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Dr. Larry Arnn On Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation And The Gettysburg Address

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HH: It’s the last radio hour of the week, and that means I am joined by Dr. Larry Arnn or one of his colleagues. Last week, Dr. Paul Rahe thrilled the audience. In fact, they clamored for his return. But I’m making you listen to Dr. Larry Arnn again, because the other folks were clamoring for his return. I got static because I didn’t do Lincoln last week, and then I got static because I’m not doing Paul Rahe this week. I’m betwixt and between, as they would say, Dr. Arnn.

LA: There’s no pleasing these people, huh?

HH: There is no pleasing these people, and so we’re going to finish with Lincoln whether they want it or not. I want to ask you, though, one quick question from earlier this week. On Wednesday, Chris Cillizza interviewed the senior political advisor to Dr. Ben Carson, a good and gentle man and a very learned man. He’s leading a lot of polls in a lot of places. But Dr. Carson’s political advisor said it should not be held against Ben Carson that he hasn’t held elective office. After all, Abraham Lincoln only served a single term in the House of Representatives. And I thought I’d present that to you for both distinguishing and perhaps applause. How should that very unique career of Lincoln’s figure into our assessment of people for the modern presidency?

LA: Well, I’ll just say two things. One is it’s not quite accurate. You know, Lincoln was a member of his state legislature, and he was his party’s nominee for the Senate of the United States when he did very well in the campaign. So he had those experiences. And the second thing I’d say is of course Ben Carson is qualified. He’s a citizen born in the United States, and he’s above the age that’s required. He can run. And I would answer that it’s very uncommon for anybody with no previous political office to hold the job, and that’s proved by the fact that the others are all Herbert Hoover and William Howard Taft, who were famous cabinet members and senior members of administrations who led large national projects, and famous generals. And so as these things go, you know, just from what’s happened, then nobody who’s just been a private citizen has ever been elected to the presidency of the United States. And you know, he’s right, Lincoln is one of the less experienced of them. And you know, God bless his campaign and him. He’s a great guy, and I’m not saying I’m endorsing him, but he’s awesome, right? And I wish him well. But that fact, that generally speaking, holding high public office is the prerequisite, has been in practice, the prerequisite, is a fact.

HH: And one of the reasons that it’s a good fact is that people confront unusual circumstances, which only the exercise of executive decision making can provide them for. One of them is the care and feeding of generals and admirals. And Lincoln learned as he went along, did he not, and he got better at it as he went along.

HH: And Lincoln had some military service, and Lincoln, you know, I mean, in another way, of course, you can’t explain real greatness by experience any better than you can explain it by who your dad was or your mom was, because that’s just given to a few people. And Ben Carson is an exceptional human being. You know, I mean, what a wonderful guy. I had dinner with him one night. I actually said to him there is this thing that, you know, not, people like you have not been elected president, but gosh, aren’t you a wonderful guy. And he’s, you know, I can attest from, you know, it’s one conversation, but sitting between him and his wife, I was talking with both of them, he’s a serious, humble, restrained man. And he’s got the character. You know, he’s got a fantastic character. But you know, the American people, for the top executive job in the land, have not typically picked people without experience.

HH: And I have a second question for you that came out of my personal experience this week. I am in Colorado, and I chose last Sunday to climb my first fourteener with the Fetching Mrs. Hewitt, and we climbed, because it was named, Mt. Sherman, 14,036 feet. And the great son of Ohio, William Tecumseh Sherman, he chose not to run. And I’ve been trying to investigate since then why he didn’t, because surely, he would have been elected. Why do some people turn it down, Larry, when they could easily become the president?

LA: Well, you know, it’s a miracle that all the eels agree to be skinned.

HH: (laughing)

LA: Why not turn it down? You know, Sherman is an amazing man, of course, and was a tremendous military commander. And Victor Hanson testifies that he figured out things about war that only the very great figure out…

HH: Yes.

LA: …and demonstrated his knowledge of them. And for one thing, he knew how to win a war in a way that made you stronger as you went, which is one of the great criteria of Winston Churchill. His troops, Hanson describes this in one of his very best books, The Soul Of Battle, his troops in the victory march on Washington, they were strong and healthy, and they paraded all the stuff they captured. And you know, the main Southern forces in proximity to him did not attack his chief army. And they had tried that all the way down south toward Atlanta, which was taken in September of 1864. And then he just turned left from Atlanta and cut himself off from all supplies, and marched across several hundred miles to come into Savannah from the south, and then eventually Charleston, and take them. And that was just an amazing feat. General Beauregard said later, wrote later, and General Beauregard was the commander of the troops that fired on Fort Sumter in 1861, he said you might find an example of this kind of march in the annuls of Julius Caesar, but I can’t think of any other place.

HH: A son of Ohio, I simply point that out. Now I have to ask you, he was being commanded, though, by Lincoln. And Lincoln had this uneasy relationship with his generals. What did the generals think of the Emancipation Proclamation, Larry Arnn? Did they welcome that as a strategic move on January 1, 1863?

LA: Well, there were various things that had happened. The moves toward emancipation, there had been several of them, and one of them led by a general. And I’ll actually read you something if you want me to. General David Hunter declared the slaves of Georgia free, and Lincoln rescinded it. And at the same time, he had his own emancipation idea at that time. And that’s two years earlier, a year and a half earlier than the Emancipation Proclamation. And his ideas then, as all times before, had been gradual and compensated emancipation, and he wrote to the South in rescinding that order, and reserving to himself the, I’ll read you a phrase, “I reserve to myself whether it shall become a necessity indispensable to the maintenance of the government to examine this power,” right? So he’s laying the ground on which he might do it, which was the eventual ground of the Emancipation Proclamation, and that is maybe, he raises the implication, he could do it as a war measure, but only he. And then from there, he points to the emancipation bill that had been in the Congress, and I’ll read you what he wrote about it. He said, “This proposal makes common cause for a common object, casting no reproaches on any. It acts not the Pharisee. The change it contemplates would come as gently as the dues of Heaven, not rending or wrecking anything. Will you not embrace it? So his idea, his idea had been to do it gradually and pay the people who had owned the slaves. And by the time of the Emancipation Proclamation of September, 1862, he, you in the end, that emancipation, which was the Emancipation Proclamation, freed the slaves of the states in rebellion, and which were in rebellion was defined by whether a majority of the citizens had elected representations to the Congress of the United States. And then the four states that were not in rebellion that were part of the Union, and they were what, Missouri, Delaware, Kentucky and somewhere…

HH: Kentucky, Maryland.

LA: Their slaves were not freed. But the ones that were freed by the Emancipation Proclamation were freed on the day the law went into effect. It was, the order was promulgated in September, 1862, and it went into effect on January 1, 1863, three months later. And there was no compensation, and they were immediately free. But of course, their actual freedom came as the land was liberated. There were, I read, 30 or 40,000 slaves in parts of the South that had already been taken by Union armies that were immediately freed. And so…

HH: Did he run into static from the border states when he did this, where the slaves remained slaves?

LA: You know, he was worried about that, but relatively little. And you know, by then, you see, it’s kind of like in the, do we have to go?

HH: Yeah, we do.

LA: So I’ll answer that question when we get back.

HH: Don’t go anywhere, America, the Emancipation Proclamation and the Gettysburg Address here on the Hugh Hewitt Show.

— – – – –

HH: What happened in the four states – Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland and I can’t remember the fourth, either, wherein the slaves were not emancipated, and whether or not he got pushback from his Congress at his back?

LA: He did some, but not as much as he feared. And the reason for that was things had changed. I was about to make a comparison. Throughout the spring and summer of 1940, there were lots of pressures on the British government to make a peace with Germany, and there were backchannel talks with Germany, and there was lots of politicking going on. And come about September or so, after the Blitz had started, and the Battle of Britain had reached its maturity, the Germans stopped concentrating on trying to destroy the British Air Force, and started bombing the British cities, which was probably a military mistake, but people sort of looked up and said that’s enough, right? Well, this war was toward the end of its second year, not, and that meant the sides were chosen up. And there were several emancipation moves made in the Congress, and it was becoming plain that that was going to be the result of the war. And Lincoln’s plans were gradual. He was going to put out bonds, and the number and value of the bonds would simply be a multiple of the number of slaves they found. And they would gradually buy them out. And one of the bills said by not later than the year 1900, so a whole generation might go over the course of this emancipation. But then, you know, it’s the end of 1861, and it’s a big war now. And nobody could know it then, but it was about to get a lot bigger. And so they knew what side they were on, and they knew what the implications of being on that side were. So there was less trouble than Lincoln thought.

HH: So after the Emancipation Proclamation, which is, it’s interesting to read. It’s five pages. It’s not that long. It is couched as an assertion of commander-in-chief authority in wartime, which is interesting, because that stands as a high water mark for what a commander-in-chief can do in wartime, doesn’t it?

LA: It does, and one thing that I’ll mention is that Allen Guelzo, who I’ve mentioned before, has written a good book about this. All his books are good. But there’s a point I want to make that I think it’s important to emphasize. We’re going to read next, one today and I guess one next week, two of Lincoln’s most beautiful speeches. They’re just awesome productions. And they’re beautiful and poised from the first word to the last. The Emancipation Proclamation is a legalistic document. It’s only pretty right at the end. And I think that’s on purpose. I don’t think it’s any failure of Lincoln’s poetry. I think he had that at his command when he needed it. He agonized over this thing, and he agonized in part about whether it was legal. And he, as you say, makes the argument it’s legal as a war measure. But then he went on to confine it just to that. And it only gets pretty in the very end. And you know, there’s a legal definition of it of what constitutes a rebellion. So it’s not, it’s a very limited statement. And that’s because, I think, Lincoln thought that the Constitution should reign. And so under the powers of the Constitution, he thought he had the right to free these people in order to win the war.

HH: Tell us how it got pretty, because after the break, I’m going to have you read the Gettysburg Address, which I believe can be done in five and a half minutes. It doesn’t take that long. What is the pretty part of the Emancipation Proclamation?

LA: Well, you know, so the last four paragraphs. The fourth last paragraph defines some places where it’s going to operate, and what the blacks can do, the freed slaves can do if they join the Union Army. Above that, he’s encouraged them in cases where it’s offered to take, not to rebel, and not to work violence on people, and also to take paid labor if it’s offered. And then he says, because he doesn’t think it’s right to release riot across the whole South.

HH: Right.

LA: But then he gets to the second to last paragraph, and he says, “And upon this act, sincerely believed to be an act of justice warranted by the Constitution upon military necessity, I invoke the considerate judgment,” That is to say I’m asking you to view this with consideration, “the considerate judgment of mankind and the gracious favor of Almighty God.” So that’s the only place where it approaches the heights of rhetoric that Lincoln commonly employed.

HH: But of course, that echoes Jefferson, the obligation of the Declaration to appeal to mankind, right?

LA: That’s right.

HH: You’ve got to make an argument to mankind if you’re going to do something big and bold.

LA: Yeah, and that phrase considerate, right, it’s different than saying considered. He’s not saying I’m urging you to think about this. I’m urging you to think about this, this consideration, that is to say charitably seeing it for the generous thing it is. And so I think it’s, it was a very powerful move. It had big diplomatic implications, because it was obvious from the point of view of simple national interest that the British ought to support the South. There are many reasons for that. One of them is the United States has become a great rival to Great Britain. We’ve had two wars with them by this point, and we’re growing and we’re becoming a huge thing. The second is the Union is enforcing a very effective blockade, and that affects the British, and they have a long history of busting up such blockades unless they put them in place themselves. And the third thing is the trade relations with Great Britain very much made it close to the South, because they were producers of raw materials, and England was a great manufacturing nation. And one of the errors that I personally think is in Hamilton’s politics and in Abraham Lincoln’s politics, is that early in America, and you know, very consistently followed in early America by strong and, in my opinion, magnificent forces, was a tariff to build up manufacturing in the North. And that’s, you know, cited as one of the causes of the Civil War, and in some background way, it was, although you won’t find that mentioned in the secession messages of the states.

HH: Not often, no, not at all.

LA: And not at all. And so they had big reasons to go with the South, and they didn’t. And one of the reasons was the powerful moral reason, are we going to endorse human slavery? And they were not willing to do that, and this made that point clearer.

HH: When we come back, the clearest exposition of what Lincoln believed, the Gettysburg Address. Dr. Arnn will read it, and then we’ll discuss it. Don’t go anywhere.

— – – – –

HH: As you begin your Labor Day weekend, no better way than to be reminded of perhaps the greatest bit of American rhetoric competing with the Declaration of Independence delivered at a cemetery in Pennsylvania to commemorate the Gettysburg battle of July of 1863 a few months later by Abraham Lincoln. Dr. Larry Arnn of Hillsdale College, why don’t you read it for us.

LA: Okay, so it’s very short. And actually, before I do that, I want to invite people to an act of tourism. You should go to Washington, D.C. and some evening not long after dark, but after dark, you should walk from the Capitol up the National Mall past the World War II memorial and the Vietnam memorial, neither of which is my favorite, but they’re beautiful and solemn and especially at night. And then you should stop in the Lincoln Memorial, and you should stand and read the thing, and look at that grand statue, and also read the Gettysburg Address on the left, and the Second Inaugural on the right, and take some time with it. It’s usually quiet up there at night. And then from there, you should walk to the Iwo Jima Memorial, because you know, to have these two beautiful speeches that can be inscribed on a wall in marble, and have them be entirely there, is a very remarkable thing that he wrote them in that way.

HH: Yeah.

LA: So this one begins with two paragraphs of narrative that are simple and direct, and pretty in their way. “Four score and seven years ago,” that means if you just take 87 years from 1863, you get 1776, which is Lincoln’s claim that the nation began with the Declaration of Independence. “Four score and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal,” a definite statement of what the nation means. “Now we are engaged in a great civil war testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that their nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.” That’s the first section. The second section begins with the word but. “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 it far beyond our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note nor long remember what we say here,” and pause there and think that I am reading these words all these years later, right?

HH: 152 years later, yeah.

LA: “But it can never forget what they did here.” Now the final section is an appeal to us. “It is for us, the living, rather, to be here dedicated 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 shall take increased devotion to that cause for which they here 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 that is a magnificent and short statement invoking God at the end, and saying a new birth of freedom. Now what does that mean? We have a minute to the break, a minute and a half, and we’ll come back and talk about what is that higher purpose, a new birth of freedom.

LA: His, he thinks that, you know, we know from just reading the Lincoln-Douglas debates, he thinks that freedom has been sullied not only by slavery, but by the view growing with increasing force that slavery is a good. And so he’s calling upon us to start over. It’s like a revolution, except it’s a revolution entirely in the name of the original principles, and to complete something not achieved fully, yet. Just think what is means – of the people, by the people, and for the people. It means that we are the government. We manage it. We perform, and you know, in America until the bureaucratic age, most government was done by private citizens acting under collar of authority and without compensation. Of the people, by the people, and for the people, in other words, we, each of us, must hold these principles in our heart and execute them for ourselves. And that seems to me a beautiful restatement of the Declaration of Independence in terms that are in some ways more radical, even, than the Declaration.

HH: Absolutely. When we come back from break, we’ll continue the conversation about the Gettysburg Address and what it means actually in 2015 and ’16. Stay tuned, America.

— – – —

HH: We are talking about the Gettysburg Address, and I think it’s interesting after three years, we’re finally getting to it, because in many respects, it is the triumph of the West when he says this. So Dr. Arnn, what would be the message of the Gettysburg Address to the people debating today, and in two weeks when I’m participating in it, about how to approach the people and the question before them in 2016?

LA: Well, you know, if the American people are still a people, and they are, then they will respond to the language that this is our government, and we are the government. And you know, we’re divided into camps now, right, the governing and the governed. And that’s a tragedy, and it’s not good for us, because government of the people, by the people and for the people, that’s government that we all participate in, and are all ennobled by. And so you know, that, right, and then, so and one more thing. Lincoln, we learned this in the Lincoln-Douglas debates, too. They are very long, and they are, you know, more or less, extemporaneous. That is to say they didn’t write the whole thing out before they said it. But Lincoln could achieve something that Douglas could not, to my ear and eye, and that is he could put beautiful passages in the middle of those things, and those were the things he’d been speaking about all his life. And they flowed naturally from his mental weather, from the way he conceived everything. And these short, beautiful speeches, the Gettysburg Address and the Second Inaugural, that is that phenomenon purely put on an occasion that didn’t demand anything except that purity. He even begins, we’ll see next week, the Second Inaugural, by stating that that’s all he needs to do today, whereas in previous occasions, he needed to do more.

HH: You know, I have often said I think the Second Inaugural is almost Scripture-like in that it’s the greatest speech he gave. Some people say the Gettysburg Address it. I don’t know what your opinion is on that. But they were both short, and they both surprised their audience, did they not?

LA: Well, the Gettysburg Address is a hoot, because there’s a man named Edward Everett, and he was a great abolitionist and a governor of Massachusetts and a Senator from Massachusetts, and he has a connection with Hillsdale College. He spoke here, and he left us a lot of books from his library.

HH: Oh.

LA: And you know, we were a great abolitionist place back in the day – Christian abolitionist freedom-loving learned people. That’s what the college was founded to be. We try to be that today. So Everett gave this whacking, big, long speech, and you know, it’s good, and it’s long. And you know, they’d all be standing there listening to him for a long time, and then here’s Lincoln for three or four minutes. And then Everett wrote Lincoln a letter after it, and it’s a long letter, and it’s much about how sorry he is he spoke so long when Lincoln spoke so short and beautifully. And then Lincoln wrote him back a short, pretty letter, forgiving him.

HH: (laughing)

LA: (laughing)

HH: But you know, it would be awfully hard to precede or follow Lincoln. And I have this image of Foghorn Leghorn with Senator Everett, right?

LA: Yeah.

HH: And a big voice, and Lincoln bobbing up, and his hat off, and people not even knowing it’s begun, and then it’s done.

LA: Yeah.

HH: And yet it echoes through the ages.

LA: And see, it’s a thing about Lincoln. You asked me the other day what, in an email, Hugh and I email each other, people. And you asked me who would I pick for what job – Washington, Lincoln or Churchill, and I wrote back something. But one of the things I wrote back was aren’t they so different, because you know, it was hard to underestimate Winston Churchill. He was quick, and he was moving, you know, and he was very forceful. People were always underestimating Abraham Lincoln. At the start, Douglas thought I’m going to destroy him. And by the end, it was Douglas who was suffering. And the same thing here, you know? Lincoln commented to somebody after it was over. He thought the speech had fallen rather flat. Put that together with, you know, because there wasn’t any time. He’s done.

HH: Yeah.

LA: Put that together with his world will little note nor long remember what we say here.

HH: Remember.

LA: I think he knew better than that.

HH: Yeah.

LA: You know, it…

HH: It’s remarkable. I’ve got to tell people the email I sent Dr. Arnn was had he been offered a chance at the height of their powers to dine one time with either Washington, Lincoln or Churchill, who would he pick, and in classic Straussian fashion, he responded he could not answer, and then talked down why he would want to have dinner with each of them.

LA: (laughing) Why not?

HH: (laughing)

LA: Like with Lincoln, like it’s hard to think. George Washington, his great gift was not speaking. And on the other hand, he was well-known for being excellent dinner conversationalist, and good at small talk. Lincoln and Churchill were very funny, huge funny, you know. And to have dinner with Churchill was to listen to an oration. To have dinner with Lincoln, you’d talk most for a long time, and then later, wow. He’d come up with some stuff. And it was like him. It would be very closely reasoned, and pithily put, and it would swell up to Heaven.

HH: But I’ve got ask, the food would definitely be best at the Churchill table, right?

LA: Oh, yeah. Well, he was, yeah, Churchill was, you know, I mean, get a glass of wine out of Abe Lincoln? He wouldn’t know anything about it.

HH: (laughing) I read your response to my undergraduates, they all laughed, because you said one is tall and underestimated, and one is short and fat and funny all the time, and one doesn’t drink, and Washington doesn’t smile, although you’ve just said he does, to a certain extent, when he unwinds a bit. He was known to swear a bit, I believe, General Washington.

LA: And only very effectively, that is to say, that is to say…he was successfully constrained, right?

HH: Dr. Larry Arnn…yeah…

LA: But then he would, when he would get going like he cursed a whole army around in the other direction at the Battle of Monmouth, if he got after you, you went wow.

HH: You get after a great Labor Day weekend up at Hillsdale College. And America, don’t miss our Monday special. You really do not want to miss why our country did not go Bolshevik when a lot of the world did during the depths of the Depression. It’s all in the history of the labor movement, an extended Hillsdale Dialogue on Monday. Dr. Arnn, thank you.

End of interview.

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