Tag Archives: Abraham Lincoln

The Gettysburg Address: Liberty’s Calling Card

Lincoln's ten sentences changed America.

Lincoln’s ten sentences changed America.

It is nearly impossible today to comprehend how Americans viewed their nation and their political institutions before the U.S. Civil War.

American presidents rarely spoke in public – it was considered undignified. God knows what George Washington or Thomas Jefferson would have thought of today’s chief executives attempting to curry the voters’ favor by suffering the indignities of an appearance on The Colbert Report.

Then, we were one nation, quite divisible, with liberty and justice for some. Slavery was a multi-billion-dollar-a-year labor system that made the United States the third-wealthiest country in the world. North and South, a popular view of the federal republic was it existed only as a creature surviving at the whim of the states. The states entered freely, proponents said, and they could leave freely.

In fact, on the eve of the War Between the States to many it seemed the only glue that held us together was the wealth generated by King Cotton and the blood drawn from the backs of slaves.

Yet 150 years ago on November 19, while we were engaged in a great civil war, Abraham Lincoln gave a speech in public that redefined us forever. It became known as the Gettysburg Address, and it is rightly credited for performing the nearly impossible. Invited by the city fathers of Gettysburg, Penn., to offer “a few appropriate remarks” at the dedication of a new cemetery, Mr. Lincoln’s ten sentences not only summarized the meaning of the Civil War but the meaning of America. He called on Americans, then and now, to dedicate themselves to the “unfinished work” of the battle – the vindication of the principle of natural rights and human equality. Few things ever said by any American achieved so much through so few words.

Today, we think of the Gettysburg Address as an assignment for school children or verbal decoration for the marble walls of memorials. The relegation of that powerful speech to such status is as trite as it is unfortunate. It took Lincoln, a man who once said that every political sentiment he possessed sprang from the Declaration of Independence, to remind us that the central ideas of the United States are liberty and freedom. He echoed those concepts in the opening words of the address, saying we are a nation “conceived in liberty.” The “proposition” that all men – the inclusive term for humankind used in the 18th and 19th century – are created equal is a rule of nature, like Isaac Newton’s laws of physics. This was a revolutionary idea, even while the Civil War was being fought, because the Declaration stated that the laws of nature were created by God and they were inviolable. Therefore, “liberty” is protection from the arbitrary will of another. Thus, Lincoln was not only telling his audience that the war was fought for the “new birth of freedom” that would end slavery. He was telling America, even the world, the United States must survive because when we at our best our nation is the home of a political idea that expands freedom and protects its citizens from indiscriminate power used to harass and bully a people. At a time when the federal government without reasonable suspicion uses national technical resources to spy on its own citizens, when the Bill of Rights seems an inconvenience to an American president, and when the result of these and other abuses have stripped the American people of trust in their government, it is time to return the Gettysburg Address to its rightful place: Our first and best statement “that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Legend has it that Mr. Lincoln was not pleased with the speech.  There is no basis in fact for that conclusion, but the address itself contains a phrase that seems to indicate that he wondered whether it would weather the test of time.  Of the many comments made about the Gettysburg Address the reflections of Sen. Charles Sumner, a man who was once nearly beaten to death by a fellow lawmaker on the Senate floor for his anti-slavery views, captures the speech’s perennial value. “(It) is a monumental act,” Sumner wrote not long after the president’s assassination. “In the modesty of his nature he said ‘the world will little note, nor long remember what we say here; but it can never forget what they did here.’ He was mistaken. The world at once noted what he said, and will never cease to remember it.” Every American of every political stripe and all backgrounds should note the Gettysburg Address, read it, understand its meaning, and cherish its vision. It defines what we should be, now and forever: A nation of free men and women, a nation of laws, and a nation where liberty is still our birthright.

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The Battle of Gettysburg and the Battle for A New Birth of Freedom

A battlefield memorial at Gettysburg National Military Park. Photo by Paul Huard

A battlefield memorial at Gettysburg National Military Park. Photo by Paul Huard

Some might wonder why a battle that began 150 years ago today garners so much attention. Put simply, the Battle of Gettysburg was more than the largest battle ever fought in the Western Hemisphere. It is the battle that decided whether the United States would experience what Abraham Lincoln later called “a new birth of freedom,” a birth that the death of many Americans purchased so the promise of the Declaration of Independence would would not perish from the Earth.

So, events today through Thursday are about more than Civil War reenactors living out their historical dreams. Peter Wehner offers a succinct but meaningful assessment of what a battle whose influence is on par with Saratoga and D-Day truly means: “The Civil War, after all, achieved two monumentally important things: It ended slavery and it preserved the Union, which meant it preserved and extended liberty in America and the world.” His article in Commentary magazine is worth reading.

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For Mr. Lincoln, “Created Equal” in the Declaration Meant the Right to Earn Your Keep

Once after a particularly grueling and disappointing track and field meet, a young son sat silently during the ride home in the pick-up truck of his history teacher father. “What’s the matter?” the father inquired. “Jefferson lied, Dad,” the boy replied grimly. “All men are not created equal.”

Thomas Jefferson and the various shapers of the Declaration of Independence did not mean that humankind is born with equal gifts, talents, and abilities. As the young athlete discovered, that kind of utopian world does not exist in a shot-put pit – or anywhere else in life if the observer is willing to exercise his or her common sense while analyzing the question of equality.

Yet, today the meaning of equality has become something quite different than the one espoused in the Declaration. For example,

President Obama: According to his Second Inaugural Address, equality will be achieved through "collective action."

President Obama: According to his Second Inaugural Address, equality will be achieved through “collective action.”

none other than President Barack Obama in his second inaugural address declared that equality, an idea that he considers “the most evident of truths,” means “preserving our individual freedoms ultimately requires collective action,” and that “progress does not compel us to settle centuries-old debates about the role of government for all time — but it does require us to act in our time.” Since then, the president has repeatedly made comments indicating he remains dedicated to those definitions. Both are interesting ideas worthy of debate, but they are hardly illuminating when it comes to understanding what equality in the United States evidently means. The scope of results based on President Obama’s vague formula could range from a society free of any social, political, or economic barriers to the politician’s idea of equality i.e. equal opportunity to bless your constituents with favors and federal programs.

We need a better standard. That standard can be found in the life and words of Abraham Lincoln, perhaps the greatest proponent of the Declaration of Independence.  Lincoln has been called one our nation’s greatest citizens because of how his words unite us. President Obama twice swore his oath of office on Mr. Lincoln’s copy of the Bible; school children still learn the Gettysburg Address and the Second Inaugural Address.  He is the source of our most soaring rhetoric about the nation’s purpose and the political intentions of the Founders. Furthermore, Lincoln wrote and spoke frequently not only about the human rights contained in the Declaration but also the economic rights described in the document that became embodied in a nation that celebrates the individual, not the collective – what he called “the right to rise.” Today, we would call it the right to do everything legal and moral to earn a living, keep profits, and choose how our economic future could play out for the best.

One of the statements in the Declaration that Lincoln turned to repeatedly was the most familiar one: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Obviously, he applied that belief to the question of slavery in America, saying that any denial that the phrase applied to blacks was a denial of the plain language that Jefferson wrote.  However, Lincoln even went on to say that denying that truth and its application to black Americans was more than a lie – it was the extinguishing of the moral light that guided the nation. If all men are created equal, they cannot be property. You cannot set a house free or a horse free through a sales transaction. Only humans can be released from slavery, and the Declaration clearly applied to men. He strenuously maintained any other interpretation was either ignorant or dishonest.


Lincoln: Equality is the right to live in a nation that allows the individual to run "the race of life."

Lincoln: Equality is the right to live in a nation that allows the individual to run “the race of life.”

 However, Lincoln also deeply believed Jefferson’s essential statement made America a land where even the poorest citizen could have a better life because he or she could pursue happiness. Real freedom is found when the government of this nation allows its people to win what he called “the race of life” because they have the freedom to run the race (the pursuit of happiness) as they choose. In Lincoln and the Economics of the American Dream, historian Gabor S. Boritt examined Lincoln’s economic vision and determined that economic opportunity was one of the unifying themes of Lincoln’s public career from his first campaigns for the Illinois legislature to his presidency. Remember, Lincoln was a man who had escaped grinding poverty in his youth through self-improvement and opportunity, therefore government had a moral obligation to protect liberty so people (particularly the poor) possessed ample opportunity to rise as far as talent and ambition could take them. Even Lincoln’s moral opposition to slavery had an economic message, for slavery was not only wrong because it stole the God-given right of human freedom, but it made the slave-holder dependent on a government that enforced slavery rather than the noble institution of free labor, which is based on men who governed their own destiny. Using words that any self-made business owner would understand, Lincoln once said,“The prudent, penniless beginner in the world, labors for wages awhile, saves a surplus with which to buy tools or land for himself; then labors on his own account another while, and at length hires another new beginner to help him. This is the just, and generous, and prosperous system, which opens the way to all—gives hope to all, and consequent energy, and progress, and improvement of condition to all.” – a way that would only remain open only if government was dedicated to maintaining a clear path for opportunity through “the pursuit of happiness.”

In fact, Lincoln believed that economic improvement would be one of the chief blessings of freeing enslaved Americans, saying,

“So while we do not propose any war upon capital, we do wish to allow the humblest man an equal chance to get rich with everybody else. When one starts poor, as most do in the race of life, free society is such that he knows he can better his condition; he knows that there is no fixed condition of labor, for his whole life. I am not ashamed to confess that twenty five years ago I was a hired laborer, mauling rails, at work on a flat-boat—just what might happen to any poor man’s son! I want every man to have the chance — and I believe a black man is entitled to it — in which he can better his condition — when he may look forward and hope to be a hired laborer this year and the next, work for himself afterward, and finally to hire men to work for him! That is the true system.”

Like the Founding generation, Lincoln believed a government that stifled economic liberty was just as unjust as a government that denied political liberty. There was more to Abraham Lincoln than crass materialism, but the man clearly believed that Jefferson’s promise of equality, manifested in a free government, meant the opportunity to rise in life. “It is in order that each of you may have through this free government which we have enjoyed, an open field and a fair chance for your industry, enterprise and intelligence; that you may all have equal privileges in the race of life, with all its desirable human aspirations,” Lincoln told a group of Union soldiers in the 166th Ohio Regiment a little more than a month after the Battle of Gettysburg.  Few American since the Revolution have understood the full dimension of the links between liberty, freedom, equality, and opportunity expressed in the Declaration of Independence as Abraham Lincoln. “The expression of that principle, in our Declaration of Independence, was most happy, and fortunate,” Lincoln wrote in 1861. “Without this, as well as with it, we could have declared our independence of Great Britain; but without it, we could not, I think, have secured our free government, and consequent prosperity. No oppressed people will fight, and endure, as our fathers did, without the promise of something better, than a mere change of masters.” No wonder Lincoln had the strength during this nation’s worst crisis to transform a bloody civil war into a quest for a new birth of freedom that would provide an enslaved people political and economic opportunity on par with free whites.

James Parton, the nation’s first professional biographer, described the significance of Jefferson’s words in the Declaration succinctly: “If Jefferson was wrong, America is wrong. If Jefferson is right, America is right.” More than 230 years have passed since Jefferson wrote the statement that defined the meaning of the United States. Since then, there has been much debate whether the ideas that formed this nation are as important as claimed by others in our nation’s past. (Even Lincoln once raised the question of the whether the United States could have come into being without the Declaration.) That is in realm of counterfactual speculation, but it is certain the United States would not have been the same without it. The Declaration became a source of liberty and freedom for those who run the race of life as individuals, not as a herd.  It remains the best source for those priceless national qualities. Millions of this nation’s past citizens clinged to its promises; millions continue to use it as the measure of whether the United States lives up to its promises. Historians have not always embraced that self-evident truth, a decision fraught with more than academic consequences. As the historian David Hackett Fischer points out, scholars who deny the expansion of liberty and freedom in the United States are dooming themselves to irrelevance. Liberty and freedom are the central ideas in United States, and without those ideas we doom ourselves and our nation to irrelevance.   We must never forget that the nation was founded on deeply held conviction regarding the equal chance to run the race of life and do our best to rise as far as talent and hard work will take us. For all their flaws, contradictions, high-minded ideals and coarse failures, Jefferson, the other Founders, and Lincoln were right. America was right, and our ideas not only matter, but they give our nation life. We measure ourselves by a standard set by a man who transcended his flaws because someday reason would prevail and the United States would recognize all the rich and full implications of the phrase, “All men are created equal.” Like Lincoln, we should never have a feeling that does not spring politically and economically from the Declaration of Independence.

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Memorial Day

A soldier places flags on graves at Arlington National Cemetery. Photo: UPI

A soldier places flags on graves at Arlington National Cemetery. Photo: UPI

Memorial Day began in the years following the Civil War to honor the dead on both sides of the conflict. Rooted in ancient commemorations of war dead that included bringing offerings to the graves of fallen warriors, the event was originally called Decoration Day because of efforts to clean gravestones and decorate graves with flowers. Like so many things associated with a war often called “the Second American Revolution,” Memorial Day has themes of death and rebirth that align with Abraham Lincoln’s charge that we “never forget what they did here” as the nation warred so there could be “a new birth of freedom.”

In 2013, there are those who ask if the nation is locked in perpetual warfare. War, the cruelest act that humans perform, is close to my mind — many members of my family are military or retired military who experienced warfare first hand. No matter what their personal politics, all say that if the United States fights a war it had better do so with the understanding that young men and women die so a nation called the United States of America will live. We have a way of life, a culture of rights and opportunities, that marks us as an exceptional nation in the scope of world history. If the nation lives, we keep that culture. If it the nation is diminished or dies, another, less favorable political culture replaces the one we cherish. It is that simple.

The Declaration of Independence recognized that idea. The American Revolution had been a shooting war for more than a year. But the Declaration made clear that liberty, equality of political rights, equality of economic opportunity, and personal freedom were worth the fight.  Too often, professionals in both history and education present American history as an unremitting story of oppression. The revolution in the writing of history that forced the craft to examine marginalized people undoubtedly improved scholarship and told stories about our past that had gone unnoticed or forgotten. However, in an effort to avoid the pitfalls of excessive American exceptionalism many professional historians have gone too far in the other direction, producing exceptionalism of another kind: We are so bad, so very bad, and there is little worth acknowledging in the traditional story of American liberty. I humbly suggest that this approach is no longer useful to the craft of history. It is exhausted; it tells us nothing new; it has lost its critical edge.

Besides, those traditional ideas in the Declaration have often been the source of our survival as a nation, even a civilization. For reasons other than a grateful sense of patriotism, I am glad the men at Valley Forge and Saratoga, Antietam and Gettysburg, Normandy Beach and Iwo Jima, the A Shau Valley and Da Nang did not choose to see the history of this nation in the same way many professors and social studies teachers do. Belief in the liberty and freedom described in the Declaration sustained many who fought for this nation’s survival when there was little else to trust in. When the British sent the largest invasion fleet in their history to put down the American Revolution– so large it was only dwarfed 170 years later by D-Day –Congress spent two days revising the draft of the Declaration. George Washington ordered the Declaration read to his troops. “Wars, it understood, were not won by ships and sailors and arms alone. Words, too, had the power to serve victory,” wrote one historian about their actions. There must be something good and worthy in that fact of American history. That fact is worth remembering along with those who gave the last, full measure of their devotion.


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Hit Me Once Again: The Top Five Posts of 2012

0903declaraJust in time to finish up the first week of 2013, here is the first-ever list of the five most popular posts of the previous year.

Frankly, before 2012 I was reluctant to attempt a Top Ten or Top Five list. I maintain what I consider a healthy sense of proportion regarding my modest efforts as a commentator on the history of the Founding Period, American political culture, and the link between the nation’s past and contemporary politics. However, thanks to you the reader 2012 was the year that “The Shout Heard ‘Round The World” gained modest but respectable attention. Some of my most-read posts  generated several hundred views a day. That hardly puts me in the same realm as the Internet’s most popular bloggers, but the stats made me sit up and take notice. Apparently, I was joined by more than a few of you.

So, here are 2012’s Top Five — half as many as on Dave Letterman’s show, but twice as interesting:

No. 1: The provocatively titled “Is Slavery Really America’s ‘Original Sin’?” led the pack, a surprising result to me simply because the post was more of an effort to inform readers about independent scholarship rather than offer my opinion on the topic. The article directs readers to the an essay by Baylor University professor historian  Thomas S. Kidd, who examines the question of whether the Founders needed moral perfection in order for us to respect their accomplishments during the American Revolution and the early Constitutional period.

No. 2: My article in praise of Frederick Douglass and his understanding of the Declaration of Independence’s promise of political and economic freedom to all Americans. 

No. 3: Could 2012 pass me by without a comparison between the zombie apocalypse, the dueling notions of the social contract in the United States, and the U.S. presidential election?  I’d rather be eaten alive. Considering the average American’s taste in political news, I really thought this would be the No. 1 post, but numbers never lie. By the way, a hat tip to the nice people at ThirdRailers.com for picking up this piece for re-publication.

No. 4: My musings on Mr. Lincoln’s First Inaugural Address and how Lincoln’s rhetorical power is repeatedly based on the norms of rights, equality, and consent of the governed that he accepted as the basis for a civil society called the United States of America.

N0. 5: The world-wide influence of the Declaration included an admirer that might surprise most Americans: Ho Chi Minh drew his ideas (at least in part) from the document when he drafted the Vietnamese Declaration of Independence in 1945.

Finally, I will play favorites: My own pick for what I consider the best post of the year was my essay on Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln and its importance as the best cinematic explanation of how radically this nation needed to change in order for Jefferson’s promise of equality to take hold in the lives of all Americans.

Once again, Happy New Year! Soon, I get past the post-holiday sloth that has plagued me recently, and you will see even more posts during 2013. I am grateful for each and every one of you, the real reason why I write “The Shout Heard ‘Round The World.”


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“… Thenceforward, and Forever Free …”: The 150th Anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation

A detail from a rare original copy of President Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation.

A detail from a rare original copy of President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.

Happy New Year. Today marks the 150th anniversary of the implementation of Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. Although I have noted at length elsewhere the significance of this document and how it changed the goals of the U.S. Civil War, it is still fitting to acknowledge this noteworthy day in U.S. history.

Lincoln issued the preliminary preliminary proclamation on  Sept. 22, 1862, when  it served as a warning to those states in rebellion that if they did not return back to the Union within 100 days, all the slaves in those states would be set free. It also issued an invitation to black Americans to join the Union Army and Navy. This two-pronged economic and military strategy that targeted slavery’s importance to the Confederacy as “the engine of war” (as Lincoln put it) ultimately became one of the chief reasons the North was victorious. With its issuance, both Northern Copperheads and Southern Democrats claimed Lincoln had transformed the Civil War into a race war. Black Americans celebrated its practical effect: More than 50,000 slaves in territory under Union control were immediately freed, despite the obvious fact that the Confederacy would ignore the war-time order and millions remained in bondage. Yet, slaves escaped from the South by the tens of thousands, bound to cross Union lines and join the republic’s military in a fight for their freedom.

Traditionally, the Emancipation Proclamation has fared poorly when estimated by many historians. Richard Hofstadter famously and bluntly stated the document “had all the moral grandeur of a bill of lading and did not in fact free any slaves.  Surprising no one who knows Howard Zinn’s work, the late Howard Zinn called it a sop given by a racist Lincoln to Radical Republicans in order to maintain unity in a fractious Republican Party. Despite the renown of both scholars, their assessments miss the mark. Lincoln, a man who repeatedly embraced Jeffersonian principles in his personal struggle for success and his political development during public life, issued what Allen Guelzo called the last great Enlightenment political document of 19th century America. Lincoln would expand his understanding of Jeffersonian liberty further in the Gettysburg Address, a rhetorical explanation of the Civil War’s role as bloody midwife during the country’s new birth of freedom.

The Emancipation Proclamation was no empty gesture, no piece of political wheeling and dealing.  “When the Proclamation was issued,” one former slave told a congressional committee, “that was when I decided to flee my master.”  Another said, “I have been a slave from my childhood up to the time I was set free by the Emancipation Proclamation.” As one Union officer noted, the slaves then had “a spirit of independence—a feeling they are no longer slaves.” You cannot enslave a people who know they are free.


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Some Thoughts on Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln”

Steven Spielberg’s film Lincoln is brilliant. I make that blunt, enthusiastic, and direct assessment free of Hollywood hype and hyperbole. Since last Friday evening when I first saw the film, I have spent considerable time reflecting upon what might not only be the best cinematic portrayal of the 16th president ever but the best filmed explanation of how radically this nation needed to change in order for Jefferson’s promise of equality to take hold in the lives of all Americans.

As I have written repeatedly, Lincoln is one of this nation’s greatest exegetes of the Declaration of Independence. “Exegete” is a dangerous word to use: Exegesis is usually applied to understanding the Bible, and I am not suggesting the Declaration is holy writ. (By the way, this is no time to pick on Mitt Romney’s lack of historical understanding.)  It was written by a man for humanity. But understanding those words, their meaning, and why Americans should take them to heart as our defining statement, yes, our creed, is the work of those willing to hazard an explanation or critical interpretation of a text. That work is not easy. Words are all we have when reading the Declaration and Lincoln spent his adult life considering those words. No one quote will suffice, but one that sums up Lincoln’s belief in the Jeffersonian imperative comes from a time when he considered how the Constitution is the natural inheritor of what the Revolution and the Declaration wrought, incomplete as both were in their absence of a full offer of liberty. Sometime in 1861, Lincoln during one of his many reflective moments scribbled some lines on the subject of the course of liberty in the United States, and how the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States must be aligned because they are entwined and because liberty was not the exclusive domain of a white man. He wrote:

All this is not the result of accident. It has a philosophical cause. Without the Constitution and the Union, we could not have attained the result; but even these, are not the primary cause of our great prosperity. There is something back of these, entwining itself more closely about the human heart. That something, is the principle of “Liberty to all”–the principle that clears the path for all–gives hope to all–and, by consequence, enterprise [sic], and industry to all.

The expression of that principle, in our Declaration of Independence, was most happy, and fortunate. Without this, as well as with it, we could have declared our independence of Great Britain; but without it, we could not, I think, have secured our free government, and consequent prosperity. No oppressed, people will fight, and endure, as our fathers did, without the promise of something better, than a mere change of masters.

The assertion of that principle, at that time, was the word, “fitly spoken” which has proved an “apple of gold” to us. The Union, and the Constitution, are the picture of silver, subsequently framed around it. The picture was made, not to conceal, or destroy the apple; but to adorn, and preserve it. The picture was made for the apple–not the apple for the picture.

So let us act, that neither picture, or apple shall ever be blurred, or bruised or broken.

That we may so act, we must study, and understand the points of danger.

The film is awash in details small and large that capture so much that is difficult to pin down about Abraham Lincoln. If Daniel Day-Lewis does not receive an Academy Award for his portrayal of the president, then the collective heads of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences need serious, serious psychological examination. His stoop-shouldered, wise-cracking, slang-sputtering, introspective, soul-suffering Abraham Lincoln displays why some who considered Mr. Lincoln at first glance a rube only discovered (usually at a high cost either in a court room or the political arena) the integrity, brilliance, and steel in the man. Tommy Lee Jones portrayal of Thaddeus Stevens might be the best characterization of an American politician since Frank Capra gave the world the fictional Jefferson Smith. However, the power of film is not only found in the men and women portrayed, moving and compelling as even minor characters are in the movie. It is in the picture of liberty that he held dear. It is in the dead-accurate portrayal of the United States as a nation where most of the political figures and the vast majority of the nation – even good-hearted individuals who detested slavery – are still struggling with whether they will acknowledge not only the full rights blacks are granted under the Constitution, but the full humanity given them under the Declaration of Independence.  I marveled at how Lincoln the father is shown indulging Tad’s goat cart rides through the White House corridors, the only slightly submerged madness of Mary Todd Lincoln (who, frankly, was also shown as being crazy like a fox when it came to matters of Republican politics), and the viciousness of the various political factions in a Congress so hostile that it makes today’s polarization look like an Amway convention. The film is a time machine, though, when it shows how so many were unwilling to even consider “something better” for black Americans, where the promise of the vote and the chance to keep what the sweat of one’s brow had earned him or her was a cause for violent controversy. We have traveled light-years as a nation and we are a better people comprised of a majority of individuals who cannot even conceive of questioning the proposition that all men are created equal. That started with what Lincoln of all people knew best: His Emancipation Proclamation was a wartime move that would not stand a constitutional test. The apple of liberty would not be bruised if the frame was expanded in the way it should have been built from the very beginning.

One final note: Friends have flattered me by asking, “Is the film historically accurate?” At first blush, my answer is “yes,” although I want to watch the film again so I can take a more clinical eye to the plot. One weakness in the movie is an omission: Despite passage in the House and Senate, constitutionally 27 states of the then 36-state Union needed to ratify Amendment 13 for final approval, which did not take place until December 6, 1865. The last state to ratify the 13th Amendment, Mississippi, did not do so until March 16, 1995 – that is not a typo – having rejected the amendment yet living under it because once ratified an amendment applies to all of the states under the doctrine of incorporation. 


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Mr. Lincoln Has His Say On Secession

Click on the cartoon to see a larger image that is easier to see. 

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November 17, 2012 · 5:13 am

On the Eve of the First Tuesday in November

Your vote is your right, your responsibility. Your decision is your business. But, if your decision is lethargy or ignorance, all I can offer are the words of Abraham Lincoln:

… 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.

The Union and the Constitution forever. May my readers all exercise the fruits of independence.

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Renowned Lincoln Scholar Richard N. Current Dies at 100

Although hardly a surprise, the news is sad nonetheless. Richard N. Current, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning study The Lincoln Nobody Knows, died October 26 at 100 — literally a centenarian who cast a giant shadow on Lincoln studies equal to (and often exceeding) that of the late, great David Herbert Donald. Both men dominated Lincoln studies for the sixty years, but Current always struck me as a man who turned the practice of debunking great Americans like Lincoln on its ear by asking the tough questions about the president’s inconsistencies, then concluding most of what we say about Lincoln’s love of liberty was true.  More than his age earned him the title of “the dean of Lincoln scholars” among professional historians. Current also researched the politics and influence of Daniel Webster, contributing to Daniel Webster, “The Completest Man,” one of the best assessments of  The Mighty Dan during the 20th Century. The Washington Post has this excellent obituary.  It is humbling to consider that most of the Lincoln scholars I read as a graduate student are now under the earth. RIP.


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