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Dr. Larry Arnn On The 2nd Lincoln-Douglas Debate At Freeport, Illinois

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HH: It is the last radio hour of the week. It’s the Hillsdale hour, and even on a day with big news like former Speaker Hastert’s indictment, and surfacing news that he has been being blackmailed for alleged sexual abuse many, many years ago, we do turn our attention away from the breaking news to the ultimate issues which have driven Western Civilization. And I always do it in the Hillsdale Dialogue with Dr. Larry Arnn, president of Hillsdale College, or one of his colleagues, or both. And Dr. Arnn is with me today as we are in Part 2 of a seven part series on the Lincoln-Douglas debates. Dr. Arnn, how are you?
LA: Very well. How are you, Hugh?

HH: Well, I’m bothered. I’ve got all these travels that I’ve got to do next week. I’ve got to go to D.C. to hear this lecture on Wednesday night, because this fellow named Arnn is receiving this prize called the Bradley Prize at the Kennedy Center, and I’m looking forward to this lecture. But it’s a pain in the neck to get to D.C. in the middle of the week. I hope it’s a good lecture.

LA: You know, I don’t even want to go myself.

HH: (laughing)

LA: (laughing)

HH: Kennedy Center lecture, and I’m just telling the audience again we have a Bradley Award recipient on the other end here. Congratulations again. How’s the work on the speech going?

LA: Well, you know, it’s been, it’s a wonderful thing, and I am very grateful. Let me stipulate that. But also, it’s a miserable experience, and the reason is first of all, my speech is all written, and I have to read it, and I have to send it in a week early. That’s a discipline to which I am not accustomed.

HH: (laughing)

LA: I have seen you, and you’re a good speaker, and I have seen you write your speech while you’re being introduced many times. And I confess that I might be guilty of that from time to time. But goodness gracious, a week early?

HH: A week early. I actually think that might violate our union’s rules about speaking.

LA: (laughing) That’s something. Yeah, you know, and see, I couldn’t really protest, because what were they going to say? I mean, what are you, a pundit or something?

HH: You’re an academic. You’re a scholar, by God. You’ve got to write things down.

LA: I’m supposed to, it’s supposed to be written.

HH: Do they produce it for the audience? Is that why it’s got to be submitted?

LA: Oh, it’s just a terrible thing, Hugh. They sent a team to the college and other places to interview people about me, and to film me not saying anything, just in various poses that I never adopt.

HH: (laughing)

LA: And they’re going to show this video, and then, and one shot, this is, I shouldn’t be telling this. This is a glorious and great thing, and I am deeply grateful for it. But also, one shot was I have to look away from the camera and then turn and look into the camera. And this is actually referred to as a hero shot.

HH: (laughing)

LA: (laughing) And when I was finally permitted to talk, I said you know, heroism is a lot easier than I thought it was.

HH: You know, this is very good for the college, and it is a very much deserved honor to you and the college. But producing glory pieces is actually terrible work. It’s really awful, because it’s got, it strips the dignity right off of the tree, doesn’t it?

LA: (laughing) You know, how many times, Hugh, just to take an opposite tone, to name something that has the utterly opposite tone, how many times a week, every time I go in, where just somebody walked up to me and say you and Hugh Hewitt must really be friends. And what they’re referring to is the way we carry on. (laughing)

HH: (laughing) Well, okay, I’m going to give them something else that I thought about you this week. David Brooks was a guest last week, and in his marvelous new book, The Road To Character, much of which I agree with, some of which I don’t, but much of which, there is a portrait of George Marshall which is wonderful. And included within that portrait is a story I’ve never heard before, which is as Marshall lay dying and in a coma, an aged Winston Churchill visited him at the hospital, which I assume would be Walter Reed, and stood in the doorway weeping, because George Marshall was comatose in the bed in front of him. Had you heard that story before?

LA: No, I have not. I do know that Churchill admired George Marshall very much, also argued with him a lot. They had a very fundamental disagreement in 1943 and 1944, very fundamental, and it was about how far east, how rapidly, the Allied armies would get and by what route. And Marshall was very much for a direct route straight to Berlin from France, which would leave the whole of Eastern Europe to the Soviets. And they argued about that a lot. But, and I say that, and that’s very true, but it’s also true that they got on, too, and they in the end, the tragedy of not being able to move farther east unfolded the way it did, and it’s not clear it could have been prevented even if Churchill had been listened to.

HH: And I imagine that the Marshall plan was a great and glorious thing that George Marshall conceived of and that Churchill was grateful for the rebuilding and for the fellowship in war. Last night, I was with Michael Morell, who has taken some criticisms from some of our friends for his actions as acting director of the CIA and deputy director of the CIA during Benghazi, but who served 33 years and was with George W. Bush on 9/11, and has a marvelous career and is a patriot. And I said to him, I remarked that they stayed to the end, until no one wanted him around anymore, and it’s a glorious thing that some people will do that. And I think Churchill probably looked at Marshall as someone who just gave everything that he could give to the cause.

LA: Well, Churchill called the Marshall Plan the most unsorted act in human history.

HH: Wow.

LA: He thought it was, you know, and by now, it’s the Truman administration, right? And Churchill had enormous doubts about the Truman administration. And it just came right round – The Berlin Airlift, the Truman Doctrine regarding Greece and Turkey, and then the Marshall Plan, and it was everything that Churchill had hoped the United States would do after the First World War, and he could see the United States taking its place in the world, and that there could be, at one point, about ten years after the Marshall Plan had been going, Churchill is retired now, and he looked a friend and he said, you know, we might just have to put up with 30 years of peace.

HH: (laughing)

LA: (laughing)

HH: Now I also, the idea of Churchill weeping brings me around to the second question. Earlier this week, he was on again today, Senator Tom Cotton was on, and he was late because he’d been attending the funeral of a slain deputy sheriff whose daughter had spoken, and Senator Cotton was overcome with emotion as he spoke to our audience about Deputy Smith. And Churchill was overcome with emotion. And I wanted to ask you today as we talk about Lincoln and Douglas, are warriors given to this? Are people more prone to emotion if they have in fact been in battle?

LA: Well, the good ones, of course, yeah. You know, there’s all kinds of things that can lead one to fight. And you know, David Brooks wrote his article about character, and there’s as many different characters as there are people. But thuggish or bestial or cruel characters don’t weep in battle. Generous, high-minded characters, even though sometimes they can slaughter very greatly, weep at the loss, of course, because war is a terrible tragedy, whoever wins.

HH: And that brings us to Lincoln. I do not recall, and just tell me if I am simply not recalling, that Lincoln was prone to public displays of emotion. Was he?

LA: Yeah, sure he was, but here’s what you have to do to see it. There’s a man named Mellon, and I’m forgetting his first name, but he did this wonderful, it’s one of my very favorite books I own, big picture book of most of the photographs of Abraham Lincoln. And the way it’s laid out, it’s a very large format, and the pictures are very carefully restored, and they’re put in chronological order in this book. And on the opposite leaf from every one of them is some quote from Lincoln from the time the photograph was taken. And you watch his face between 1860 and 1865 change. And he just became a very old man. And then just go look at the picture that’s near the second inaugural address in that book, and read the second inaugural address. And that is poetic weeping. And then there are records of him sitting disconsolate, alone, with only his close friends seeing, and there are a time or two a recording of him crying in public.

HH: I remember in Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book when his son died at the White House, he was inconsolable. And that is one of the most heart-wrenching episodes, because to lose your son in the middle of losing all your charges, the people for whom you stand, the men and women in your custody and the country torn apart, it’s really remarkable how he even got through it, and Churchill as well, when you think about it. And when we come back from break, we’ll talk about the inner core of the man, Lincoln, at the second debate, because I think there is genuine anger that I was unaware of at the Freeport, Illinois second Lincoln-Douglas debate.

— – – —

HH: Don’t trip, Larry, as you come out onto the stage. Don’t even think about it between now and then (laughing).

LA: (laughing)

HH: You know, (laughing), the Lincoln-Douglas debates, I don’t know that I ever read them in full. I read A Crisis Of A House Divided by the late Dr. Harry Jaffa, your teacher and a guest on this show. But now that I’ve sat down, they’re really quite remarkable. And the second one, where Lincoln goes first, and remind our audience and the Steelers fans, they alternate. An hour, the second guy goes for 90 minutes, and then the first guy comes back for 30 minutes. So it’s 60-90-30. And in the second debate, Abraham Lincoln goes first. And am I right? He is angry?

LA: Yeah, the story is, I’ll tell you my own opinion about that in a minute, but the story basically is the popular story, and sort of the consensus view is Lincoln got a lot of mail after the first one saying he was too passive. I don’t believe that. I believe something else explains it. But the second one, he comes for him. And he’s going first, remember, and so, and you know, because there were seven debates, and because Douglas went first in the first one, Douglas got to go first one more time than Lincoln did, and there was a big advantage in that, because you’ve got the crowd fresh, and you can lay the terms of debate. And in the first one, you’ll remember, Douglas poses these seven questions, and Lincoln refuses to answer them. And you know, that was because, by the way, there are many reasons for that which I’ll talk about if you want me to, but one of them was that was Douglas prescribing how Lincoln would use all his time.

HH: Yes.

LA: So now the second time, Lincoln’s going to go first, and he shows up, and he’s got his plan. And he begins by answering Douglas’ questions twice. And the first time, he answers them, literally answers them in a literal, lawyerly way.

HH: Yes.

LA: All the questions begin are you pledged. And Lincoln answers them all no, with one exception.

HH: Number six, yeah.

LA: Where he says I imply that I believe this. So he wasn’t pledged in any of these cases, these seven questions. But then he said now, I’m going to answer them for real. And when I’m finished, I’m going to put four questions to Douglas. And so Lincoln answers all these questions, and it’s very dramatic, because he answers them literally first, the way you, Hugh Hewitt, counsel people to answer on the witness stand, just answer the question and don’t say anything more, answer it literally. Then the second time, he gives real answers, and says that’s what he’s doing. And that sounds to my ear, reads to my eyes, rather, that reads very powerfully. Oh, I should interrupt and say, did we, we didn’t talk, yet. My friend and yours, I don’t know if you know him as well as I do, but one of my students, Brian Walsh, a great lawyer, who listens to these things religiously, sent me a link to an audiobook of David Strathairn, the actor, taking Lincoln’s part in these debates.

HH: Oh, no. Wow.

LA: And Richard Dreyfuss, the actor, taking Douglas’ part.

HH: Huh.

LA: And all of this is introduced by Allen Guelzo, a very fine historian from Gettysburg College. And so it’s just a tour de force, and I have listened to the first two now.

HH: Oh, I’m going to go get that.

LA: And there is this…Oh, it’s on…

HH: I was unaware…

LA: You should get it. You should get it. And they do a really great job. And sure enough, Lincoln’s part is very powerful through this, right, because he just lays about him in giving these more complete answers to Douglas’ questions. And that sets him up to ask his four now. So now Douglas has got a lot on his plate. And so the common reading now, to answer your question directly, is that Douglas was the most on the defensive at Freeport. And the common reading is Douglas was more commonly on the defensively than Lincoln was, that Lincoln strengthened through the course of the debates, that Douglas probably won two or three, including the first one, and that Lincoln won the others. So that’s mostly how people score it.

HH: But you do not?

LA: No, I don’t, and the reason is I think Allen Guelzo makes this point, too, but Lincoln is doing something very different from Douglas. It’s, and the audience shouldn’t miss the forest for the trees, and I’ll try to help. First of all, Lincoln’s arguments from one week to the next week to the next week are different every time. And that’s curious, because Douglas is very repetitive. That’s curious, because as soon as the debates are over Lincoln starts putting a gook together to publish these things. Lincoln is telling a whole story from start to finish. And he wants to get it on record, and he wants to circulate it, because, my opinion is, he understands that this argument is not going to be over just because of this one election. And so he is laying a complete case, which he has researched for years. That’s the first difference. The second difference is Lincoln’s arguments are moral in a terribly different sense than Douglas’ and I invite the audience to do this exercise. First of all, you will misread these debates if you don’t think that Douglas is very formidable.

HH: Oh, my gosh, Lincoln spends part of his talking about how this is a distinguished United States Senator, he has served nearly twelve years, and is a character not at all limited as an ordinary Senator, but his name has become of worldwide renown. It is most extraordinary that he should so far forget. He goes on, but he wants people to understood Stephen Douglas is a big deal.

LA: Yeah, and see, and you know, he dresses pretty as a peacock, and he just cracks a smile on every face when he shows up, because he’s got charisma. And Lincoln is awkward and ill-dressed and ungainly, and he grows on you. So that’s the first thing. But then the second thing is ask yourself, after you’ve appreciated the power of Douglas, and don’t miss that, that’s by the way one of the key arts of my teacher’s great book, Crisis Of A House Divided, understand that Douglas is very formidable. But the second thing is more profound, and that is ask yourself the question what Douglas ever asked the people to do that they might not want to do. What thing does he ever pose to them that he can’t be confident most everybody will agree with? And where does he ever say the right thing to do, no matter what, whether you want to or not, is this thing? Isn’t his argument always the thing you want to do is the right thing, and you should just do it? So I’ll parse that out in a little bit.

HH: Don’t go anywhere, America. This is fascinating. If you have not yet read the Lincoln-Douglas debates, go and get them before next week and catch up, or do the third one and we’ll be right back after the break with our third segment of today’s Hillsdale Dialogue. Stay tuned.

— – – –

HH: So you were saying when we went to break, Lincoln has a project beyond the answer of this. And Judge Douglas simply never asks anyone to do anything that they wouldn’t want to do, and he simply urges them to do it. Your point then is?

LA: Then you don’t like slavery, you can keep it out of your state, or you can move to a state that has kept it out. You think the blacks are inferior? You can hold them in an inferior position. You think they’re your equals? You can move to Maine where they kind of treat them that way, right? So Douglas’ point is that, and everything’s fine. That’s his point. Things are in the condition they were left by the fathers who founded our country, and all we’ve got to do is leave them in that condition. That’s his argument. Now Lincoln’s argument is completely different from that. And see, one of the, there are four or five major points of clash between them, and one of them is Lincoln’s House Divided speech…

HH: Oh, yes.

LA: …which by the way helped to make Lincoln president, because it’s this claim that there’s a judgment pending on the nation, a judgment of the Lord, right? He’s quoting Jesus when he says a house divided against itself cannot stand. And then he says, and see, by the way, he announces that the judgment has been delivered in his second inaugural address. And so his posture is we have to do the right thing to be worthy of our freedom.

HH: And that was controversial. I want the audience to know Judge Douglas kept bringing up the House Divided speech.

LA: Yes.

HH: He used it as an indictment of Lincoln.

LA: That’s right. That’s right. And so, and his view is, because remember, manifest destiny, time is on our side, everything is going great here. Why does this Lincoln have to come and make such a mess out of things that are common, ordinary, always accepted to be the way that they are, see? And see, that’s, in the end, the clash is about that.

HH: There is a personal aspect in Lincoln’s opening of the second debate at Freeport. He refers to Douglas as an evil genius that has shown to everyone in the world that there is no advantage on virtue over vice. That’s a profound, I didn’t realize it got that personal, Larry Arnn.

LA: Yeah, well see, and that’s something more than personal, see, because Lincoln’s formulations, you know, because Lincoln, by the way, is like a prophet, warning, right? There’s a law, and we are in violation of that law. And we are going to suffer for it if we don’t stop violating it, right? And the people who say that we don’t have to worry about that, those people, he always says, is that in the end, the only principle of action is self-interest, they say. He says that. He says that at one point, it’s just like the old serpent in man that says you work, I’ll eat. So you see, and then, if that can be done like anybody to anybody, that can be done by anybody to you. And that is the judgment that is coming.

HH: What is also spectacular about this, Douglas opens his response by saying the silence with which you have listened to Mr. Lincoln during his hour is credible to this vast audience composed of men of various political parties. So Lincoln is saying very hard things, and he’s being met with, I gather, respectful, intentional silence?

LA: OH, yeah, and you know, if the state votes, you can count up the state votes across the state, and it’s just very likely that most of the people in the audience were for Lincoln. But you know, it wasn’t a landslide, right? So it’s a very divided audience, and there’s lots of catcalling and hooting, and there’s partisan newspapers giving different accounts of the action they see. And all that’s true. And on the other hand, people listened in the main, thousands of people, listened in the main in rapt attention for hours.

HH: And if we could export Stephen Douglas to every campus in America when he says nothing is more honorable to any large mass of people assembled for the purpose of a fair discussion than the kind and respectful attention that has yielded not only to your political friends, but to those who are opposed to you in politics, he would get an honored place in American politics if the left would simply buy into Stephen Douglas there.

— – – – –

HH: Two things I want to cover, Dr. Arnn, in this segment. One is the extraordinary complexity of these dialogues that are going on between Lincoln and Douglas hold the common man’s attention. And they’re very detailed, and it’s not something, I talked to Chris Christie on this show yesterday about the debate format, and 90 minutes, and how it ought to go to three and four hours, and Christie agreed that it’s got to be longer, and he’s willing to do two hour town halls. These guys stood there for three hours in front of people doing this again and again. And I wonder if we haven’t dumbed down our people by expecting so little of them in these conversations.

LA: Well, one of Churchill’s main complaints about the way modernity was going was that people are presented, he said, always with canned opinions readily thought through, right? So what’s happened to American politics, just take a snapshot from 1858 until today. What’s happened now is that everything is centrally managed, just like everything in the government, right, so the primaries have to fit. There’s very little state option in who can vote and stuff like that, how they go about it. And the parties make up their minds, people have rights to be in the debate, right? And you know, why do they have rights to be in the debate, by the way? And so what if you just did, what if we did it the way Lincoln did it, right, the way Lincoln ran for president, which was he stalked Douglas, he’d just go to the same place and talked to the same crowd when Douglas was leaving. What if somebody just raised a bunch of money today, which is how you get on TV, because they won’t just put you on, right? What if somebody just raised money and just got on TV? What if somebody did things newsworthy and developed a following so they had to put them on TV, stuff like that, see? And so now, instead now, they’re going to line 20 of them up there. You know, I heard, by the way, that a very smart person I know who’s helping organize some of these debates, is limiting, they’re having two sets of debates so they can limit one set to the actual leading ten candidates.

HH: Yes.

LA: You know, wow, isn’t that too many?

HH: That’s actually the one that I’m involved in at the Reagan Library. The Gipper, who paid for the microphone, would be very upset with the way it’s going, but I don’t get to make that call. Here’s the second thing I want to make sure people get. Judge Douglas had an appeal to me in this speech. You cannot limit this great republic by mere boundary lines, saying thus far shall go and no further. Any one of you gentleman might as well say to his son 12 years old that he is big enough and must not grow any larger, and in order to prevent his growth, put a hoop around him to keep him in his present size. What would be the result? Either the hoop must burst and be rent asunder, or the child must die. So it would be with this great nation. You allude to this earlier. Douglas is tapping into American exceptionalism and manifest destiny.

LA: Exactly.

HH: …which truth be told, still has a powerful appeal to me. I mean, I think we could export our model everywhere. And you’ve always been cautious about that. But Douglas is appealing, I might have gone for it, Larry. That’s what I ask myself. Do you find yourself ever thinking I might have gone the wrong way in this because of what he dangles in front of you, which is the vast continent?

LA: Well, no, of course, and on the other hand, I was ruined early. And when I first studied this, I was taught to take Douglas with great seriousness, to make the case for him. And the case for him dwells on that, right, the greatness of America.

HH: Yeah.

LA: …the scope of its expanse, of its marvelous opportunities it offers. And you see, you can only be worthy of those. So now, just what does Lincoln reply to that? You can only be worthy of those if you deserve it. And how do you deserve it? Now notice, by the way, it’s in Freeport where Douglas makes the most of Fred Douglass, the runaway slave.

HH: Right.

LA: And he makes a big deal of the flag that right there in Freeport, a very well-dressed, kind of aristocratic looking Negro runaway slave, Fred Douglass, rode through town in a carriage driven by a white man. And is that what Lincoln wants, you see? And that is very important to Douglas’ appeal. And that’s not very high-minded, because by the way, that’s not limited government. Is the law going to say where you ride in a carriage? And you know, Fred Douglass was a brilliant human being and a brilliant speaker anyway, as good as Stephen Douglas. And you know, we’re going to have laws now that a black man can’t ride in the back of a carriage. Of course, those laws were extant and went on until the 20th Century. But that’s his point, right?

HH: Right.

LA: And he makes a lot of that. And what you have to understand is there’s an undertone for both of them. The undertone for Douglas is Lincoln’s going to have white people marrying black people.

HH: Oh, and he refers to the black Republican Party again and again and again.

LA: Yeah, and again.

HH: …and how the abolitionists destroyed, abolitionized the two parties and lead the old line Whigs and the old line Democrats captive, bound hand and foot, into the abolition camp. It is sinister at some points.

LA: Very much, and see, and Lincoln is saying, often, in this Freeport debate, for example, he’s saying that slavery is going to spread everywhere, right? And that means it’s going to be in Illinois, too. And that means, it’s not just that people are repelled by it. Lincoln is repelled by it, and people are repelled by it. In the South, people are repelled by chain gangs and bleeding blacks whipped, right? That’s ugly. And the kind of people who manage that are a low class of person wherever it’s practiced. So Lincoln is not just relying on that, although he very much is. In addition, he understand that people don’t want that, including just having the black around. And so the point is this is a nation locked in a death grip, right, over, and in the end, by the way, I remind people, why is this such a fight, because Douglas’ speeches would have been impossible in 1790. Nobody was saying this country is founded on the white basis and the whites are always going to be tops, right? Everybody spoke of slavery as a tragedy back then. And so it’s this change in principle which has to do with the idea of evolution and evolution of the species and of man, and has to do with manifest destiny, that somehow it’s a kind of scientific fact that we are appointed to dominate the Western Hemisphere. Those things are coming in, right, and that’s what makes the crisis.

HH: And that is what we will return to next week in the third Lincoln-Douglas debate in the Hillsdale Dialogue, all of which are available at and Thank you, Dr. Arnn.

End of interview.


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