Curtis Dahlgren
Presidents Day II: Lessons for the Party of Lincoln from Lincoln
By Curtis Dahlgren
February 22, 2010

"I'm so tired of hearing how smart the Founding Fathers were!" — Fred Kessler (Wisconsin state legislator)

EVERY GENERATION SUPPOSES THAT IT IS MORE INTELLIGENT THAN THE ONE THAT PRODUCED IT — so we must be LOTS smarter than the Founders, right? I would say NOT, judging by some of the conspiracy theories I've heard.

There are still some people who believe that George W. Bush and Dick Cheney — not Saudi nationals — destroyed the World Trade Center on 9-11-01, and that the Pentagon was hit by a Defense Dept. missile, not an airliner (I guess those missing passengers are in a 4th dimension or circling the galaxy somewhere).

On February 18, 2010 a Piper Cub hit a Federal Building in Austin, Texas and "almost brought the entire building down," said congressman Michael McCaul (USA TODAY, 2/19/10). The Piper [Dakota, actually] can carry 77 gallons of fuel, but I actually have former acquaintances who don't believe that a fully loaded jumbo jet could weaken a skyscraper enough to make it fall down.

Personally, I was surprised that the impact didn't make the towers tip right over immediately, but I guess the conspiracy theorists consider themselves in the highest one percent of the population in terms of intelligence. George Eliot (Mary Ann Cross) said:

"The egoism which enters into our theories does not affect their sincerity; rather, the more our egoism is satisfied, the more robust is our belief."

Human nature hasn't changed one bit since the 1800s, the 1700s, or earliest times. Some of the same people who don't think an airliner could burn down a skyscraper are people who believe that the air we breathe out is going to create a vapor barrier in the sky that's going to bring us all down through "global warming."

Some of those people, of course, will also say that that Austin Piper Dakota was flown by a tea partier in a plot against a compassionate government, never mind that Joseph Stack railed against capitalism, churches, and President Bush as much as anything else — which a tea partier obviously wouldn't do!

Some people will try to make Joe Stack a modern day John Brown, the radical that the South used to demonize the early Republican party, and distract people from Abraham Lincoln's actual message. I had been planning to use parts of Lincoln's Cooper Union address of February 1860 anyway, so some excerpts follow.

The first five pages of the address established the fact that the majority of the Framers of the Constitution, and President Washington, believed that the Federal government had the proper authority to forbid slavery in the Federal Territories (Washington did). As the nation grew westward, and Territories became states, it became customary to admit one slave state to the Union for every Free state added.

The old Whig party, which had supported the Gag Rules of 1835-44 (forbidding the mailing of anti-slavery materials in the U.S. mails) was a "coalition-building" party that wanted to be a Big Tent. They ignored the issue of slavery spreading to the Territories as long as possible, and then they thought they had the "final solution" to the issue with the "Compromise Measures of 1850." The Encyclopaedia Britannica, 11th edition, says:

"To its authors, this compromise seemed essential to the preservation of the Union, but it led directly to the destruction of the Whig party . . .

"The National Whig Convention of 1852, the last that represented the party in its entirety, gave the Northern Whigs the naming of the candidate — General Winfield Scott [a former POW] — who was defeated . . and to the Southern [wing] the framing of the platform with its 'finality' plank, which, as revised by Webster, read as follows:

"'That the series of acts of the Thirty-second Congress, the act known as the Fugitive Slave Law included, are received and acquiesced in by the Whig party of the United States as a settlement in principle and substance of the dangerous and exciting questions which they embrace . . and we will maintain this system as essential to the nationality of the Whig party and the integrity of the Union.'

"Two years later the Repeal of the Missouri Compromise by the Kansas-Nebraska Act demonstrated that 'this system' could not be maintained, and that in committing the Whig party to the policy of its maintenance the Convention of 1852 had signed the death-warrant of the party."

WHAT A DIFFERENCE TWO YEARS CAN MAKE. As this column proceeds, you will notice parallels to our own 21st century politics. Some politicians who basked in the good graces of the Washington Post and in praises by the New York Times are now in deep doo-doo. Many of them bought into the shell-game of "global warming" solutions when they should have known better, but still before the full extent of the fraud was exposed late in the year 2009.

The friendly esteemed pair of token debaters — Kennedy and McCain — has been broken up by the reality of the death of one, and the birth of the Tea party movement that now threatens the other. Senator Graham of South Carolina bought into both the global warming "crisis" and illegal alien amnesty, and he is convinced that "coalition building" is or was the GOP's secret of success. The Britannica says:

"[Henry] Clay, who had succeeded [John Q.] Adams in the leadership of the party, brought about, under Whig leadership, a coalition of opposition parties which influenced deeply and permanently the character, policy and fortunes of the Whig party." [The late Whig party.]

Two years ago, the hot talk was all about coalitions, compromise, reaching across the aisle, and building a Bigger Tent. Well, that was then and now is now. The "party of Lincoln" may or may not survive, depending on whether it learns the history of its own conception, which came out of the Whig follies, plus dominance of the 1850s by the Democrats.

By the way, here's some trivia. Until a few years ago, I would have thought that Abraham Lincoln was the first Republican to run for President, but it was General Fremont who ran as a Republican in 1856. Buchanan won that one, and in 1857 the Democrat party was at its absolute apex. It controlled the White House, Congress, and slavery by way of the Supreme Court's Dred Scott decision.

Against the best advice of cooler heads, slave owners insisted on making Kansas a slave state, and a fraudulent referendum was held at Lecompton in which hundreds of Missourians crossed the border for one day to vote with the Democrats. Sound familiar?

President Buchanan couldn't figure out for the life of him why the people of Kansas were so "up tight" about it. Sort of like the tea partiers (not understood by the Easterners).

"Pressing on, aggressive proslavery leaders ignored the advice of more cautious proslavery spokesmen, such as the Richmond Enquirer, not to force their northern allies to support policies that would destroy them — in short, not to endanger the survival of the Democratic party as a national organization. Instead, they disregarded election frauds and the clear will of the Kansas majority and, with the wholehearted support of [Buchanan], demanded congressional approval of [the spread of slavery to Kansas].""AMERICA IN 1857; A NATION OF THE BRINK" (Kenneth M. Stampp, Oxford Univ. Press, 1990)

These are the parts of the "Civil War history" that you almost never, never hear about. If Fremont had won in 1856, the South no doubt would have revolted that year and we'd almost never have heard of an Abraham Lincoln. You see, the di were cast by those who wanted to export slaves to Kansas, Nebraska, and so on, in the mid-1850s. To accept any restrictions on the spread of slavery was considered by them a potential death-blow to the whole institution (the same reason pro-abortionists cannot accept any limitations right up to partial-birth "abortions"). In his career-making speech in New York City, Lincoln said to the southern Democrats:

"You charge that we stir up insurrections among your slaves. We deny it; and what is your proof? Harper's Ferry! John Brown! John Brown was no Republican; and you have failed to implicate a single Republican in his Harper's Ferry enterprise . . .

"When it occurred, some important State elections were near at hand, and you were in evident glee with the belief that, by charging the blame upon us, you could get an advantage of us in those elections. The elections came, and your expectations were not quite fulfilled."

As Abe said, "You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time." One of the things that led to the Civil War was local politics in the South. In every contested election, opponents tended to try to "out-rebel" the other guy by slandering the Republicans with false charges. The southern rank-and-file thus perceived (they thought) that the election of a Republican would lead to war automatically (Federal forts were siezed before Lincoln was even innaugurated).

"And how much would it avail you, if you could, by the use of John Brown, Helper's Book, and the like, break up the Republican organization? Human action can be modified to some extent, but human nature cannot be changed. There is a judgment and a feeling against slavery in this nation, which cast at least a million and a half votes. You cannot destroy that judgment and feeling — that sentiment — by breaking up the political organization that rallies around it . . .

"In the language of Mr. Jefferson, uttered many years ago, "It is still in our power to direct the process of emancipation . . peaceably, and in such slow degrees, as the evil will wear off insensibly; and their places be,
pari passu, filled up by free white laborers. If, on the contrary, it [slavery] is left to force itself on, human nature must shudder at the prospect held up.

"Mr. Jefferson did not mean to say,
nor do I, that the power of emancipation is in the Federal Government. He spoke of Virginia; and, as to the power of emancipation, I speak of the slaveholding States only. The Federal Government, however, as we insist, has the power of restraining the extension of the institution- the power to insure that a slave insurrection shall never occur on any American soil which is now free from slavery."

You see, Washington and Jefferson and Lincoln were all in agreement that slavery could be contained to the South, and was even "regulated" in Louisiana by the Federal government. The "States' Rights" howling you've heard so much about was a canard, a political straw man. Because the South just loved Federal power when it came to having Federal marshalls return runaway slaves to their "owners." But Lincoln's address continues:

"Perhaps you will say the Supreme Court has decided the disputed Constitutional question in your favor. Not quite so. But waiving the lawyer's distinction between dictum and decision, the Court have decided the question for you in a sort of way. The Court have substantially said, it is your Constitutional right to take slaves into the federal territories, and to hold them their as property.

"When I say the decision was made in a sort of way, I mean it was made in a divided Court, by a bare majority of the Judges, and they not quite agreeing with one another about its meaning, and that it was mainly based upon a mistaken statement of fact — the statement in the opinion that 'the right of property in a slave is distinctly and expressly affirmed in the Constitution.'

"An inspection of the Constitution will show that the right of property in a slave is not '
distinctly and expressly' in it. Bear in mind, the Judges do not pledge their judicial opinion that such right is impliedly affirmed there [but] distinctly' . . .

"If they had only pledged their judicial opinion that such right is affirmed in the instrument by implication, it would be open to others to show that neither the word 'slave' nor 'slavery' is to be found in the Constitution, nor the word 'property' even, in any connection with language alluding to the things slave, or slavery; and that wherever in [it] the slave is alluded to, he is called a 'person'; — and wherever his master's legal right in relation to him is alluded to, it is spoken of as 'service or labor which may be due' . . .

"Also, it would be open to show, by contemporaneous history, that this mode of alluding to slaves and slavery . . was employed on purpose to exclude from the Constitution THE IDEA THAT THERE COULD BE PROPERTY IN MAN."
[my emphasis]

You see, Mr. Kessler, this is why the Founding Fathers were so smart. The Constitution was so written as to last indefinitely ("getting around it" would require difficult to achieve amendments). And Lincoln's belief in Freedom of Speech and separation of the branches of government — Federal, as well as separation of the Federal from the States — meant that even Supreme Court Justices were not "infallible." Abe goes on to say:

"When this obvious mistake of the Judges [Dred Scott] shall be brought to their [attention], is it not reasonable to expect that they will withdraw the mistaken statement, and reconsider the conclusion based upon it? . . . it is to be remembered that 'our fathers, who framed the Government under which we live' . . decided this same Constitutional question in our favor, long ago . . .

"Under all these circumstances, do you really feel yourselves justified to break up this Government unless such a court decision as yours is, shall be at once submitted to as a conclusive and final rule of political action? But you will not abide the election of a Republican president! In that supposed event, you say, you will destroy the Union; and then, you say, the great crime of having destroyed it will be upon us!

"That is COOL. A highwayman holds a pistol to my ear, and mutters through his teeth, 'Stand and deliver, or I shall kill you, and then you will be a murderer!'

"To be sure, what the robber demanded of me — my money — was my own; and I had a clear right to keep it; but it was no more my own than my vote is my own; and the threat of death to me, to extort my money, and the threat of destruction to the Union, to extort my vote, can scarely be distinguished [from each other] in principle."

Thus endeth Lincoln's words to the slave "owners" [masters]. Then he said, "A few words now to Republicans . . . "

[More to come next week. This is important stuff. You see, history isn't just "what" happened and "when," but "WHY," so we can avoid making the same old mistakes over and over again like "Groundhog Day" the move!]

© Curtis Dahlgren


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Curtis Dahlgren

Curtis Dahlgren is semi-retired in southern Wisconsin, and is the author of "Massey-Harris 101." His career has had some rough similarities to one of his favorite writers, Ferrar Fenton... (more)


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