Friday, September 26, 2014


Although I don’t plan to do any more writing about Abraham Lincoln in the foreseeable future, I continue to be fascinated by the man. My interest in Lincoln has prompted me to amass a large and growing library on the man. Because many of the books which interest me are out of print, I buy them used. The other day I got in some old books about Lincoln and as I was going through them, some newspaper clippings fell out.  I didn’t pay much attention to them at the time, so I don’t know which of the books they came from. Yesterday I got around to studying the clippings. The articles gave no indication of when they were published or by whom, but they appear to be very old. Upon examination, decided that the clippings had been cut from some American Socialist newspaper printed shortly before World War II, and they seem to have been published in an effort to paint Lincoln as a proto-Socialist who would have approved of a violent Socialist overthrow of capitalism in America.

One of the articles purported to be a reprint of a speech Congressman Lincoln made before the House of Representatives in 1848 condemning the War with Mexico. It’s not unusual that a President of the United States would condemn the war—in his autobiography Ulysses S. Grant, who served in the war with distinction, said it was one of the greatest injustices a stronger country could visit upon a weaker. What was unusual about the speech was something Lincoln supposedly said about disaffected citizens rising up and throwing off their government.  The remarks were so contrary to Lincoln’s position during the Civil War that I hardly credited the words as coming out of the future President’s mouth. I went to the Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln to verify that Lincoln actually spoke those words, and found that the article quoted him correctly. Here’s what he said:

Any people anywhere, being inclined and having the power, have the right to rise up, and shake off the existing government, and form a new one that suits them better. This is a most valuable—a most sacred right—a right, which we hope and believe, is to liberate the world. Nor is this right confined to cases in which the whole people of an existing government, may choose to exercise it. Any portion of such people that can, may revolutionize, and make their own, of so much of the territory as they inhabit. More than this, a majority of any portion of such people may revolutionize, putting down a minority, intermingled with, or near about them, who may oppose their movement. Such minority, was precisely the case, of the Tories of our own revolution. It is a quality of revolutions not to go by old lines, or old laws; but to break up both, and make new ones.

Lincoln apparently had changed his mind by the time the Southern states began the process of trying to “rise up, and shake off the existing government, and form a new one that suit[ed] them better.” If he hadn't changed his mind, there might not be a United States today.

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting, Professor. Nothing like a deep dive into 150 year old state procedural statutes.