image of himself and his "accomplishments" in a positive light. Ideally, in their minds, this would set his place in history and cement his base in place as a potent supplement to help preserve the power of the GOP. The most recent attempts to create a noble image involves frequent references to Lincoln, and to the GOP as the "Party of Lincoln". But even diehard conservatives are railing against George as any kind of effective leader - the most recent to jump on the bandwagon (at the time of this writing - I'm expecting quite a few more to hop on as it passes by) was William F. Buckley. Kos wrote a diary called "Prepare the noose for William F. Buckley", which spawned the thoughts leading to the diary you now read. Essentially, any attempt to cast George in the likeness of Lincoln - at least in terms of leadership capability - should fail, particularly in the light of anyone actually reading and learning more about the former President.

Lincoln's address to the Lyceum in Springfield, Illinois in 1838, on the perpetuation of our political institutions had a very significant piece to it. One which we would be well-served to repeat, especially in light of GW's constant attempts to reference himself in the mold of Lincoln.

Here's the (IMO) most significant piece:

At what point shall we expect the approach of danger? By what means shall we fortify against it? -- Shall we expect some transatlantic military giant to step the Ocean and crush us at a blow? Never! -- All the armies of Europe, Asia and Africa combined, with all the treasure of the earth (our own excepted) in their military chest; with a Buonaparte for a commander, could not by force, take a drink from the Ohio, or make a track on the Blue Ridge, in a trial of a thousand years. At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer, if it ever reach us, it must spring up amongst us. It cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide.
So, given that Lincoln himself would scold the GOP, and take them to task for attempting to "suicide" the nation with their relentless machinations and limits to freedom, he should be dug up and strung up next to Buckley.

There are additional references and excerpts that could further supplement an understanding of just how wrong the NeoConservative-induced GOP mindset is, and they illustrate well - in these words of timeless significance - what we, as a nation of diverse people and ideologies, should guard against.

Failure to adhere to the law.

I hope I am over wary; but if I am not, there is, even now, something of ill-omen, amongst us. I mean the increasing disregard for law which pervades the country; the growing disposition to substitute the wild and furious passions, in lieu of the sober judgment of Courts; and the worse than savage mobs, for the executive ministers of justice. This disposition is awfully fearful in any community; and that it now exists in ours, though grating to our feelings to admit, it would be a violation of truth, and an insult to our intelligence, to deny. Accounts of outrages committed by mobs, form the every-day news of the times. They have pervaded the country, from New England to Louisiana;--they are neither peculiar to the eternal snows of the former, nor the burning suns of the latter;--they are not the creature of climate-- neither are they confined to the slave-holding, or the non-slave- holding States. Alike, they spring up among the pleasure hunting masters of Southern slaves, and the order loving citizens of the land of steady habits.--Whatever, then, their cause may be, it is common to the whole country.
Indeed, these times are well described in words eerily similar to the times in which Lincoln lived.

It is not likely that Abe would approve of the actions of our current Executives, Justices, and majority members of Congress. Indeed, he seemed to foreshadow the coming of such a "danger" to the nation:

I know the American People are much attached to their Government;--I know they would suffer much for its sake;--I know they would endure evils long and patiently, before they would ever think of exchanging it for another. Yet, notwithstanding all this, if the laws be continually despised and disregarded, if their rights to be secure in their persons and property, are held by no better tenure than the caprice of a mob, the alienation of their affections from the Government is the natural consequence; and to that, sooner or later, it must come.
He presents the question of how we should seek to fortify ourselves against such an occurrence, then provides the answer:
The answer is simple. 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 character 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.

So, then, how would Lincoln have responded to our unitary executive, and those who seek to support his actions? His response was included in his address.
When I so pressingly urge a strict observance of all the laws, let me not be understood as saying there are no bad laws, nor that grievances may not arise, for the redress of which, no legal provisions have been made.--I mean to say no such thing. But I do mean to say, that, although bad laws, if they exist, should be repealed as soon as possible, still while they continue in force, for the sake of example, they should be religiously observed. So also in unprovided cases. If such arise, let proper legal provisions be made for them with the least possible delay; but, till then, let them, if not too intolerable, be borne with.
Lincoln would have told George to follow the law, and work to change it. Not break it, then "fix" it. George is, however, too unfamiliar with Lincoln (or, through his "No Child Left Behind" shenanigans, hoping that none of the rest of us are familiar with the man's history and wisdom), to realize that within the context of Lincoln's Lyceum speech, the dangers of a unitary executive were described, and disdained.
Many great and good men sufficiently qualified for any task they should undertake, may ever be found, whose ambition would inspire to nothing beyond a seat in Congress, a gubernatorial or a presidential chair; but such belong not to the family of the lion, or the tribe of the eagle. What! think you these places would satisfy an Alexander, a Caesar, or a Napoleon?--Never! Towering genius distains a beaten path. It seeks regions hitherto unexplored.--It sees no distinction in adding story to story, upon the monuments of fame, erected to the memory of others. It denies that it is glory enough to serve under any chief. It scorns to tread in the footsteps of any predecessor, however illustrious. It thirsts and burns for distinction; and, if possible, it will have it, whether at the expense of emancipating slaves, or enslaving freemen. Is it unreasonable then to expect, that some man possessed of the loftiest genius, coupled with ambition sufficient to push it to its utmost stretch, will at some time, spring up among us? And when such a one does, it will require the people to be united with each other, attached to the government and laws, and generally intelligent, to successfully frustrate his designs.

Distinction will be his paramount object, and although he would as willingly, perhaps more so, acquire it by doing good as harm; yet, that opportunity being past, and nothing left to be done in the way of building up, he would set boldly to the task of pulling down.

Here, then, is a probable case, highly dangerous, and such a one as could not have well existed heretofore.

Ladies and gentlemen, and my fellow Americans - the words of our forefathers and past leaders, spoken in the hopes that generations both then and now would harken to them, are now come back to haunt us. Dare we ignore them, and ignore the lessons of the past?

We've seen glimpses of the future that our history provided, and indications that we are in danger of allowing those dark visions to take form and become fully realized.

Can we not, now, raise our voices as one and present a challenge to the usurpers of our nation's future?

This post was not originally updated to this blog and has been backfilled into proper chronological sequence. We apologize for any inconvenience. - The USPatriotsUnited Team