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Dr. Larry Arnn On Dred Scott And Previewing The Lincoln-Douglas Debates

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HH: The most popular hour for many of you of the week, the Hillsdale Dialogue, but a couple of updates. Tsarnaev got the death penalty, and what will be a major story this weekend, the Wall Street Journal, NBC News, CNN, all are reporting that members of the Amtrak train crew say they were hit by a projectile. We don’t know much beyond that. Of course, the FBI is investigating at the scene. We’ll bring you breaking news updates as it occurs. But of course, we’re lucky to have Dr. Larry Arnn, the president of Hillsdale College, about Abraham Lincoln in the Hillsdale Dialogue. Dr. Arnn, welcome, and a good commencement was had by all, I trust?

LA: Yeah, one of them, Michael Ward, who wrote that great book about C.S. Lewis, was the speaker. And he was not just profound, and not just morally good, and not just faithful, he was also witty. And so…

HH: But he’s British.

LA: He had the crowd in stitches.

HH: He’s British. Did anyone understand his humor?

LA: Well, there’s a word going around now that speaking with an English accent is unfair.

HH: (laughing) It’s true. He’s been a guest in my studio. He is awfully smart, isn’t he?

LA: He’s super. Yeah, he’s a really great guy. He’s a really great guy, and he’s, I’ve known him a long time, and I like him a lot. And one of these days, he’s going to come to work here.

HH: And I have to tell you one of your students, and one of my interns, Jack Butler, is going off to work at AEI. I mean, you guys, you’re sending them everywhere. You’re just turning them out, and they’re getting jobs. And I hope people understand this is the place to go to learn, I mean, to work and to learn.

LA: Yeah. Jack is, your friend, Jack, was, his growing up, I’m not going to talk about it on the air, but one of these days, you and I, Hugh, will talk about the growing up of Jack Butler and what a fine young man he’s turned out to be.

HH: That’s what college is all about. Now I want to talk to you today about where I left off with your colleague last week. We’d gotten up to the Dred Scott decision. But first, I’ve got to read to you a paragraph from the book that I began the hour with. I mentioned Michael Morell, just a great public servant, daily briefed George Bush through the year of 9/11, stayed with the Agency 33 years, was the acting director for a while, was the deputy director. And he writes about the necessity of going into to get bin Laden, and the necessity of using enhanced interrogation techniques. And he wrote this. “While effective were EIT’s necessary to get critically important information, or whether other perhaps less harsh ways to do so, although the CIA officers on the front lines in this program believed that EIT’s were absolutely necessary by the Agency, including when I was acting director, they’ve repeatedly said this is something we will never know for sure. In retrospect, I believe this refrain is too cute by half. Yes, of course necessity is an unknowable thing. But it is, I think, almost an irrelevant point as necessity is almost always unknowable, including with regards to tough national security decisions. Was detonating atomic bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki necessary to force Japan’s timely surrender in World War II? We will never know for sure. Was Abraham Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus necessary for the North to win the Civil War? We will never know for sure. As with these issues, historians will debate the necessity of EIT’s for quite a long time, and they should indeed do so.” My question is on that habeas corpus point, because it’s often come up. Do you think it was necessary for Lincoln to do that?

LA: Well, it’s, first of all, you know, Abraham Lincoln himself gave a long speech to Congress about that, and explained what he did. The Congress, the Constitution does say that the writ of habeas corpus can be suspended in times of national emergency, and so Lincoln’s point was there was such an emergency. The Union was breaking up. And so the Congress was not in session, and so he acted. But then as soon as the Congress came back into session, not into secession, then he asked them to ratify what he had done. And so his plan was that it was lawful. Was it necessary? Well, first of all, Mr. Morell makes that point, right? Would the Union have failed if it had not been done? That’s what we call a hypothetical contrary to fact, and you can’t have certain knowledge of that. But it is surely true that it stopped a bunch of people, especially in Maryland, from doing things that might have led to the secession of Maryland, and the surrounding of the capital by hostile forces.

HH: Now that brings up, and boy, sometimes you would think we actually worked on this before we did it. The hypothetical contrary to fact is what candidate for the presidency, and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush has got himself tangled up with this week when they asked him would you have invaded Iraq. That’s a hypothetical contrary to facts. How would you advice candidates to answer such hypotheticals contrary to facts?

LA: Well, that particular one, you know, first of all, you can’t really say, you know, if, I almost thought of a farm allusion, but I won’t use it on the air. You can’t really say what you would do, right? But you can state the principle on which you would act. And it just so happens about all that that Abraham Lincoln himself laid out some principles about which you would act in such circumstances.

HH: Which are?

LA: They are these. We don’t have the right to intervene in the affairs of any other country, to cause, assist or resist a revolution. We demand that people abstain from doing that to us, and we cannot do it to them. If a third country, he says, does violate that principle, then we would be justified in intervening ourselves. Whether we do so or not is strictly a matter of policy. So you have to go back to the second Iraq War, and here’s the situation. The first Iraq war was brought about when Iraq invaded a neighbor, Kuwait, and attempted to annex them and change the balance of power in the region. Once they did that, it was quite up to us whether we found it in our interest to do anything about that or not, whereas we couldn’t have done it in the abstract. So that’s the first step, right? We were justified in the first Iraq War. It may not have been a good policy, but it was not a wrong in principle to do it. Now we beat the tar out of them in the first Gulf War, and they begged for mercy, and we made a contract with them, a treaty. And that treaty says that there’s a whole bunch of stuff that they’re not to do anymore, and we will stop kicking them if they will agree not to do this long list of things. Then they did them again, by the way. And so there was ample justification for invading Iraq whether there were weapons of mass destruction or no, because Iraq was in violation of a treaty made with us. And so we could do that if we wanted to. I wish Bush, the first Bush, the brother Bush, the second Bush and the brother Bush, had made more of that back at the time.

HH: And made more of an argument as Lincoln made to the Congress about habeas corpus.

LA: Yeah, that’s right, and so now, Jeb Bush is, you know, we’ve got ourselves painted into a corner, that the only justification for invading another country is if they’re developing weapons of mass destruction, although by the way in Iran, we are, you know, close to a treaty to let them just do that, or that’s a controversial thing to say. The administration says that’s not what’s going to happen or what the treaty says.

HH: That’s what’s going to happen.

LA: Yeah, that’s what’s going to happen.

HH: (laughing) Yeah, it’s controversial only to those who refuse to look at the facts.

LA: There you go, right? So anyway, the point is on the issue of principle, you know, first of all, there’s a question of principle. The United States of America cannot just go invade some country because it wants to and because it’s powerful. It can’t do that.

HH: Did we do that with Mexico in Texas?

LA: We did.

HH: (laughing)

LA: And Lincoln was against both of them. (laughing) And…

HH: You cannot do it, but we did it.

LA: Well, we can’t rightly do it, right?

HH: But we’re glad we did it, aren’t we?

LA: Yeah, well, and so, but then after you set aside the point of principle, and in these Iraq wars, by the way, the point of principle is really clear.

HH: Sure, it is.

LA: Those people will kicking their neighbors and threatening…

HH: And shooting at our planes.

LA: …security interests of the world….

HH: They shot our planes every day in the No-Fly Zone.

LA: Yeah, and they promised not to do that, right?

HH: Yes, yes.

LA: And so the point is that’s your justification. Then the question is was it good policy? And my view is about all that, is that we got the war right and we got the war aims wrong, and that we should think about things like that in a slightly different way, and actually, maybe, even a fundamentally different way.

HH: You know, we’re about to fall into Lincoln deeply as we did to Churchill last year, and that’s a good thing.

LA: Yeah.

HH: But when you throw off something like he was opposed to the Mexican-American War, we have to pause for the Steelers fan, Dr. Arnn, and explain to them why, because maybe they don’t like Texas, but if they liked Texas, why was it wrong, why did Lincoln oppose it?

LA: Lincoln thought that there was not, so first of all, the effect of the Mexican War, so what brought the Civil War on in my reading and Lincoln’s reading was the combination of two things. The first thing was between the years 1787, when the Northwest Territory was accepted from Virginia as a gift, and the year 1820, when the Missouri Compromise was made, a doctrine and a movement grew up in America that did not exist in 1787 to say that slavery was a good thing and should be perpetuated. And so the Missouri Compromise was necessary, because Missouri was not to come in as a slave state without keeping them equal.

HH: Hold right there thought the break, because this is complicated. We covered this last week, but again, we have not only Steelers fans, we have Ravens fans, and we have to really slow down.

— – – —

HH: I’d also remind all of you as you counsel your rising seniors as to where they ought to look, they ought to begin their summer by looking at the Hillsdale application process, because they run some weeks in the fall where young would-be Hillsdalians, what do we call them?

LA: Hillsdalians.

HH: …Hillsdalians go up to the campus. And that’s a really critical thing, isn’t it, Larry Arnn?

LA: Yeah, you need to, first of all, before you make the terrible mistake of coming to Hillsdale College, you need to understand that it’s pretty hard, and it’s demanding in ways that most colleges are not today, and that’s just a statement of fact, right? You have to study a bunch of stuff in a comprehensive core curriculum that’s difficult, and we did get somebody get a 4.0 this year. And we’re so disappointed in ourselves, and that’s the sixth one in 27 years.

HH: (laughing)

LA: (laughing) Mr. Matthew O’Sullivan, valedictorian, got a 4.0, and I have to buy him a book that cost $170 dollars because of it, because I bet him when he was a kid, a freshman, he couldn’t do it.

HH: What’s the book?

LA: He wants an out of print book of C.S. Lewis writings that includes, it’s the most comprehensive single, it’s a three volume set, such set, and it’s out of print, and he, the bet was actually a book up to a cost of $100 dollars. And this costs $165.

HH: (laughing)

LA: And I’m so mortified with myself to have let that happen, that I’m paying the extra $65, too.

HH: (laughing) But he’s chosen well.

LA: Oh, yeah. Yeah, he’s a very good kid.

HH: What’s he doing next year?

LA: He’s going to seminary.

HH: Oh, my.

LA: And eventually, if he does what I tell him, and he will, he’s going to go get a PhD, not just a seminary degree, and then he’s going to be a college professor/minister.

HH: Which seminary is he going to?

LA: In New York.

HH: Union Theological Seminary.

LA: Yeah, I think so. Yeah, that’s right, yeah, yeah.

HH: All right, that’s…

LA: And he’s the kind of kid who can go anywhere he wants to go.

HH: But before you decide to go to Hillsdale, you were saying you’ve got to be ready to work.

LA: Yeah, it’s a lot of work, and you’ll come out knowing a bunch of stuff you didn’t know existed, and you’ll come out in the great struggle of soul to put all that together and make it into a whole, and it’ll last the rest of your life.

HH: Now I have to make an observation on why it’s so crucial what you’re doing. Washington, D.C. has become Rome. And it is filling up with young people between the ages of 22 and 30 who are running the place. They are actually running the place because of social media and the explosion of online communication. And we need the first wave of people to hit the beach, like young Butler, like this young man. We need them there.

LA: Yeah, it’s, you know, we’ve got a bunch of our kids, you just referred one of them for me to somebody you know important. And we’ve got, you know, kids with really great credentials who I had in class, and they’re now busy becoming important people. And so I’m hoping that they will care for me in my age.

HH: Well, there’s not a chance of that.

LA: …in the way I’ve become accustomed.

HH: (laughing) All right, now I have a second question before we go back to the Mexican War. Senator Cotton, who is a friend of yours and of mine, voted 98-1, and he was the one, against the Corker-Cardin bill, because it wasn’t treaty. What do you think of that?

LA: Well, he’s very tough, that guy, right? And so he wants it right, or he ain’t going to vote for it. And so that’s what he’s like, and I didn’t happen to talk to him about that before he did it, but you’ve got to admire him.

HH: I applaud it.

LA: 98-1.

HH: I applaud it.

LA: Yeah.

HH: Now back to Mexico and the U.S. What did Lincoln think about the war, and why didn’t he want it to happen?

LA: Well, one was he thought that we’d provoked the war.

HH: We did.

LA: And that’s not right. We shouldn’t have done that. And the second thing is what’s going to be the effect of the war, because this brings him to my second cause of the Civil War. It wouldn’t matter, it wouldn’t necessarily cause a war if the people of South Carolina and its leaders, for example, began to proclaim that slavery is a good and we’re going to keep it forever, which by the way, they did not proclaim at the time of the American Revolution. They condemned it as an evil at the time of the American Revolution. So then let’s say they change their mind, right? Then they’re just down there in South Carolina, and what would ever bring it to a head? But what brought it to a head in America was the western lands, because now, we’re going to go settle a whole bunch more land, much of which accrued to us after the Mexican War, which was predictable, and one of Stephen Douglas’ purposes in supporting the war. So now there’s going to be a whole, there’s going to be a huge fight about slaves in the new territory.

HH: Right.

LA: And that’s what brought the crisis to a head, and was the immediate cause of the Civil War. So Lincoln didn’t want that consequence, either. And he wanted, he actually didn’t want the nation to be rended in two over slavery. He just thought that if it took that to prevent our becoming a place indifferent to human slavery, then that was worth it, because that would destroy the Union by itself.

HH: But as the greatest builder since Hamilton, as the greatest federalist since Hamilton, and Mr. Infrastructure and Mr. Railroads and Mr. Homestead Act, didn’t he covet the western lands?

LA: Sure, he did, but he didn’t, you know, it matters how you get them. And see, here’s another thing. Douglas was not just after the western lands that we have today. He was after the continent, and the one next to it, too, and Cuba. He thought we had a manifest destiny, was his phrase, to dominate the new world, and he thought that we could do that if we would just adopt the principle that every locality has the right to decide questions like slavery for itself.

HH: You know, I asked your colleague last week whether or not people averted their eyes from the immorality of that position or persuaded themselves that it was sacred and acceptable. What do you think?

LA: Well, it got, you know, Lincoln’s case about that is it got a lot easier to defend human slavery when instead you were defending local option, because now, it looked like you were not defending slavery, you were defending independence. And so yeah, that was very artful. And that means that the Lincoln-Douglas debates was the quarrel between the two most powerful positions, the positions, one of which was likely to win.

HH: There are seven of them, and a question for after the break is whether or not we spend seven weeks with a segment devoted to each of the seven debates. But before the break, Dred Scott, we had just begun talking about Taney when we broke up last week. And we have 45 seconds to the break. Do you admire Taney at all?

LA: No. No, I think his opinion is a travesty, and I think it was known to him that it was. It’s built on the claim that nobody believed, that the Declaration of Independence referred to Negroes at the time of the Declaration of Independence, whereas in fact all the evidence is everyone believed that.

HH: But outside of that opinion, and it’s pretty hard to get around a meteor, but is there anything good in the man?

LA: Yeah, sure. You know, he was tidy.

HH: (laughing) I’ll be right back with Larry Arnn.

— – – – –

HH: And to our new listeners in Monticello, Maine, Dr. Arnn, which is as far north as we go, a town of 780 near Halifax.

LA: Wow. Welcome.

HH: Welcome, and this is, you will grow to love the Hillsdale Dialogues as all of our audience do. And to our new listeners in Pittsburgh, you won’t understand a lick of it, but that’s okay. Hang in there, we’ll get you through. When we left for break, we were talking about the Dred Scott decision, and again, for the benefit of people who have just walked in, or for the people who need repetition, Michigan people, Steelers fans, what was the Dred Scott decision?

LA: Well, Dred Scott, it’s 1857, remember, the war, for you people from Ohio, the war started in 1861. So the Dred Scott decision was a man named Dred Scott, a slave, was taken by his master into Missouri, a free state, and then he sued for his freedom on the ground that he’d been taken into free territory. And the ruling was very divided in the Dred Scott decision, but Taney, the chief justice, wrote the decision that had the most effect, the opinion that had the most effect. And it had two main parts. And the first one was that effectively, this is a quote from the thing, the black man has no rights that the white man is bound to respect, or I think he might have said the Negro, because at the time of the Declaration of Independence, nobody thought that it or the Constitution had any reference to people of color, which is by the way, a travesty of the facts, because the leading founders and leading everybody were all over the place about what a terrible thing slavery was in light of our principles. But then the second effect was that because this is so, the Congress itself has no power to restrict slavery into the territories. And that was fatal, if it had stood, to the birth of the new party, the Republican Party, that Abraham Lincoln would represent later as a candidate for president, because its plan, and you know, this, by the way, happens to have been thought up chiefly by some people who were predecessors of mine here at Hillsdale College, was that the Constitution does not permit us to interfere with slavery in the states where it exists, and we will not do that, because we love the Constitution. But the Declaration of Independence says slavery is evil. And so the way we give effect to that by a Constitution means is to forbid slavery to grow anywhere new. The Congress in the first document written in 1854, in Jackson, Michigan, by Austin Blair and Edmund Fairfield and others, says that the Congress has the power of municipal government, that is to say govern it like a city, over the territories not yet as incorporated as states. And to the Republican plan that Lincoln was elected to implement was not to quarrel with slavery in the states where it exists, but not let it spread any more, and then the Union would be overwhelmingly free, and slavery would be placed in the course of ultimate extinction. That was Lincoln’s plan. And the Dred Scott decision said that that plan was illegal.

HH: And without, they went further, and that Negroes could never, ever, ever aspire to be citizens.

LA: That’s right. It would take, he didn’t speculate about this in his opinion, but effectively, it would take an amendment to the Constitution for any, for the nation ever to regard them as human beings.

HH: It’s amazing. It’s just breathtaking, actually.

LA: It is, and you know, by the way, in a published work, in his only book that he published, Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence, wrote, and he was a slave holder, in the contest between the master and the slaver, the Almighty has no attribute that can side with us. Indeed, I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just.

HH: This is why after last week, and we spent all last week talking about Calhoun, who I discovered was the ugliest man in American history as well, he looks like Dracula.

LA: (laughing)

HH: He does, the very evil thing that he did to persuade people that that was acceptable…

LA: Yeah.

HH: …that you could deny Jefferson’s understanding even of his own sin, because Jefferson understood his own sin, and Calhoun denied it being sin.

LA: Yeah, that’s it, and by the way, claimed, so and Calhoun is more honest. He is, you’re right, more ugly than Taney, but he’s also more honest than Taney, because he says that the Declaration of Independence was an unfortunate mistake by the founders.

HH: Wow.

LA: It wasn’t needed, see, but like here’s another thing that, you know, by the way, the chief justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, a lawyer, well, I take that back. You’d expect this. He says like the United States was recognizing at the time, and should again today, the four organic laws. And the third of them is the Northwest Ordinance, which is in 1787, in other words, the same time they’re writing the Constitution. And the Northwest Ordinance says that the new northwest territory shall have no slavery in it ever.

HH: Yeah, it’s an act of willful blindness, to which we will return, because that decision sets off a chain of events which includes seven incredible meetings of great minds in the state of Illinois in 1858 about which an amazing book, A Crisis Of A House Divided by Larry Arnn’s teacher, Harry Jaffa, continues to be the definitive text.

— – – – –

HH: Dr. Arnn, we have to make a strategic decision. Obviously, we’re not going to cover the Lincoln-Douglas debates today, but between now and next week, we have to decide whether we cover them in one hour, or in three, or in seven, and how Harry Jaffa’s book figures into this. Give us an overview, though, of when the little giant met the log splitter.

LA: Yeah, so they’re both from Illinois, and the Democratic Party, Illinois is a Democratic state, it became a swing state later, and the Republican Party is aborning at this time, by the way. And so Douglas is a show pony. He’s brilliant, he’s well-established, and Lincoln is a state legislator sometime, and a prospering, but country lawyer. And so Douglas is a famous man, and Lincoln runs against him. And these debates, which you know, last up to four hours each, are some of the greatest political confrontations in history, because they’re both extremely able people.

HH: Yes.

LA: And they both lay out a complete history of the Union, and they both give a complete account of the principles of the Union, and also, by the way, of human nature. And they both have a comprehensive plan for the future of the nation.

HH: A quick question, have they ever been recited? Have they ever been dramatized?

LA: Oh, yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah, there’s some high school things, especially in the 50s where there are some enactments, and there are films of those, and I have seen some of them. But you know, there are some, there’s some good movies, the Raymond Massey when he plays Lincoln is pretty good, and some of that’s in there. And so yeah, but by the way, they are wonderful reading, and I encourage people, because if you think about it for a minute, thousands of people came to these things. And they were flocking to them, including from neighboring states. And it was a very important thing, and they were printed verbatim in the newspapers the next day or the day after.

HH: Wow.

LA: And people would sit for hours and listen to these things, having ridden horses and ridden in buckboards for hours to get to them. And they were very hard to hear, because of course, there weren’t any amplification. And the arguments are very detailed, but at any given point, they’re simple. And you should read them in order. If you want to just read one, read the seventh one, because it’s the most comprehensive, and it’s the one we put in our Constitution Reader.

HH: How ought we to study them on the air? Should we do seven weeks?

LA: Well, it would be fun, yeah. It would be fun, and they do repeat themselves quite a bit, so you can do it more economically than that. And you know, three is an intriguing number, but we could, and you know, what we would find if we did all seven is that we would pick up steam while we went, because some of these things are repeated. And also, of course, they’re adjusting to one another while they go.

HH: Let’s do all seven.

LA: Okay.

HH: Honestly, I think we’ve got June and July stretching in front of us, and a word if you will about A Crisis Of A House Divided. Why was that so important?

LA: Well, that, first of all, it’s Biblical…oh, you mean the book?

HH: The book.

LA: The book, why is the book…well, Professor Jaffa understood that, it’s a funny thing how his only, you know, he died in February, and much missed by…

HH: A very great man.

LA: …a very great man, and he found a copy of the Lincoln-Douglas debates in a used bookstore. And he didn’t have the money to buy it at first, and he would go stand in the bookstore and read it day after day.

HH: Wow.

LA: And he didn’t know anything about it. But he’d been trained in political thought, and he thought this is like, a little bit like Thomas Aquinas, and a little bit like a Socratic dialogue, because they’re probing into the nature of everything. And he just had the eyes to see that. And he wrote this book that explains in the end the two ways of understanding life and human beings implicit in the two positions of Lincoln and Douglas.

HH: Then we need to do the seven, and we need people to understand, to read the first. I’m sure it’s online somewhere, right? The whole text of it will be online somewhere.

LA: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Oh, yeah, it’s everywhere.

HH: And you read the first one, and we will approach them as standalones, and I will find the dates, and I will find the setting, etc. But probably unequaled in American history, and maybe in written history?

LA: Some of the greatest, yeah, they’re really, and they’re, and you know, they’re very, and Lincoln, you know, to my reading, by the way, also, Lincoln won the popular vote in Illinois.

HH: I didn’t know that.

LA: Yeah, and if you, but we didn’t have the direct election of senators back then, which by the way, I would, I have a kind of fondness for repealing the amendment that established that. But you have to see, by the way, that there’s a subtext that’s incredibly powerful, right, because on the one hand, it proved over the course of the 1850s and 60s that the majority of people didn’t like slavery, and probably a big majority. But a big majority didn’t really want a lot of black people around. And so one of the things that’s going on is that Lincoln is hinting here and there that free, white people, and he says this often, free, white people are going to have to compete with slave labor in the new lands belonging to the Union. And they didn’t want that. And they didn’t want the blacks around, either, although they didn’t say that. And Douglas is suggesting that if Lincoln gets his way, there’s going to be intermarriage between black and white, and they’re going to vote like us and live like us and be just like us. And so that’s going on, right?

HH: Wow.

LA: And whoever establishes that against the other is going to win the election.

HH: And we are going to talk about that at length for some length with Dr. Larry Arnn of Hillsdale College. As always, a great, great pleasure.

End of interview.

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