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Dr. Larry Arnn On The 5th Lincoln-Douglas Debate

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HH: I’m not back from vacation, but I talked with Dr. Larry Arnn for this, the last radio hour of the week last week, before the 4th of July, before we replayed the late Harry Jaffa’s epic three-hour program on the Declaration of Independence, so that we could continue on with our Lincoln-Douglas debate series on the Hugh for Hillsdale Hillsdale Dialogues, www.hughforhillsdale.com. Dr. Arnn, last 4th of July, we recut and repackaged to honor the late Harry Jaffa his, I don’t think there’s any better way to spend the 4th than listening to Harry Jaffa talk about the Declaration for three hours.

LA: He spent his life thinking about that, Hugh, and he did know a very great deal about it.

HH: Well, that’s it. I mean, if you want to know the Declaration, you go to Harry Jaffa and A Crisis Of A House Divided. But we pick up today on the speeches that, the debate between Lincoln and Douglas that perhaps more than any other centered on the Declaration of Independence. Is that, do you think that’s true about the 5th Lincoln-Douglas debate?

LA: Yeah, it’s one of the best. It was the best attended, and it is one of the most fundamental, maybe the most fundamental of them all.

HH: Why don’t we begin? We’re going back to the Straithern and Dreyfuss recreation of the Lincoln-Douglas debate. Richard Dreyfuss is playing the role of Stephen Douglas, and we hope all of you will go to Amazon.com and look up and buy these tapes. We use fair use here. We just sample it so you will listen to it. But let’s listen. This is a cut of Richard Dreyfuss playing Judge Douglas at the 5th Lincoln-Douglas debate.

RD (as Stephen Douglas): But while I hold that under our Constitution and political system the negro is not a citizen, cannot be a citizen, and ought not to be a citizen, it does not follow by any means that he should be a slave. On the contrary it does follow that the negro, as an inferior race, ought to possess every right, every privilege, every immunity which he can safely exercise consistent with the safety of the society in which he lives. Humanity requires, and Christianity commands, that you shall extend to every inferior being, and every dependent being, all the privileges, immunities and advantages which can be granted to them consistent with the safety of society. If you ask me the nature and extent of these privileges, I answer that that is a question which the people of each State must decide for themselves. Illinois has decided that question for herself. We have said that in this State the negro shall not be a slave, nor shall he be a citizen. Kentucky holds a different doctrine. New York holds one different from either, and Maine one different from all. Virginia, in her policy on this question, differs in many respects from the others, and so on, until there is hardly two States whose policy is exactly alike in regard to the relation of the white man and the negro. Nor can you reconcile them and make them alike. Each State must do as it pleases. Illinois had as much right to adopt the policy which we have on that subject as Kentucky had to adopt a different policy. The great principle of this Government is, that each State has the right to do as it pleases on all these questions, and no other State, or power on earth has the right to interfere with us, or complain of us merely because our system differs from theirs.

HH: Now Dr. Larry Arnn, again, if someone just tuned in, that is Richard Dreyfuss recreating Judge Douglas at the 5th Lincoln-Douglas debate. He does a number of things here. And is he appealing to the marginally abolitionist voter in the crowd?

LA: Well see, that’s very telling. So this is one of the most telling speeches by Douglas in his whole life, this sentence. Humanity requires and Christianity demands that you shall extend to every inferior being and every dependent being all the privileges, immunities and advantages which can be granted to them consistent with the safety of society. And see what that means is public opinion then and now will not let you simply claim that you can do whatever you want to with them. And Lincoln exploits this beautifully, because he focuses on the nature of the human being, and that nature is different from the horse. So you can eat a horse, and you can ride a horse, and you can put a bit on a horse, and you can kill a horse because it makes you mad. And there’s no sectional or state or national controversy about how horses are treated. You ought to be kind to horses, but kindness to horses is very different from justice to human beings. So if his, if Douglas’ point is Christianity demands that you extend to inferior being all the privileges, immunities and advantages you can give them, and remember this, consistent with the safety of the society, and what that translates in Douglas is consistent with the interests of the society. So he’s got a problem. He’s got to acknowledge that these people have some rights. But then he moves from that to the argument that everybody, every white person can make up, every white group of white people, can make up for itself whatever those rights are. And so there he is. He’s got, he can’t just simply occupy the ground that, for example, John Calhoun or Jefferson Davis occupies.

HH: Because that, the people of Illinois would reject that.

LA: And most of the Union. You know, I’m going to tell you a little bit when we get to the next quote about actually what happened at the American Revolution, because Douglas makes claims about it.

HH: Well, let’s go to that, then.

LA: Okay.

HH: Cut number two, again, this is Richard Dreyfuss recreating the role of Judge Douglas, an excerpt from these magnificent debates available at Amazon.com.

RD (as Stephen Douglas): What do you think would have been the result? (Hurrah for Douglas.) Suppose he had made that Convention believe that doctrine and they had acted upon it, what do you think would have been the result? Do you believe that the one free State would have outvoted the twelve slaveholding States, and thus abolish slavery? (No! no! and cheers.) On the contrary, would not the twelve slaveholding States have outvoted the one free State, and under his doctrine have fastened slavery by an irrevocable Constitutional provision upon every inch of the American Republic? Thus you see that the doctrine he now advocates, if proclaimed at the beginning of the Government, would have established slavery every where throughout the American continent, and are you willing, now that we have the majority section, to exercise a power which we never would have submitted to when we were in the minority? If the Southern States had attempted to control our institutions, and make the States all slave when they had the power, I ask would you have submitted to it? If you would not, are you willing now, that we have become the strongest under that great principle of self-government that allows each State to do as it pleases, to attempt to control the Southern institutions? (“No, no.”) Then, my friends, I say to you that there is but one path of peace in this Republic, and that is to administer this Government as our fathers made it, divided into free and slave States, allowing each State to decide for itself whether it wants slavery or not.

HH: Well, Dreyfuss is good at delivering the powerful sophistry of Judge Douglas, Larry Arnn.

LA: There you go. So see, there’s 13 states originally, and Douglas, in connection with this quote, in a close passage, says there were 12 of those states that had slavery at the time of the Constitutional Convention. True enough. Massachusetts had abolished its slaves by a Massachusetts Supreme Court decision in 1783. All at once, too, by the way, they were all free one day. The rest of them, there were three others that had partial, had gradual systems of emancipation underway. By the time Douglas is talking, 9 of those 13 states have abolished slavery, and 4 retain it, and they were among the seceding states. Now go back also to that convention, everybody in the convention who spoke about slavery, including Charles Pinckney of South Carolina, condemned it as a wrong and an injury. And so if Lincoln had been where Douglas imagined of Lee, or hypothetically puts him, in the middle of that convention, he would have been talking to an entire collection of people who thought that slavery was a violation of the Declaration of Independence.

HH: And we come back from break, we’ll hear what Lincoln did indeed do, invoke the Declaration at this, the 5th Lincoln-Douglas debate when we return, America, to the Hillsdale Dialogue, all of them available at www.hughforhillsdale.com, and visit www.hillsdale.edu. Stay tuned.

— – — –

HH: In this series of the Lincoln-Douglas debates, so memorably recreated by David Straithern and Richard Dreyfuss in this marvelous audiobook which is available, you can’t get the whole thing unless you read the whole thing and listen to the whole thing, and it’s very, very well worth your investment. We turn to the 5th, and Lincoln rises, and Douglas has been talking for an hour at this point, right, Larry Arnn?

LA: That’s right. Yeah, Douglas goes first in this debate. He goes, and that’s a big advantage, because if you go first, you get an hour, and then last, you get 30 minutes. And Douglas got to do that four times. And Lincoln only got to do it three times.

HH: So after that powerful argument, we just heard the heart of it, Lincoln has to stand up and argue against that sophistry. So he’s facing, I don’t really know where this one is. I didn’t have my notes here. Is this Central Illinois? Is this, I don’t…

LA: No, this is at, it’s worth saying, it’s in East Central Illinois, a Lincoln stronghold. And it’s at Knox College, an institution that still survives, and I understand is a very pretty place.

HH: Interesting.

LA: Yeah.

HH: So he is actually in the heart of Lincoln territory. No wonder he has moderated his argument, Douglas. No wonder he’s changed it slightly. All right, here’s Lincoln responding to Judge Douglas. This is in the voice of David Straithern. Go.

DS (as Abraham Lincoln): The Judge has alluded to the Declaration of Independence, and insisted that negroes are not included in that Declaration; and that it is a slander upon the framers of that instrument, to suppose that negroes were meant therein; and he asks you: Is it possible to believe that Mr. Jefferson, who penned the immortal paper, could have supposed himself applying the language of that instrument to the negro race, and yet held a portion of that race in slavery? Would he not at once have freed them? I only have to remark upon this part of the Judge’s speech (and that, too, very briefly, for I shall not detain myself, or you, upon that point for any great length of time), that I believe the entire records of the world, from the date of the Declaration of Independence up to within three years ago, may be searched in vain for one single affirmation, from one single man, that the negro was not included in the Declaration of Independence; I think I may defy Judge Douglas to show that he ever said so, that Washington ever said so, that any President ever said so, that any member of Congress ever said so, or that any living man upon the whole earth ever said so, until the necessities of the present policy of the Democratic party, in regard to slavery, had to invent that affirmation. And I will remind Judge Douglas and this audience, that while Mr. Jefferson was the owner of slaves, as undoubtedly he was, in speaking upon this very subject, he used the strong language that “he trembled for his country when he remembered that God was just;” and I will offer the highest premium in my power to Judge Douglas if he will show that he, in all his life, ever uttered a sentiment at all akin to that of Jefferson.

HH: Now Larry Arnn, that’s marvelous language. And Straithern hits the right tenor, right? We’re told Lincoln had a high-pitched voice which carried. And the idea that he came upon that spontaneously is pretty remarkable.

LA: Oh, yeah, well, because he’d thought his life about it. So I think there’s two things to say about this. One is what Jefferson, the quote that he quotes Jefferson, I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, is the only book that Thomas Jefferson wrote. It’s called Notes On The State Of Virginia. And I’ll say a little more about it. The quote goes in the contest between the master and the slave, the Almighty has no attribute that can side with us. Indeed, I tremble for my country when I think that God is just. And that was the common sentiment in the Revolution, north and south. So that’s the first thing to say. And so the record, and see, Justice Taney in his opinion in the Dred Scott decision, which gives rise to a lot of these problems, he also completely misrepresents the founding, and the record is rich, was well-known, and was available to Taney. So that’s one thing, and Lincoln just hammers him there. The second thing is Lincoln is drawing a sharp distinction between the human and the non-human. And that is the ultimate point of his case. He’ll give up on all kinds of details as he does in Charleston, where he says don’t have to intermarry, you can have laws against it. But he’s trying to establish the simple point that they are human. And so I’ll tell you about a debate one time I saw in class with the great Harry Jaffa. It was in the days when there was a big thing going on about how dolphins can talk, too. And so you know, you shouldn’t be eating them or netting them, or whatever we were doing to them. And Professor Jaffa, he was just made for that debate. So some undergraduates who were full of that stuff came to attack him. And he said it’s a simple thing, isn’t it, he said. If they ever turn to anybody and say I would like to be citizens of this country, or why do you treat me this way, either one of them, the next thing you know, we’re going to have to give them a vote, because they’re human if they do that.

HH: (laughing)

LA: (laughing)

HH: And what did the undergraduates who’d come to quarrel with Harry Jaffa, not a wise thing to do, what did they say to…

LA: It was awesome. It was one of the best, you know, I have a long list to last, or fortunately, and it was one of the best classes I ever sat through. And the reason is he was inspired by indignation. And these kids, and so he did, he just, the next thing in the debate, in this discussion, he went on to this. It’s worth saying. He explained how our knowledge of right and wrong, and our ability to speak, come from the same place, because one you know category – horse, dolphin, man, woman, human, then you know how each kind of thing should be treated. And also, you have a standard to measure it against to see if it’s a good one. You know, there are bad oak trees, and there are bad pine trees, and there are bad people. And you know that, because you know what kind of category they’re in.

HH: Yeah, and a mountain lion is not a horse, and a spider is not a mountain lion. I mean, there are, it’s important to know these things.

LA: That’s right, and also, you can’t help but know them.

HH: Yup.

LA: And that’s why up above in the first quote, when Douglas says they have to be treated with all the humanity that accords with what we regard as our safety, that’s because he’s paying homage to the fact that we know that. Exactly the same thing is evident in the record of the Nazis, who don’t proclaim to the world that they’re building factories to kill Jews and other undesirables, and indeed, in the one great conference, the Wannsee Conference, where they lay all that out, the order is given to destroy all the notes.

HH: Because they are ashamed.

LA: They’re ashamed. And you know, somebody didn’t destroy the notes, which is why we know about it.

HH: Right. And it’s amazing that Lincoln got him on this, and how Justice Douglas must be roasting. When we come back, more of Lincoln putting the charcoal on the burner under Judge Douglas at the 5th Lincoln-Douglas debate. Stay tuned.

— – – — –

HH: Dr. Arnn, I’m wondering, have you ever taught a course just on these seven debates?

LA: No, never. I’m tempted now.

HH: I think you should, because I actually, we’re not doing them justice, right? We’re pulling a clip here and a clip there out of this amazing recreation of the Amazon.com debates between Straithern and Dreyfuss playing Lincoln and Douglas, but we’re not doing them justice. And they go on for three hours, each of them, and we talk for 30 minutes about each of them.

LA: Yeah, and see what we can’t capture for people, but we can describe, is that this is a political controversy. And the principles that are at stake are interwoven with the interest and the powers that are present. And so each of them has to adapt to the other and to the opinions of the audience, each of them in his way is trying to inform and elevate those opinions while also taking them into account. My argument is Lincoln does that dramatically differently and better than Douglas. But to study them in detail for people who want to understand how human beings get on with one another, most authoritatively in politics, is to study how they bring these principles to life and apply them in these controversies, because that’s where they live.

HH: Now I want to say this carefully so that I’m not taken out of context. I’m going to be a participant in the presidential debates. And these debates are both inspiring and humbling, because those debates will not even begin to approach the level of talent, though those men, and well, woman, will be talented, and though this subject is base in retrospect, and our subjects will hopefully be elevated, they won’t have to argue about the nature of slavery, since we know to condemn it now. But nevertheless, they diminish the whole exercise when you study them by comparison.

LA: That’s right, and you know, we don’t know how great any of these people who are running for president are going to turn out. Aristotle’s doctrine is power shows the man. You find out about them when they get into authority, as it did for Lincoln. But the debates themselves are not as good an occasion as these are. They can’t produce the focus and the intense concentration on the main issue or issues that these did. And so my charge to you, Hugh, an educated man, is to try to improve that best you can.

HH: Well, we’ve been doing that. In fact, you helped me by asking all the candidates serially, and they’ve been quarreling with each other at long distance about the merits of the Senate filibuster versus the merits of moving a necessary agenda, including the repeal of Obamacare. That’s a big issue. I was explaining to a Politico reporter last week he ought to call you about that, because you’d be better at explaining why there are arguments on both sides. But that’s a big issue, and we’re carrying it on over a long distance between people reading and responding. But it’s a big issue, as opposed to small issues like, you know, did you, I can’t even remember some of the gotcha questions, you want to ban birth control in the states or something like that. Those are low, right?

LA: Yeah, and they’re, and it’s in snippets, see? And so you know, I thought in the last series of debates, Newt Gingrich was the one who had the talent to turn the questions into serious questions. But a lot of them are, like a phrase that Newt would use, he would say well, let me try to answer that on the level that one of us might have to deal with if we become president of the United States.

HH: Yes.

LA: So that’s an art, and that means he has some definition in his mind of what statesmanship is, and politics is, and presidents do. But a lot of it is just dealt with like, it’s like a question, how should I raise my kids, and their response is well, I raise mine this way, I suggest, you know. And that’s not, it’s not the same thing.

HH: No, it’s not. I would argue that the smartest of the candidates would do well. If, for example, Governor Bush and Senator Cruz were to approach Larry Arnn, you know them both, you know them all, and say could we come to Hillsdale and talk with each other, you can sit on the stage if you want and prompt us if we get sleepy, and talk to each other for three hours and see what happens, that that would be a marvelous exercise. And take any two of the sixteen. That would be a marvelous exercise.

LA: Yeah, or three and maybe four would work, and I won’t tell you who they are, but I think that there are four serious candidates in the thing right now. And I would love to do that, hereby volunteer to do that, have talked to two of them about that. And you know, there are rules, and the rules are messy and dumb, and part of them are party rules, and part of them are media rules, and part of them are national law rules. But if that could be made to happen, then you remember when Rick Warren hosted Obama and John McCain?

HH: Yes.

LA: And that was, you know, there was great clarity in that.

HH: There was.

LA: And it was to both their advantages.

HH: Four might violate the rules. Two would not, and I don’t think three would. I’ll be right back with Dr. Larry Arnn. More of the Lincoln-Douglas 5th debate when we return to the Hugh Hewitt Show.

— – — –

HH: We’re up to the 5th Lincoln-Douglas debate, which is a lot of ground to have covered.

LA: There you go.

HH: And we’re galloping…

LA: And really, I should say Christine, whom you say is coming to our college next fall because of the dialogues…

HH: Yes.

LA: She should introduce herself to me so that I can tell her everything I know about you.

HH: Well, I’ve cautioned her against that very thing for that very reason. Now back to the debate. This is David Straithern again playing Lincoln, an important excerpt, cut number four:

DS (as Abraham Lincoln): I suppose that the real difference between Judge Douglas and his friends, and the Republicans on the contrary, is, that the Judge is not in favor of making any difference between slavery and liberty-that he is in favor of eradicating, of pressing out of view, the questions of preference in this country for free or slave institutions; and consequently every sentiment he utters discards the idea that there is any wrong in slavery. Every thing that emanates from him or his coadjutors in their course of policy, carefully excludes the thought that there is any thing wrong in slavery. All their arguments, if you will consider them, will be seen to exclude the thought that there is any thing whatever wrong in slavery. If you will take the Judge’s speeches, and select the short and pointed sentences expressed by him-as his declaration that he “don’t care whether slavery is voted up or down”- you will see at once that this is perfectly logical, if you do not admit that slavery is wrong. If you do admit that it is wrong, Judge Douglas cannot logically say he don’t care whether a wrong is voted up or voted down. Judge Douglas declares that if any community want slavery they have a right to have it. He can say that logically, if he says that there is no wrong in slavery; but if you admit that there is a wrong in it, he cannot logically say that any body has a right to do wrong. He insists that, upon the score of equality, the owners of slaves and owners of property-of horses and every other sort of property-should be alike and hold them alike in a new Territory. That is perfectly logical, if the two species of property are alike and are equally founded in right. But if you admit that one of them is wrong, you cannot institute any equality between right and wrong. And from this difference of sentiment-the belief on the part of one that the institution is wrong, and a policy springing from that belief which looks to the arrest of the enlargement of that wrong; and this other sentiment, that it is no wrong, and a policy sprung from that sentiment which will tolerate no idea of preventing that wrong from growing larger, and looks to there never being an end of it through all the existence of things,-arises the real difference between Judge Douglas and his friends on the one hand, and the Republicans on the other. Now, I confess myself as belonging to that class in the country who contemplate slavery as a moral, social and political evil, having due regard for its actual existence amongst us and the difficulties of getting rid of it in any satisfactory way, and to all the Constitutional obligations which have been thrown about it; but, nevertheless, desire a policy that looks to the prevention of it as a wrong, and looks hopefully to the time when as a wrong it may come to an end.

HH: Now Dr. Arnn, I’ve got to say, the art in the delivery is that he says anything wrong, he uses the word wrong at least a dozen times in three minutes. He wants moral clarity. And then he’s very direct at the end. I as one in this class in the country who contemplates slavery as a moral, social and political evil. That’s the anvil. The hammer is the word wrong, wrong, wrong again and again. It’s beautiful.

LA: Yeah, you know, I’ve been reading these two guys for 40 years, and these two actors sound like I imagine them to sound.

HH: Exactly.

LA: It’s just wonderful. And Lincoln, you know, who, that’s exactly right. Lincoln, if you, if the readers read these through, as you encourage them to do, they should take paragraphs and they should parse them out. And they should look at the cadence of them and the grammar of them and the length of them. Lincoln actually often speaks in long sentences, but they’re heavily punctuated. And so it does take on the cadence of a hammer striking an anvil. And he, and you know, that distinction, see, because in their hearts, a majority of the people of Illinois, it is proved in the next election, think that slavery is wrong, and don’t want it among them. And Douglas himself has to pay homage to that opinion. And so that’s it, you know. It comes down to this. Is it right to put a collar around their neck and lead them around the way you do your dog?

HH: I want to play cut number six very briefly, because we’re running low on the time, but the start of it, please.

DS (as Abraham Lincoln): I then proposed to Judge Douglas another interrogatory, which was correlative to that: “Are you in favor of acquiring additional territory in disregard of how it may affect us upon the slavery question?” Judge Douglas answered, that is, in his own way he answered it. I believe that, although he took a good many words to answer it, it was a little more fully answered than any other. The substance of his answer was, that this country would continue to expand-that it would need additional territory-that it was as absurd to suppose that we could continue upon our present territory, enlarging in population as we are, as it would be to hoop a boy twelve years of age, and expect him to grow to man’s size without bursting the hoops. [Laughter.] I believe it was something like that. Consequently he was in favor of the acquisition of further territory, as fast as we might need it, in disregard of how it might affect the slavery question. I do not say this as giving his exact language, but he said so substantially, and he would leave the question of slavery where the territory was acquired, to be settled by the people of the acquired territory. [“That’s the doctrine.”] May be it is; let us consider that for a while. This will probably, in the run of things, become one of the concrete manifestations of this slavery question. If Judge Douglas’s policy upon this question succeeds and gets fairly settled down, until all opposition is crushed out, the next thing will be a grab for the territory poor Mexico, an invasion of the rich lands of South America, then the adjoining islands will follow, each one of which promises additional slave fields.

HH: We’ll be right back with Larry Arnn to say what that means when we return.

— – – —

HH: I want to finish the quote from the Lincoln-Douglas debates recreated by David Straithern and Richard Dreyfuss, Straithern speaking here, and then get Dr. Arnn’s comment on this. This is the quote we used at the end of the last segment.

DS (as Abraham Lincoln): And this question is to be left to the people of those countries for settlement. When we shall get Mexico, I don’t know whether the Judge will be in favor of the Mexican people that we get with it settling that question for themselves and all others; because we know the Judge has a great horror for mongrels, and I understand that the people of Mexico are most decidedly a race of mongrels. I understand that there is not more than one person there out of eight who is pure white, and I suppose from the Judge’s previous declaration that when we get Mexico or any considerable portion of it, that he will be in favor of these mongrels settling the question, which would bring him somewhat into collision with his horror of an inferior race.

HH: Now I want, Larry Arnn, to stress to people who may have just tuned in that is an 1858 statement. Neither you nor I believe in the mongrel theory. But neither did Lincoln, really. He’s just turning it back upon Douglas and using the logic to say you must not vote for this man.

LA: When he says they’re mongrels, it’s plain from the context in everything else Lincoln did in his life that he is attributing that opinion to Stephen Douglas.

HH: Yes.

LA: And he’s using Douglas’ definition of the mongrel. And let me, the bearing of the quote, this is one of the most important quotes in the whole thing, because Lincoln is attributing revolution to Douglas. He’s saying that he’s overcoming or overturning the opinions that prevailed in the founding of the country. And this is where he says it most starkly, because the quote finishes, we didn’t quite get to the end of it, that in a nation where a great majority of the people have forever believed that slavery is a wrong, Douglas is the perfect instrument to overturn that opinion and make them accept it, and the reason is that if you just came out right now and said what Douglas won’t say, every black person ought to be a slave, and you know, Lincoln proves in another place it doesn’t just mean black people. It could mean anybody whose skin is darker than anybody else’s. If you just said that, nobody would go with you. But Douglas’ point, and this is the heart of the matter, is that there is no right or wrong about it. It’s only self-interest. And so he says that’s the perfect instrument to convert the people to doctrines that were abhorrent to the people who founded the country. And you know, today, by the way, one of the key academic doctrines, is that there are no right and wrong established in nature. We make it up for ourselves.

HH: And so we’re back.

LA: We read history through evolution.

HH: The academic elite is back with Stephen Douglas, but not Hillsdale College, not the Hillsdale Dialogues, not my friend, Dr. Larry Arnn, nor me. Come back next week. We will cover the 6th Lincoln-Douglas debate. And for all of the Hillsdale Dialogues, they’re at www.hughforhillsdale.com, and you can go to www.hillsdale.edu for everything that great college offers. Thank you for listening, America.

End of interview.

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