HH: Happy day after Thanksgiving. And in what is an annual tradition for the Hugh Hewitt Show that began in 2014, if you’re hearing it for the first time in 2014, understand it’s an annual tradition. I’m talking with Dr. Larry Arnn, president of Hillsdale College, about Abraham Lincoln. And I’m doing so because yesterday on Thanksgiving, as is an annual tradition, we talked about the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights and the early Republic. And we decided that it would be the perfect day after Thanksgiving to focus on Lincoln. And Dr. Arnn, welcome, it’s good to talk to you.
LA: Good to talk to you, Hugh.
HH: You are at work on a book about Lincoln, I believe.
LA: No. I’m still copying a book about Winston Churchill. Then I might write a book about Lincoln sometime, but that’s only because I love it so much.
HH: I thought that Lincoln somehow factored in to your Churchill book.
LA: It comes up, yeah, of course, because they’re like, Lincoln, Washington and Churchill are like looking at the Himalayan range.
LA: (laughing) They all stick up there very high.
HH: All right, now before I go into Lincoln, when we originally taped this, it’s Thanksgiving, 2014, the day after Thanksgiving, 2014. And it’s been a hard week for the country for a number of reasons. The President’s done extraordinary things, and we had this trial or non-trial, non-indictment in Ferguson, Missouri, and we had racial violence, and we had the usual suspects saying the usual things. And it’s all very sad, actually, that it would happen this week. What was your reaction to that?
LA: Well, one of the things we’re going to read is Lincoln’s speech when he was a young man about lawlessness. And of course, one regrets that very much. And that officer was not indicted for shooting that young man, and it’s just a shame that that young man was shot, and a shame what we know about that young man’s life that he lived such a life. And he didn’t live it for very long. And so it’s all a terrible shame. And you know, I read a piece of practical advice in the newspaper last couple of days, and that is maybe they should announce things like that at 7:00 in the morning.
HH: I think that it was pretty hard to have done it worse, to have managed…people will not remember in a few years how badly managed it was. But you’re right, a terrible shame, and I am, and we will come to some of the themes. But mostly, that theme of race, deeply embedded problem in the United States. When we talked about the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, we glided over, because we knew we would be coming to Lincoln, the problem of race at the founding of the country.
LA: That’s right. And you know, the problem of race and the problem of tribe, those are deep problems everywhere. They take on a special aspect here, because we adopt principles that according to Abraham Lincoln, and according to the founders, mean that we have rise above that, and we have to treat people of different races the same. And so that challenge, which is a challenge to America that’s special to it, and always hard to attain, that challenge is woven into the fabric of our history. And much tragedy and much achievement has come from it.
HH: You know, it’s an interesting thing to me that last week, I was talking with the International Justice Ministry about slavery in Ghana, and on the Lake Volta, where children are sold into slavery at the age of two. Slavery continues to be, long before Lincoln was president, long after he was president, slavery continues to be an issue. And William Wilberforce had done his life’s work even before Lincoln entered the national stage.
LA: That’s right. And that’s right, and the British, you know, had a long history with the slave trade. The founders, many of them, in fact, most of them who spoke of it were bitter with the British about the introduction of slavery into the country, as was Lincoln. And one of his arguments, one of his prime arguments, we’ll go into it, is that we can’t commit the evil that the British have committed to us into the new federal territories, into the new land to the west that the country is settling. We can’t do to those people, and to ourselves, what has been done to us. And the British, you know, had naval dominance, and they made a lot of money, or British subjects made a lot of money from the slave trade. And Wilberforce, you know, over a very long time, decades, fought against that, and appealed to the conscience of the House of Commons. I have a really bright, young man who is writing a paper for me right now in a class on Churchill and Wilberforce.
HH: Oh, how interesting.
LA: And everything I’ve talked to him, he tells me more stuff about the comparisons and similarities between the two. But of course, there’s also a similarity to Lincoln and a preparation for him in Wilberforce.
HH: And before Wilberforce, there were abolitionists way back to John Woolman in the 1600s in the United States. There were always abolitionists. There were always Americans who understood slavery to be evil.
LA: That’s right, and Lincoln in one of the speeches we’re going to look at gives a history of all of that, because the story of the Union, through 1820, even beyond it, was the story of the constriction of slavery. And Lincoln makes the point, a telling point, in reaction to the Dred Scott decision, that there were five states where black people voted just like white people, full citizens, for the ratification of the Constitution. And Roger Taney in the Dred Scott decision, we’re going to learn, basically says that the doctrine of that day was that the black man has no rights the white man is bound to respect. And Lincoln counters, just look at what they did. And Taney says that we live in a more enlightened age, the age just before the Civil War, and Lincoln says no, much less enlightened. There’s been a degradation because of the introduction of new doctrines.
HH: And I love the fact that that argument would be part of this. But maybe at the beginning, we should tell people why we spend so much time on Lincoln. It’s not just because he’s the greatest president. It’s because of why he’s the greatest president.
LA: That’s right. Lincoln, well, you say he’s the greatest president, and I have a certain humility about judging between him and George Washington, but he surely is one of them. And this crisis which gave rise to what is still our most destructive war of American life, was the Civil War. And it was about the things that the country was organized to do. And it is about the standing and the meaning of the Declaration of Independence. And it’s about the operation and purpose of the Constitution of the United States. And those things had fallen into much wider disrepute in Lincoln’s day than they had ever been. They were rejected by famous and important people, and by a whole political movement. And Lincoln’s calling was to make those arguments, put the arguments together. There are two things that go in Lincoln in thought, and in his speeches. And one of them is he interprets the meaning of America in its Declaration, which states principles, and its Constitution, which provides structure. And he’s poetic and logical and beautiful when he does that. And the second thing is he puts together a history of the country from the beginning until today to explain the changes that are happening, and how they are not indicated by the founding. And the first is a philosophic achievement, and the second is a historical achievement. And then you have to add to understand his life the amazing practical achievement that this guy from the boonies, who never went to college, made himself into a prominent lawyer, and never ran anything bigger than being a part-owner of a newspaper, and a sole proprietor law firm, managed the greatest war in American history from a standing start to ultimate victory.
HH: He did have the great advantage of being born close to Ohio.
LA: Yeah, and often said, fondly, that he’s glad he never went there. (laughing)
HH: (laughing) Now we know that’s not true. He was, let’s give, though, you’ve just given a summation of all the things that make him the least likely man to be the savior of a country, born in the boonies, not educated. I believe you said his education was the Bible and Shakespeare. But give a quick overview of his life and career to set up this Lincoln day on the Hugh Hewitt Show.
LA: Well, he was born in 1809 to a Kentuckian, in Kentucky to a family, Thomas Lincoln and Nancy Hanks. When he was young, they moved to Illinois. He was a farmer. They were farmers, and he worked on the farm. And he was a rail splitter. He was not given, as politicians are today, to stand up and give long speeches about his childhood. He was asked about it one time, and he said it’s like in Gray’s Elegy, the simple annuls, the cold, simple, I think he said, annuls of the poor. And he didn’t have, he says in one of our readings today, he says he didn’t have a much as six months’ schooling anytime, but he had a big mind. And he was very given to reading, and read by the light of the fire in the house into the night. And he picked up some law books, and he started reading them, and then he got a job as an apprentice lawyer, and he began to learn. Along the way, he met his wife, Mary Todd, Mary Todd Lincoln, married to her until he died. He had a young love in a lady named Ann Rutledge, who died of the fever. And the next thing you know, he’s a prosperous lawyer.
HH: Let’s pause there and we’ll come back, because all great presidents have been lawyers. I just wanted to point that out. That’s not really true, but I wanted to say a good word for the law.
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HH: Beginning a new tradition on the Hugh Hewitt Show in 2014, which will continue on, of dedicating the day after Thanksgiving to Lincoln, who actually began the Thanksgiving celebration out of the White House. He was the first to issue a Thanksgiving Day proclamation, but also a man for whom every American ought to be thankful, because we have a country because of Abraham Lincoln. And when we went to break with Dr. Larry Arnn, and all of these conversations, by the way, if you miss all or part of it, they’ll be posted at the Hillsdale Dialogue page at www.hughforhillsdale.com. And you can get there via www.hillsdale.edu, or www.hughhewitt.com. When we went to break, we remarked upon the fact, Dr. Arnn, that Abraham Lincoln was a lawyer. Now you are prone to say mean things about lawyers on this program, but…
LA: Well, I actually don’t want to do that today. I just want to praise you for your heroism in defending the legal profession in the way that you do, and also practicing it. And it goes along with your insults to the Steelers fans. Two forlorn hopes, and you keep them up.
HH: Well now, but Lincoln’s legal education, I think, is important, because it is reflected in a lot of his logical thinking. He makes arguments of the sort that one would expect from a brilliant lawyer.
LA: Yeah, and you know, to say something serious about the practice of the law, the law, I had a young woman about to go to law school coming in to seek my advice today, a student here, and I said why do you want to be a lawyer, and she gave a reason, and I said what’s the law. And so we talked about that for 20 minutes, and the law is the way we govern ourselves, grounded in our ability to talk. And it’s the only alternative to force. And it’s the only way to achieve equal justice among people, because the law, rightly understood, we don’t have as much of it as we used to today, is general rules made up in advance, and applying to everyone before you know who’s going to be affected. And that is what he rule of law means. And the best lawyers I know, and I know a lot of them, and Hugh, I’ve actually been in a case where Hugh was practicing, two, actually, where Hugh was practicing law. And he is a knower of that kind of thing, and it’s a very valuable kind of law.
HH: You know, our friend, Dennis Prager, taught me something today over the radio. He said in Scripture, there is an admonition to the judge, do not favor the poor. And he spent quite a lot of time on why that was important, and it refers to something you just said, which is before you know who the parties are, you make up the rule.
LA: That’s right, and that’s, and see, the rules, and another feature of the law that Madison makes a famous statement about is the law needs to be understandable to everyone involved. And that means that the basics of it, and the real meaning of it, has got to be apparent to citizens who live under it. And he, Madison says famously, if the laws be so voluminous and so changeable, then you’re not going to get the rule of law. And Lincoln was a, you know, there’s stories about him practicing law, and there were documents that survived from his practice of law. And he was a learned lawyer. But also, he had this massive common sense. And the things that are recalled from his legal career are like his best speeches. They are illustrated in a way so the moral or common sense understanding can follow them.
HH: How did he learn the law?
LA: He learned it by practicing it and reading law books. He read Blackstone. He read the great law books. He read The Law. You know, the laws are published in America, and he read them. And then he had a lot of cases. And he just learned through reading and experience, and through working for a couple of senior lawyers who had accumulated a lot of learning and experience.
HH: Am I correct, he was a railroad lawyer for a time?
LA: He was, and he, Lincoln became, you know, pretty prosperous for a guy who had nothing. He represented the railroads on some big cases. And he became a prominent man, you know, out there in Illinois, which was sort of the frontier. And he was well known. And he was a very attractive man. You know, I think he’s attractive physically, but what I mean was he had a real gift for engaging and commanding attention, and persuading. He was elected to the state legislature, he did some log rolling getting the capital of Illinois moved to Springfield. That was to advantage of some interest in Springfield, and he was connected to them. And then he was elected to one term in Congress. And he didn’t like it very much. He was a Whig under the great Henry Clay, the maker of the Missouri Compromise of 1820, and always called Henry Clay his beau ideal of a statesman, beautiful idea of a statesman. And so he got some experience in politics, and you know, he basically was in the state legislature, and then he was a Congressman for just one term. And the he ran for the Senate in 1858, and won the popular vote. And then he ran for president, and was elected for reasons that we’ll state later.
HH: Now I have to pause for a second, because you and I, you more than I, interact with a lot of aspiring, young politicos who wish to be statesmen. And some of them have sparkle, and some of them don’t. Some of them have great amount of talent. Some of them have middling amount of talent. At the time, did his contemporaries recognize in Lincoln genius and capacity?
LA: As they got to know him. You know, his competitors for the Senate were Salmon Chase and William Seward, national figures.
HH: You mean for the nomination, for the presidential nomination?
LA: Yeah, for the nomination, yeah.
LA: And there was a gaggle of them in that broken election of 1860 where they didn’t count Republican votes in many of the southern states. And so that was a more confused scene. But…and they, very much, underestimated him. And he put them in his cabinet. They were astonished at that. And then they got to know him. And they found him, one of them, or both of them, found him extremely formidable, and especially Seward adored him, and worked very closely with him. And he took command. And that was the sort of experience, because he was this gawky guy with a big, tall, angular fellow, very strong. And he was homespun seeming, and he used common sense, and homespun humor. You know, his images were from pig sties and farms and stuff, you know. And so that wasn’t quite the style in national politics, and he didn’t really alter his style very much, except, well, here’s one of my favorite stories. Joe Hooker, who was a very good general and not good enough to go up against Robert E. Lee, gets his army down through the wilderness, and Lee’s just getting ready to take him apart, but it’s going pretty well. And he dashes off a note to Lincoln, and it’s delivered in a cabinet meeting. And it says, and he signs it from my headquarters in the saddle. And Lincoln reads it out to the cabinet, and he looks up and says General Hooker has got his headquarters where his hindquarters are supposed to be.
HH: (laughing) We’ll be right back.
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HH: Now the estimable Mr. Murnen, your assistant, has arranged for me a sequence of speeches on which to dwell. And the earliest of them is from 1838, Larry Arnn. And he puts it under the heading, Education of a Young Statesman. All of the other speeches are 20 years later.
HH: So it’s interesting to me that young Mr. Murnen thought we must pay attention to the Lyceum Address. Why?
LA: Well, there’s two things I want to read at the outset, because they show him as a young man, and something that he thought, two things, how he prepared himself, and something that he thought that is extremely consequential for his life. And remark the fact about that 20 years that there isn’t any period in the life of Winston Churchill of one year, after he was 24 years old, where he didn’t write or say something important about politics. In fact, there isn’t any year where he didn’t write or say many important things about politics.
LA: And Lincoln’s career is therefore compact. It happens in three bursts – two years, two years and six years, and then he’s killed. And that means that there’s something to the claim that Lincoln made, that if it weren’t for Stephen Douglas and the situation that slavery was put into by him and by the pro-slavery movement, that he would have left all this to Judge Douglas, and been very happy to do it. And I think there’s something to that. And on the other hand, in this address to social/intellectual/political group called the Young Men’s Lyceum, there is powerful evidence that denies that. Lincoln, this address to the Young Men’s Lyceum in 1838, the point, there’s really great things to take from it, but it’s a speech about lawlessness. And it says that we have to obey the law. It’s very extravagant about the law is, you know, we were talking about the law a minute ago.
LA: And it partakes of that line of thought. And so by the way, think about it. Here’s a young man, ambitious, getting ahead some, and he’s talking about obedience. And what has to be disciplined, and made to obey, is two kinds of passion. And one kind is ordinary, and one kind is very extraordinary. And there’s interest in both. The greatest interest is in the second. The ordinary passion is mob rule. He talks about a lynching and a burning, one of a white man, and one of a Negro. And he even says that maybe they had it coming, but it was lawless the way it was done, and so people’s anger and rage and passions and immoderation ran away with them. And if that happens, the body politick will be greatly compromised. And that’s one of them, and of course, that’s an interesting thing for a young, ambitious man to be dwelling on, and especially because of the second one.
HH: Is it recorded how the audience reacts, Dr. Arnn?
LA: Well, there’s a newspaper report of it, yeah, and he was, he, it’s an early evidence that he was effective before a crowd.
HH: Because he’s 31. It’s a bit pretentious.
LA: Oh, yeah. Yeah, that’s right. And you know, there are things that the young Churchill wrote that sound a little like that, too, a little more formal than he sounded later. And so that’s right. And you know, just think what this society is like, because heck fire, the streets are dirt, you know?
LA: And these guys are wearing their top hats, and they walk in this place, and there isn’t any, what month was this in? There isn’t any air conditioning, and there isn’t any heat, you know?
LA: And he strides up here, and this in January, they needed heat. They probably had wood stoves, you know? And they’re all kind of, you know, behaving kind of formally. And they listen to this exalted address, and that’s kind of fun when you think about it, you know? And you know, I work in a college, and stuff like that goes on around here all the time.
HH: But it is was not taken for granted, and now it would be remarked upon as unusual if a young man were to stand up and address the question of the law for an extended period of time in a high, reedy voice, and be paid attention to.
LA: Yeah, yeah, that’s right, and he very much had that gift.
HH: A second glimpse when we come back, Lincoln and how his formative statesman years unfolded with Dr. Larry Arnn, president of Hillsdale College.
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HH: Dr. Arnn, a conversation with Lincoln on a train, I simply wasn’t familiar with until Murnen sent it to me.
LA: Yeah, it’s a really tremendous thing. I discovered it in the best book of photos of Lincoln, which is put together by a man named Richard Mellon, and it’s really great. It’s advice that I give to young people all the time. I’ve been doing it for years now, and I actually rank them by whether they take it or not. And this, by the way, is from 1858. And so it’s much later, but Lincoln is reflecting on his youth. And let me make one last point about the Lyceum address. Lincoln says that the passion that may run away from the country is the deep one, the big one, the one that’s most interesting, has to do with the family of the lion and the tribe of the eagle, towering genius like Caesar or Napoleon.
LA: And he says that the country may be prey to those, because spirits like that at the founding could win their fame by construction, whereas we who come later could only win it by destruction, although he hints that there may be a greater thing than refounding, or than altering, and remember, we live in the time, by the way, where everybody talks about transformation, right? Barack Obama won’t shut up about it. He wants to be a transformational president. And if you read this speech, it’ll cast that point in relief, because Lincoln says yeah, people are going to want to do that. They’re going to want to be as great as the founders, and they can only do that by undoing what they did.
LA: So this is on his mind. And that means that this young man’s paean to obedience of the law turns out to be in this speech a profound humility, and also a foretaste of what Lincoln will do with his life.
LA: So you know, how to get, and so this…
HH: He’s building a curb on his own ambition, by the way. He’s saying he will not destroy anything in order to become something new and something greater than the founders.
LA: Just like George Washington in refusing to be king.
LA: So it’s a way to reenact the life of George Washington by living under the same discipline. And it’s very interesting that this is on this man’s mind at this age. Now how’d he get there? And here’s a glimpse into him. He became president in these steps. He became a big deal in Illinois, he ran for the Senate against a very nationally famous and great Stephen Douglas. He won the popular vote. The Democratic legislature of Illinois put Douglas in nonetheless, as they had the Constitutional authority to do. And so he’s not a Senator, but it matters that he won that vote, and Illinois’ on the frontier and a swing state. And so it just so happened the convention that year, in 1860, was in Illinois, in Chicago. Well, before that, Lincoln did another thing that was very important, and that is he went back east and gave a series of speeches. And the Cooper Union address is the most famous of them, but he gave three or four. And one of them in Connecticut, he gave, and the next day he’s on a train platform, and a journalist stands beside him and starts to ask him about this speech. And the thing arrested him. Lincoln says it’s the basic idea of Abe Lincoln, and in the founding of the Republican Party, which I love to boast happened partly here at Hillsdale College, that they would not touch slavery in the states where it exists, because the Constitution didn’t give them the authority. But they would forbid it from spreading any further into the vast land to the west, and therefore, there would be a whole lot of free states come in, and slavery would be placed in the course of ultimately extinction. That’s the argument, and that, in my opinion, is one of the greatest conceptions and acts that a political party has ever worked. If only the Republican Party were as good as that today, or any party. I don’t care which one. So that leaves Lincoln exposed, however, because from the one side, people can say well, if you’re agin’ it, why don’t you get rid of it? And from the other side, people can say if you’re willing to abide it where it is, doesn’t that establish the principle that it should go where it will?
LA: And so he’s attacked from both sides, of course, as one is when he’s in a position like that. And in New Haven, Connecticut, Lincoln says it’s like what you do, I’m paraphrasing, if you run across a rattlesnake. It depends on where it is, is what you do about it, because if it’s out in the garden, you’ll kill it. But what if it’s in bed with your children? In killing it, you might harm your children, or it might bite them. Or what if you find it in bed with a neighbor’s child? You might just leave it lie in the hope that it will crawl away. And if it chose activity, you attack it. And that image was the center of that speech in New Haven, and this man brought it up, and he says Lincoln, where’d you learn that? And Lincoln says, first, it’s very worth reading this thing, and we’ll put it on your website if you like, but and it’s not very long, but Lincoln says you know, I’m interested in what you say about my speech. Tell me more about it, because Lincoln’s looking for feedback. And then the man presses him, and he says where’d you learn that? And he said well, I was reading law, as the phrase is. I became a lawyer’s clerk in Springfield, and I copied tedious documents. In the course of my law reading, I constantly came upon the word demonstrate. And in this article written by this man who had the conversation with him, demonstrate is italicized. And I thought to myself, what do I mean when I demonstrate more when I reason or prove? How does demonstration differ from any other proof? I consulted Webster, told of certain proof, proof beyond the possibility of doubt. But I could form no idea what sort of proof that was. I thought a great many things were proved beyond the possibility of doubt, without recourse to any such extraordinary process of reasoning. And I said to myself, Lincoln, you can never make a lawyer if you do not understand what demonstrate means. And I left my situation in Springfield, went home to my father’s house, and stayed there until I could give any proposition in the six books of Euclid at sight.
LA: There’s your charge, young people.
HH: When we come back (laughing), and many left Hillsdale College thereafter.
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HH: And when we left off, Lincoln had just told the story to a journalist in 1858 that he’d memorized all the propositions of Euclid. How many of those are there, Dr. Arnn?
LA: I think there are, I don’t know. He said six books. And you can tell I haven’t memorized them. But Lincoln, by the way, that’s a point. Sometimes, Lincoln sounds like Shakespeare and the Bible – poetic and often tragic. But very often, Lincoln also sounds simply logical. And he has a wonderful compactness about the way he reasons. Here’s an example from, it’s like a syllogism. There’s a fragment on slavery that we haven’t, we’re not, I’ll just mention it. He wrote it down. We don’t know why he wrote it down. But it says you say that I should, that I can be your slave, because my skin is darker than yours. Take care. The next man you meet whose skin is lighter than yours is your master. You say I should be your slave, because you are more intelligent than I. Take care. The next man you meet more intelligent than you is your master. That sounds like Euclid, you know?
HH: It does.
LA: You know, and…
HH: And it’s not possible to refute.
LA: It’s just devastating, right? And he worked, his, in two of the speeches we’re going to read, he gives a history of slavery in the Union. And they’re crystal clear, and yet they are narratives. And they’re logical in their way. And so his gift, you know, you have to understand this is a man who worked extremely hard to become what he was. And he thought, he had a mind for it, and he applied his mind. He thought deeply. And so there’s a, these things that he knows, they didn’t, you know, they might not ever come to normal people, but they didn’t come easy to him.
HH: This gift for compactness, which I want to dwell on for a moment, Montaigne tells us we misremember things. But I remember you telling me this in Sacramento, so I just, as clear as I can, it would have been 1990, telling me that Lincoln argued you don’t hang a horse. Am I correct about this?
LA: Well, in one of his Lincoln-Douglas debates, the thing goes roughly this way. Douglas says I can take my horse and my hog and my buckboard to Nebraska and keep my property in them, why not my slaves? It’s property, too. Yeah, true, if there’s no difference between the hog and the buckboard on the one hand, and the slave on the other. But, he says, everybody actually knows the difference. There isn’t a law anywhere making it illegal to teach a pig to read. And there isn’t a law to hang a pig for murder.
HH: That’s it. And that is complete, right?
HH: It’s not even an argument. It’s a complete illustration that defeats Douglas. Did Douglas sputter?
LA: Oh, yeah. Well, often.
LA: (laughing) And Douglas is very artful, you know, and he was beaten by Lincoln, finally. And by the way, at the end of his life, pledged his loyalty to Lincoln. But you know, but one of the reasons that’s beautiful, in my opinion, is that one of the great classic teachings is that we all do love the good. And we wish, and that love of the good is founded in our recognition of what kinds of things things are. And justice means we treat them according to their kinds. And so like the Nazis, you know, it’s very interesting that they would rant dang near anything, but you never got Hitler, and you never got anybody else writing out in a document about what they were doing at Auschwitz. And at the Wannsee Conference in what, 1941 or ’42, they took, like these Nazis do, they took these detailed notes of this conference where they decided on the Final Solution. And the notes are interesting, because a lot of people were reluctant, and force was implied against them. But the second thing is they gave everybody a copy, and they made them all, and they kept a register of who got copies, and then they put them under an order to destroy all the copies in one month. Now why destroy, see? And somebody didn’t, and that’s why we know about it. But in other words, there was another thing going on with those Nazis. And just like Lincoln said, they knew what they were, and they knew you can’t slaughter them like cattle.
HH: And it ties back as well, that illustration of the hog and of the notes, there are certain things that are self-evident. And that claim is made first in the Declaration of Independence, and Lincoln declared, maybe it wasn’t made first then. It was made first most publicly in the Declaration that there are things that are self-evident. And in the Electric Cord speech, it’s about the Declaration, and he had a great regard for that which was self-evident.
LA: Yeah, and see, there’s a passage in there that’s, and I think it might be my favorite passage in all of Lincoln, and I’ll read it. But it’s one of the most compact and lovely explanations of the remarkable nature of the United States, you know, the thing for which we’re giving Thanksgiving at this season. In the middle of the one of the Lincoln-Douglas debates, and this, by the way, is the nearest thing Lincoln ever gave to a formal 4th of July speech. It was on July 10th, 1858. And he’s, in the middle of the speech, he suddenly stops, and he goes into a standard 4th of July speech, which you know, the great ones are all alike. They all talk about how big and prosperous and wonderful everything’s become, and how it all traces back to the Declaration of Independence. So here, I’ll read. We are now a mighty nation. We are thirty, or about thirty million people, and we own and inhabit 1/15th part of the dry land of the whole Earth. We run our memory back, and isn’t that a nice phrase, by the way?
LA: We’ve run our memory back over the pages of history for about 82 years, and we discover that we were then a very small people in point of numbers, vastly inferior to what we are now, with a vastly less extent of country, vastly less of everything we deem desirable among men. We look upon the change as exceedingly advantageous to us and to our posterity. And we fix upon something that happened a way back as if some other way or another being connected with this rise of prosperity. We find a race of men living in that day whom we claim as our fathers and grandfathers. I love this phrase. They were iron men. They fought for the principles that they were contending for. And we understood by what they did then that has followed, then, our degree of prosperity. We hold this annual celebration to remind ourselves of all the good done in the process of time, and how it was done, and who did it. And we go from these meetings in better humor with ourselves. But after we have done all this, we have not yet reached a whole. There is something else connected with it. We have beside these men descended by blood from our ancestors among us perhaps half our people who are not descendants of all those men in the founding. They are men who have come from Europe – German, Irish, French, Scandinavian. Men have come from Europe themselves, or whose ancestors have come hither, finding themselves our equal in all things. If they look back through this history to trace their connection with those days by blood, they find that they have none. They can’t carry themselves back into that day, sorry, I lost my place, back into that glorious epic and make themselves feel that they are part of us. But when they look through that old Declaration of Independence, they find that those old men said we hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal. And then they feel that that moral sentiment taught in that day evidences their relation to those men. That is the father of all moral principle in them, and that they have a right to claim it as though they were blood of the blood. Now do you hear the Bible?
LA: They were blood of the blood, and flesh of the flesh of the men who wrote that Declaration. That is the Electric Cord in that Declaration that links the hearts of patriotic and liberty-loving men together, and will link those hearts as long as the love of freedom exists in the minds of men throughout the world.
HH: Now that was extemporaneous?
LA: Well, as far as we know. We do know that there he is, arguing with Douglas on, and these debates would go on for three and four hours.
LA: And people would, you know, thousands of people would come, drive half a day to hear them, sit out in the sun, take a break for dinner and come back. And they’re arguing fine points, and they’re talking, each one of them, 45 and 60 minutes at a time, and rebuttal and sir, rebuttal. And all of a sudden in the middle of it, he just stopped and did that.
HH: And in so doing, not only is it beautiful, it’s a master political stroke, because everyone in the hearing is included whether they are blood of blood, or merely connected by the electric cord. I’ll be right back with Dr. Larry Arnn.
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HH: I remarked, Dr. Arnn, on going to break, that that beautiful Electric Cord speech delivered in the middle of his Lincoln-Douglas debate is not only beautifully crafted and philosophically sound and rigorous, it’s also an amazing bit of political work, because by referring to the iron men, he is puffing up pride, and he’s connecting everyone to them, and he’s drawing them all in, and he’s saying that’s all of you here, there’s no one I’m not talking to. It’s beautifully crafted to get every vote.
LA: That’s, you see, there’s like, think how unusual that is, right? Like let me talk about my family. So my wife comes from a family that came to England in the Norman conquest, and settled up in the north of England, and they were there to this day. So that’s really great and old, and I admired them. And my wife’s father and mother were tremendous people, and I miss them and respect them greatly, settled away old connections. They’re not aristocracy, but they were like important people in their world. So now, it’s a chance that my own daughters are eligible for the Daughters of the American Revolution, and the family historian, a nice lady named Judith Knight, says to me, it also, it means, however, that we came over here at Jews. So I don’t really know the truth of that. And I confess I don’t know that I regard it as all that important.
LA: And the reason is, you know, my daughters are great, and my connection, and theirs, to the people who have founded our country, are in the principle that we are possessed by our equality, that we may not be governed except from our consent. And that applies to every human being. But there’s something special about the United States, because it’s the first and really the only country ever to make that the meaning of the country. And that is Lincoln’s message.
HH: And I want to add, I’ve said the same thing again and again to my children. The Fetching Mrs. Hewitt is a colonial dame, but she is also a Jewish refugee from Europe, and I’m an Irish coal digger. And none of it matters. You see, that’s just a remarkable country. And Lincoln intuits that. What year is this? 1858?
HH: Because that’s when he, he’s making this claim. And who knows who’s in the audience in Illinois, right? Probably brawlers and tavern keepers and lawyers and clergy, and he’s talking…are women, by the way, in abundance at this? They don’t have the vote, obviously, but are they in abundance at political speeches?
LA: Yeah, and by the way, worth mentioning, Lincoln was always in favor of women suffrage, and it came not long after the Civil War, a while after. But they came and they flocked to the place. And they were huge crowds. And see, it’s an interesting point, you know, because everybody understands now we’re in a crisis. The Union might split up. There could even be a war. And like in 1840, and 1812, well, there was a war on in 1812, but in normal times, and we have had some, although not as many as one would think, you wouldn’t get crowds like that. It’s like the Federalist Papers being read out in huge throngs, they put them up in the newspaper office, and throngs would gather and hear them read aloud. But they weren’t doing that 20 years before. And that’s because people had a sense that something important was happening. And Lincoln, his interpretation of what’s happening, and we’re going to talk about the way this slavery crisis, like many things that are going on today, cut both ways and involved everyone in contradictions. And Lincoln saw his way through, because he could start and articulate the fundamental meaning of the Union, which is, by the way, also the fundamental meaning of the human being, so clearly and poetically.
HH: And he could also explain to people the connection between the Declaration, the Constitution and their present situation. That brings us to the fragment on the Constitution and the Union, which we’ve referenced in the past as being a famous Lincoln fragment. But I didn’t realize where it had come from.
LA: Yeah, he just wrote this down one time. And he did that, you know. It’s like, if you know anything about Rembrandt, and I know something about him and think he’s the greatest, there’s lots of sketches that show up later in more developed form as parts of Rembrandt’s great productions. And there’s things like that in Lincoln’s work, too, little bits of things that he reasoned through, and the next thing you know, he turns them into movement in the middle of some great speech. And this fragment is about how the Constitution and the Declaration are related. And you know, it’s very common among historians to say that the Declaration is a radical document, and the Constitution is a conservative document, and a stepping back from the radicalism of the Declaration, because it wasn’t working out in any way that had wanted. They had vested interest now. That’s a very standard account. And Lincoln gives the explicit lie to that. And by the way, that’s an account that is put forward by John Calhoun and other leaders of pro-slavery thinking, because what they say is the Declaration of Independence never was all that important in the making of the founding, and it didn’t have anything to do…
HH: And they can’t let it be, right? They can’t let it be important to the founding.
LA: That’s right, because, and see, there’s two stages in that argument as they unfold. Calhoun says it’s unimportant, and then later, and some followers of Calhoun said it’s a self-evident lie. And then later, Lincoln accuses, and I think rightly accuses, Roger Taney, who is the chief justice of the Supreme Court who wrote the Dred Scott decision in 1858, and Stephen Douglas, of saying it is important. It just was never meant to include the black people. And Lincoln takes that on. And what’s interesting about Lincoln’s argument in this fragment is that he admits with Calhoun that the universal principle didn’t have to be there to affect the separation. And that, he says, makes it more important, because that means that they put it in there for the future.
HH: For the future. So what does this fragment say in the minute we have left?
LA: He says all this, and by this, he apparently means our country, is not a result of accident. It has the philosophical cause. And then he says there is something back of all these developments, something as the principle of liberty to all, the principle that clears the path for all, gives the hope to all, and by consequence, enterprise and industry to all. And this principle is like, he says, an apple of gold. And the Constitution becomes, then, a picture, or in modern terms, a frame of silver around this apple of gold. And the two are necessary to achieve the fullest effect.
HH: And thus refutes Douglas and Calhoun, and everybody else.
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HH: And now I have to get a little chronological with Dr. Arnn and the audience, because we are aware of Steelers fans being listeners. And we do wish to go back and explain there were two nations – one free, and one slave. And there was a constant tension about how to expand the country and maintain the balance and not split. And the great Clay would compromise, and there were compromise after compromise. And finally, there came a Kansas-Nebraska Act in October of 1854. What did it do, Larry? And what did Lincoln say about it?
LA: Well, if, with your permission, Hugh, I’m going to go back one step earlier.
LA: So the American Union grew after the successful Revolution, and it grew, the first brand new land that it grew into was called the Northwest Territory where Ohio and Michigan both are.
HH: The capital of which is Warren, Ohio. Yes, proceed.
LA: There you go. That’s right. And this Northwest Territory, like all of the territory for the southeast of the Mississippi River, was claimed by states, which states gave it over to the Union. And the biggest batch was Virginia. And on the motion of Thomas Jefferson, a slave holder, and on the assistance of Virginia, a slave state, they would give it free of charge to the entire Union on conditions that slavery never be admitted in it. And that was made fact in the Northwest Ordinance of 1787. So the first great accretion of new territory on its way to being states in the Union was accepted without controversy as forbidding any growth of slavery in it. And this was in a time when slavery was being abolished in most, but not fatefully all, of the Union. And so it’s a snapshot, right, that in 1787, there was a consensus that the new land would not come in with slavery. Now go forward exactly 33 years to 1820, and Missouri is to come into the Union. And there’s an enormous agitation, because if it’s let in slave, or it’s let in free by itself, it will upset the balance between slavery and freedom in the Senate of the United States. And so in 1787, that was not a controversy. And in 1820, it gives rise to the Great Compromise, the Compromise of 1820, the Missouri Compromise, fashioned by Henry Clay. And what it basically says is Maine will come in with Missouri, and then we’ll draw a line. and south of the line, there might be another slave state or two, but north of the line, and then farther on, Lincoln later argues, no more slave states.
LA: And so that puts the slavery, and that means that there was a slavery agitation in the second decade of the 19th Century, which was a new rival in America. And then it put it to bed for a long time. And it comes up again in the 1840s because of the Mexican War and because of the accretion of a lot more land up in the north, too. And so it starts up again, and in 1850, there was another compromise that basically followed the outlines of the Missouri Compromise. And all of those with some idea of keeping the Senate, in Lincoln’s reading of all this, of keeping the Senate equal for the present time, but giving no endorsement of slavery. And so then comes 1854, and now we get to the Kansas-Nebraska Act. And Kansas and Nebraska are important, because they’re going to build a railroad across that big territory, and there’s going to be one or two states there. And then the great Stephen Douglas, little giant, they called him, brilliant man, good enough to come, to go toe to toe for hours with Abraham Lincoln and come in a respectable second.
LA: And really something else, and very worth reading. In our Constitution Reader, there are long passages and one whole speech from Stephen Douglas almost as much as there is of Lincoln. And so Douglas hits upon this idea. And he’s got a lot going on. He wants the country to grow very fast, and he sees, he wants it to take Cuba, and heck fire, Canada and South America, too, manifest destiny. And he thinks it can’t grow and become the great thing it’s going to become if there’s going to be slavery agitation every time it grows. And so I, he takes this view, the Declaration of Independence does not mean the negroes, the blacks, it doesn’t include them, they’re inferior, and each locality will decide for itself whether it’ll have slavery or not.
HH: We come back from break, we’ll find out how Lincoln responded to the idea that popular sovereignty would decide whether or not a state would be free or slave, the Douglas contribution.
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HH: We have just left off with Stephen Douglas arguing that the country would advance, and each new state would vote whether it would be slave or free. And Larry Arnn, Lincoln does not like this idea.
LA: Nope. Douglas’ doctrine is popular sovereignty, and he says I personally care not whether slavery is voted up or voted down, although he says you know, you can treat, each state can treat the blacks however it wants to, admitting that they’re inferior. And this is a powerful doctrine, and there’s a chance for a while that people who would later, who were beginning to join the Republican Party, would join in this. We admit the states where it already is, we can’t touch it, just carry it on. And Douglas would make to them, to audiences made up of people who thought that way and were against slavery, well, look what’s going on anyway. Most slavers are coming in, I mean, in most states, slavery is not growing right now, and it’s, and so if you’re right that freedom is the right way to go, that will win out. And we don’t have to have a civil war and divide the country. So Lincoln’s response to this, and it starts with the Peoria speech, which is the speech on the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which is one of his great speeches. And here, I’ll mention a book about it by my friend and probably yours, Lou Lehrman, about the Peoria speech.
HH: I don’t know Lou, but go ahead.
LA: He’s a really great guy, and his book is excellent. And Lincoln prepared this speech for, it’s a long speech, and he prepared it for weeks. And here’s the case it makes. He says first of all, it matters very much to the Union what happens with these territories, because these territories are meant to be for free labor, free, white settlers, he says. And slavery is the thing that poor people run away from, not the thing that they thrive amidst. That’s an important argument, and I have to return to that in just a second. The second argument is the principle established by this establishes so very much, because if it’s true that, and see, popular sovereignty turns out to be very difficult to figure out how to implement, because at what, because the pattern is a bunch of people move into a state, and under the Northwest Ordinance. When they get to be a certain number, then they can form a territorial government, and then they can develop their institutions some more and petition Congress for a constitution and to be members of the Union, full, equal members. That’s how states come in. And so Lincoln says at what point do they vote? Do the first 31 settlers decide that the 32nd is going to be slave? And then they decide for everyone who comes after them, just like the British did with the whole country, and then they’re going to have to live? And if there’s a right in the 31 to own the one, then that right, if extended, can go anywhere. And he says then we will have changed the nature of the Union. And the people who come later, who will be much more numerous than the people who are establishing this now, are going to be saddled with this institution. Now here’s the place where we have to turn to one of the many ugly parts of this debate, because this is so hard, because there probably is a large majority of Americans who don’t like slavery and are against it. And those people can’t imagine living freely with people of a different race among them. And Lincoln says in one of his speeches, he says this near universal sentiment against the amalgamation of the races is the key to the strategy of Stephen Douglas, because he’s playing on that. And if Lincoln had said I’m for intermarriage, for example, I think they’ve got to have the vote right now, I think that they’ve got to live among us just like us, Lincoln, as one of my teachers says, could have had his party meetings in a telephone booth if they’d had them back then.
LA: So he can’t say that, and he doesn’t say that ever. Instead, he, I’m going to read you two things. He says in this Peoria speech, he says what are we going to do? Free them all and keep them among us as underlings? Is it quite certain that this betters their condition? I think I would not hold one in slavery at any rate. Yet the point is not clear enough for me to denounce people upon. He says at another place in this speech, the people in the South are doing what we ourselves would do if we had them among us. And we would have to try to figure out what to do with them. And then we’re going to talk as we go on about what Lincoln proposed about this. And then he says my own feelings, he says, shall we free them and make them politically and socially our equals? My own feelings will not admit of this. And if mine would, we may well know that the great mass of the people will not. A universal feeling, whether well or ill-founded, will not be safely disregarded. You see, so in other words…
HH: Yeah, interesting how he’s phrasing that, because he’s reserving his own conscience against the recognition of the universal opinion.
LA: He says famously I am not now, nor have I ever been in favor of the social and political equality of the black man, and those are two tenses, and everybody knows there are three.
LA: And so you know, this is complicated, right? And people have to understand that, Churchill says at one point I would stand to the last, well, I’m going to read it to you. So in, this is kind of a more modern discovery. It was discovered in the 90s by my teacher, Harry Jaffa. He put it together, because somebody wrote a biography of him then. He’s in, it’s in 1858, and it’s one of the, the Charleston debate, and Douglas is implying what he so often implies, which is if Lincoln gets his way, these blacks are going to live among us just like we are. And Lincoln, by the way, also uses the argument if we have slavery, whites are going to have to compete with them. So now, it comes to a point. I’m going to read this to you. It’s very important.
HH: You may want to wait until after we start Hour Three…
HH: …because this is very important.
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HH: We have to be speedy in this hour. We have so much more to at least touch on, on the life of Lincoln. And one of the things that we’ll reference is called the Dred Scott decision. And for the benefit of those who are not lawyers, the Supreme Court has made some real doozy of bad decisions in its day – Korematsu, Plessy V. Ferguson, Roe V. Wade. But by most common agreement, the worst decision ever made was the Dred Scott decision, which held that blacks were not human beings, nor could they enjoy civil rights of any sort, legal rights of any sort. And so Lincoln, we’ll be hearing a lot about now, has cause to debate that proposition with both at the Cooper Union and with Stephen Douglas. And Larry Arnn, where were you when we left off?
LA: I was going to tell you, I’d gone into this thing that there was a universal opinion, Lincoln called it, or nearly so, that we couldn’t live with black people as our equal citizens, and we must not intermarry them. And that was held very widely, but of course, not universally, even among people who were pronouncedly anti-slavery. And so Lincoln says, you know, well, here’s a typical example. It’s from the Charleston debate on September 18th, 1858. And then he says something very remarkable, which I’m going to parse out for you. I say upon this occasion, I do not perceive that because the white man is to have the superior position, the Negro should be denied everything. So in other words, he’s saying the white man is to have the superior position. I do not understand that because I do not want a negro woman for a slave, I must necessary want her for a wife. My understanding is that I can just let her alone. I am now in my 50th year. And I certainly never have had a black woman for either a slave or a wife. So it seems to me quite possible for us to get along without making either slaves or wives of Negroes. I will add to this, that have never seen, to my knowledge, a man, woman or child who was in favor of producing a perfect quality, social and political, between Negroes and white men. Now this is the important part. I recollect but one distinguished instance that I ever heard of so frequently as to be entirely satisfied of its correctness, and that is the case of Judge Douglas’ old friend, Col. Richard M. Johnson. So who was Richard M. Johnson? So in other words, Lincoln is saying I’m not for intermarriage, and the whites are going to be superior. And I have never seen anybody who maintains that, that it should be otherwise, and stop. But I recollect but one distinguished instance that I ever heard of, distinguished instance, of somebody who is in favor of producing a perfect equality, social and political, between Negroes and white men. This is Richard Johnson. Richard Johnson was from Lincoln’s native Kentucky. He was vice president of the United States under Andrew Jackson. It was important that he was a famous dueler, and that mattered. He killed a lot of people, because he inherited a family, a Negro family of his, and there was a woman in the family, a girl in the family of his age, and he fell in love with her. And it was illegal in Kentucky for him to marry her. And so he changed her name to her first name, Mrs. Richard Johnson. And they had four children, and he wrote a beautiful letter about the death of one of them in his arms, of the fever, and how his heart died with her. And it was illegal in Kentucky for him to leave them his property. And so he gave it to them before he died. And so Lincoln points in the middle of these denials to an example that he calls distinguished. And I, myself, I think, so and you know, there are these other things that are there…
HH: Boy, that’s elegant.
LA: Yeah, you know, I think it’s redeeming, myself, and these other things are there. And you have to understand that in light of this difficult fact, Lincoln’s positioning of, and interpretation of America, is that is calls us to do things that we are never fully going to be able to do, but we will be made ever better by trying.
HH: What does he do, Larry Arnn, at the Cooper Union?
LA: Well, after, so he has these arguments with Douglas, and through the Dred Scott decision, and the Senate campaign, and he makes a national name. And then he goes back east in 1859, I think it is, and he gives these speeches. And at Cooper Union, he lays out his fundamental case for the first time in the east.
HH: It still exists, by the way. I’ve been there. I urge people to go there. Some days, the doors are open and you can walk in. And people don’t realize it’s a building on which most of America depends, in many respects.
LA: That’s right. Yeah, it’s a beautiful thing, and it’s, and the speech, you know, I’ll read you the end of it if you want me to, but he takes on the Dred Scott decision. Maybe we could just talk about the Dred Scott case here, because Roger Taney writes in the thing that the right of property in a slave is distinctly and expressly affirmed in the Constitution. That’s a quote. And Lincoln refutes that point in his Euclidian, logical way, by mentioning that the word slavery is not in the Constitution. And so it can’t be distinctly and expressly affirmed. And then he takes on the things that Taney says about the way black people were regarded back then. And he says it’s just wrong, he says, because for example, in five states, they were voting just like white people. And in some of those states, in the time Lincoln is speaking, some of them are still voting. And it has been constrained in some states, and that’s part of the retrograde movement that Lincoln speaks of. And then he says that he doesn’t name it, but he makes an indirect reference, or he makes reference, to the Northwest Ordinance. And he says about this question of the expansion, or extension of slavery into the new territories, the people who framed the government under which we live, the men who made the Constitution, decided in our favor on this question of slavery expansion. And they decided it unanimously and without division among them. And that’s what the Northwest Ordinance does. And so he says Taney misreads, because Taney’s ruling, Dred Scott was a slave, and he was taking into Illinois, and he sued, because he’d been taken into a free state, that he ought to have his freedom. And the thing gets up to the Supreme Court of the United States. and the Supreme Court decides by a 5-4 majority with many opinions written, is this is, by the way, the second time the Supreme Court ever struck down a law under the Constitution. The first time was Marbury V. Madison. And Taney says that in the founding, under the terms of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, the Negro has no rights that the white man is bound to respect. And he says that Congress has no power to forbid the taking of any kind of property into any federal territory…
LA: …which simply undercuts the whole plan of the Republican Party to attack it Constitutionally by preventing its spread and making sure it’s overwhelmed by freedom. And so Lincoln addresses himself to this in what I think is a very beautiful way, because his argument about the Court, and it’s a primer on how we ought to look at these bad Court decisions, including the modern ones you mentioned, Hugh, and that is courts decided parties between cases. And that means in the case of Dred Scott, Dred Scott’s done. There’s no legal remedy left for him now. The highest court in the land has ruled him a slave. And the Court, the Supreme Court, its opinions about Constitutional matters, are also weighty and worthy of respect. But when a divided Court, he says in his first inaugural, when a divided Court ruling on a single occasion about a matter that is not accepted in the public mind, and which there’s not a body of rulings about, then if that is dispositive of the question, the people shall have ceased to be their own rulers. And so Lincoln, and you know, the Dred Scott decision, as it prevailed, was the death blow to the Republican Party, and would have delivered the Union into the hands of the popular sovereignty movement, and the extension of slavery thereby.
HH: And it did have the inevitable effect of bringing on the war, because it did, in essence, attempt to decide. I’d love to tell people before the break, Dr. Arnn, what Justice Scalia wrote about Taney and that opinion, in the dissent to Planned Parenthood V. Casey, which ought to have ended the regime of abortion law in the United States. Scalia dissents, and he says there comes vividly to mind a portrait that hangs in the Harvard Law School. Roger Brooke Taney, painted in 1859, the 82nd year of his life, the 24th of his chief justiceship, the second after his opinion in Dred Scott. He is all in black sitting in a shadowed, red-armed chair, left hand resting upon a pad of paper in his lap, right hand hanging limply, almost lifelessly beside the inner arm of the chair. He sits facing the viewer and staring straight out. There seems to be set on his face in his deep set of eyes an expression of profound sadness and disillusionment. Perhaps he always looked that way, even when dwelling upon the happiest of thoughts. But those of us who know how the luster of his great chief justiceship came to be eclipsed by Dred Scott cannot help believing that he had that case, its already apparent consequences for the Court, and its soon-to-be played out consequences for the nation burning on his mind.
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HH: We were just talking about how the Supreme Court thrust the United States into a crisis, the Dred Scott decision. Lincoln responded with an address at the Wisconsin State Fair. And what does he have to say directly to the Court at that point, Larry Arnn?
LA: Well, his point is, in all of these speeches, we’ll summarize them because we’re going to run out of time and not get to talk about the second inaugural and the Gettysburg Address and the Second Inaugural. Here’s me, now, for the first time exercising time discipline. His point is that Taney’s account of the founding and the attitudes in the founding is wrong. In fact, slavery was universally condemned, I mean, almost uniformly, and by all the leaders at the time of the founding, and the records are there. And also, their actions explain. And then finally, this reading that that founding generation was a dark day, and originalism requires us to read the Constitution according to these bad opinions they have, Lincoln’s final answer is those are the opinions that have risen only later among us…
LA: …connected to the idea of evolution, for example, that they have evolved to a place to be our inferiors. And it’s a kind of a scientism in John Calhoun, for example, who writes it would be impious to think that God would give us the power of modern science and yet enable us to use it for evil. So you know, the early seeds of progressivism are in some of that stuff. And Lincoln refutes all that. And then he, by the way, proceeds then to carry on his campaign on the idea that we will not ever…in his first inaugural, Lincoln says if you want to amend the Constitution to say that the federal government may not interfere in the institution of slavery in any state where it exists, it would be redundant to do that. But I will not oppose it. And I pledge that I will never do that.
HH: Yeah. And I think a lesson for people today distressed by court rulings is that Lincoln took them on and argued them, and made them key parts of his campaign, which we’re told today, Larry, and you can’t do, that nobody cares. But in fact, that’s his entire argument.
LA: Yeah, and he said, yeah, you know, the rule of law, he upholds that at the same time. This has to be taken seriously, he said. But he said the Court reverses itself all the time. Let us work for that reversal. One of his doctrines in the First Inaugural is that every Constitutional officer swears an oath to the Constitution, and they must serve the Constitution in the way that they understand it. And so the Court is one very powerful voice. But there are others. And you know, the Court itself is subject to change over long periods of time, its membership. And so the interplay between politics and the ruling of the Court is the right thing, because ultimately, what the Constitution means is in the hands of the people of the United States.
HH: And we also have to tell folks, in the next segment, we’ll do the Gettysburg Address, and the last segment, the Second Inaugural address. But the First Inaugural address is dramatic. The country is coming apart at the seams. There are assassination plots. The race is a four-way race for the president. Lincoln barely wins. He comes into town in disguise, and then he has to give his First Inaugural address, and he does not shrink, Larry Arnn. He says secession is not on the table.
LA: Yeah, he does. And he won’t meet with some representatives of the seceding states who were, as he says in the speech, styled themselves ambassadors.
HH: I’d forgotten that. That’s so nicely dismissive.
LA: It is, yeah. And you know, they were, there’s a Constitutional argument here, and in the First Inaugural, and you know, the people made the Union as they are organized in states. No party to a contract can break the contract by itself. There are powerful reasons why states can’t secede, beginning with the fact that the Constitution doesn’t say they can. And he says I hold in contemplation of universal law and the Constitution the union of these states is perpetual. And of course, it is to make a more perfect Union, which means there was a union even before the Constitution. He says, he makes the argument that it’s much older than the Constitution. Then he says what about all the territory that’s held in common by the Union? What about the debt attached to that territory? Who owes for that if they just leave of their own? Then he says, in the end, the speech becomes beautiful, and there’s a great appeal that the way we work things out like this is we have elections, not bullets, but ballots. And he says that we’re the first country that can do that. And then he turns with this very powerful appeal, and it begins with this paragraph. He says physically speaking, we cannot separate. We cannot remove our respective sections from each other, nor build an impassable wall between them. And a husband and wife may be divorced and go out of the presence and beyond the reach of each other. But the different parts of our country cannot do this. And all of these problems, he says, that we’re having about fugitive slaves and all that, that will be worse if we are different countries. He closes with these two paragraphs. In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow countrymen, and not in mind, is the momentous issue of war. The government will not assail you. You can have no conflict without being yourself the aggressors. You have no oath registered in Heaven to destroy the government, while I shall have taken the most solemn one to preserve, protect and defend it. I am loathe to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic cords of memory stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land will yet swell the course of the Union when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.
HH: That is really remarkable.
HH: And he spoke it at a time when he could not have been an optimist about holding it together, Larry Arnn.
LA: Well, he thought, you know, he had, in the war, he says I was driven to my knees so often there was nowhere else to go. And you know, he can hardly sleep. And the news was bad for so long. And it’s also true that Lincoln, you know, we talked about Churchill on this show, and Churchill was a hell of a guy in a battle. He didn’t like battles, just like Lincoln, but boy, when he fought them…and Lincoln was awesome. There’s a really good history of the Civil War. It’s old now, written by a journalist from Ohio, your native place, Bruce Catton.
HH: Oh, yes, marvelous books.
LA: And after the Battle of Antietam, disastrous battle, every time Lee went north, he got beat, I have it memorized, Catton writes this thing after he sums up the battle. He says and so the war expanded again to a place that no one had imagined. But also, it narrowed to two men – Lincoln and Lee, with the awful ability to make men love them, and the ruthlessness to tell them what to do.
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HH: So the war narrowed to two men – Lincoln and Lee, who had the awful ability to make people love them. That is, that’s remarkable. Bruce Catton is the author of that. Dr. Larry Arnn is my guest on this day of Lincoln, the day after Thanksgiving. And the war came, and we’ll talk about that next segment when we talk about the Second Inaugural. But Lee went north not just in Antietam. He came north in 1863 to the three day battle of Gettysburg, and then he retreated and was not pursued. And a cemetery had to be dedicated about 151 years ago when we taped this originally, Larry Arnn, and thus becomes the greatest speech in America’s collective memory.
LA: Yeah, that or the Second Inaugural, or, yeah, there’s some other good ones. But it’s one of the best, that’s for sure. And it’s a tremendous compactness. I should say about it, you know, it was on November 19th, 1863, and the battle of Gettysburg was a very narrowly run thing. If you’ve seen the TBS special, I think it was, Gettysburg, that’s actually made up out of a wonderful book that’s short and very worth reading called the Killer Angels.
HH: We’ve talked with his son, the author of that, many times on this show.
LA: Yeah, awesome, awesome. The Killer Angels is a very great book. And so the battle itself was, you know, one of the biggest of the war and very costly. And Lincoln comes. Edward Everett, the great man who spoke here at Hillsdale, and who left some books to us, we have memories, things of his around here, governor and senator from Massachusetts, spoke before him and spoke for a long time. And then Lincoln gave this beautiful, short speech. And then I just happen to know that Edward Everett then wrote Lincoln a long letter about how much better Lincoln’s speech was than his, and how sorry he was he talked so long. And Lincoln wrote him a short and beautiful letter back. And so we have our pattern. But everybody’s got this memorized, or I hope we do, and it’s a poem, and it’s about the purposes of the war, and the duties that come to us because of the war. And we take our duties from these fallen dead. That’s the theme. And it really is a speech about the improvement and deepening of the Union from the trial through which it passes, just as the Second Inaugural is a speech about the same thing because of the judgment that’s been visited on the Union. And do you want to read it? Maybe you should, Hugh.
HH: I want you to give the segment, it’s like not playing the record that you’ve referenced, Larry. If you don’t at least give the conclusion, people will feel like they’ve been left hanging.
LA: So he says four score and seven years ago, and that dates back to the Declaration of Independence, which he says is the founding moment of the Union, and we’re going to dedicate this field, and it’s right that we should do it. But in the larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men living and dead who struggled here have consecrated far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note nor long remember what we say here. By the way, what are we doing right now?
LA: But it can never forget what they did here. It is for us, the living, rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us, that from these honored dead, we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion, that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people and for the people shall not perish from the Earth.
HH: Now Larry Arnn, when he finishes that, people aren’t even sure he’s finished, according to Ken Burns, because there’s a huge crowd and he wanders away. He hasn’t talked about slavery in that speech specifically, or about the Emancipation Proclamation, or about where the war is going. But in many respects, he’s saying we’re just back on the course that we were originally.
LA: Well, and but we have to do better, you see. And so it is a classic eulogy, because its purpose is to find the meaning in the deaths that have occurred here in the lives that will go on. And that’s its point. Its point is now we’ve done this thing, and now we have to redeem it. We hear a new birth of freedom. We here highly resolve. So it’s not just because of their sacrifice that we honor them. We honor them because of their sacrifice. But really, we also owe them to support the cause for which they gave their lives better than we have in the past.
HH: When we come back, we’re going to talk about, I said the most famous speech is Gettysburg, but I happen to think the greatest speech in American history is the Second Inaugural. And we’re going to talk about that, delivered on March 4th of 1865, Lincoln’s victory speech, his valedictory speech, turns out to be really what we know him best for, should know him best for.
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HH: I hope you’ve enjoyed our walk through Lincoln’s life with Dr. Larry Arnn, and through his political philosophy. But his life ends tragically, of course, assassin’s bullet. But he managed to give the greatest speech, I think, in American history, which is his Second Inauguration address, the sesquicentennial of which will be in March. I’m curious, Larry Arnn, if Hillsdale will be having a special program on the sesquicentennial on the Second Inaugural?
LA: Well, we will, and here on the campus, and probably something at the Kirby Center, too, and of course.
HH: So why is it so great? For someone who’s never heard it, hasn’t been to the Memorial, never noticed it there on the right hand side of the Memorial, why is it so great?
LA: Well, it’s Thanksgiving, and here we are, 2014, and my new son-in-law asked me that very question last night.
LA: And Dan O’Toole, my son-in-law, is a learned man and a fine man, and he, his way of putting it was what does it mean? And I said it means justice. It means it establishes the Union, and reestablishes the Union in the common payment that has been made in the war. And it establishes peace, because it takes responsibility for both sides for the war, and both sides have paid the price. And it’s very short. It’s a little longer than the Gettysburg Address. The First Inaugural is much longer. And he begins this speech by saying there is less an occasion for an extended address at this time. Then a statement somewhat in detail of a course to be pursued, seemed right. Now at the expiration of four years, we know what we’re doing, and the war is going better, and we make no prediction about the future, but we have high hope. So it begins like that. He says I’m not going to say a lot about all that. I’m going to…and so then he proceeds in what is it, one, two, three paragraphs, to explain what the war means.
HH: Please read those.
LA: Okay. On this occasion corresponding to this four years ago, all thoughts were anxiously directed to an impending civil war. All dreaded it. All sought to avert it. While the inaugural address was being delivered from this place, devoted altogether to saving the Union without war, insurgent agents were in this city seeking to destroy it without war. Both parties deprecated war. But one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive, and the other would accept war rather than let it perish. And so the war came. One-eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was somehow the cause of the war. To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union even by war, while the Government claimed no right to do more than to restrict the territorial enlargement of it. Now it becomes poetic. Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with or even before the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. “Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh.” If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.” With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.
HH: That is so remarkable, but especially, you know, you referred to the iron men earlier, the iron justice of the penultimate paragraph is, and the penultimate sentence in the penultimate paragraph, yet is God wills it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s 250 years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn by the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as it was said a thousand years ago, still it must be said, the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether? He’s unsparing, Larry Arnn.
LA: Yeah, but also, it’s a judgment to both north and south.
LA: And in the bearing of the pain, then the Union can be rebuilt. And it’s a common thing. And you know, in like, if you like to watch old movies, there was a generation of Western movies and war movies. And it’s like in almost all of them, by the way, the Native Americans are noble and honorable, and the white men often cheats them. And north and south are portrayed as brave and honorable opponents. And that tradition, which seems to me, I come from the South myself, and I happen to love Abraham Lincoln, and I think Lincoln explains things about the being of America that are fundamental to it and clear in him, and also the challenge that we face in America, because remember, in a world without the Declaration of Independence, this slavery is not as controversial as it is in such a world. And we paid something because of that, and still pay it.
HH: And still pay it. Larry Arnn, thank you for spending the day after Thanksgiving with us. I hope you, America, you have enjoyed it. It is, of course, available at www.hughforhillsdale.com, and will be for as long as the internets function.
End of interview.