The Wisdom of Abraham

Abraham Lincoln, that is.

As a basis for interventionist, collectivist and socialist actions by the central planners in our federal government, this 1854 quote of Abraham Lincoln is often used:

“The legitimate object of government is to do for a community of people, whatever they need to have done, but can not do, at all, or can not, so well do, for themselves in their separate, individual capacities.”

On Sunday, September 30th, 1934, Franklin Delano Roosevelt used it in one of his fireside chats, his Depression era radio communiqué to the American people – the subject of which were the steps taken by the government during the Great Depression and the proposals that would eventually become the Social Security Act of 1935.

The Lincoln quote is accurate – but incomplete. What followed those 38 words were 16 more that completely changed the context and meaning of the quote. Those were:

“In all that people can individually do as well for themselves, government ought not to interfere.”

Lincoln’s words seem so alien to our contemporary approach to government. With the growth of “progressive” thought in the late 1880’s, the social programs of the Great Depression and the modern incarnations – Johnson’s “Great Society/War on Poverty” and Obama’s Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), a large segment of America has shifted from trust in the individual to faith in government.

Lincoln’s first inauguration was conducted in the midst of national crisis. Secession was a grim reality and a mere two weeks earlier, Jefferson Davis had been inaugurated as the President of the Confederacy. Lincoln had arrived in Washington by a secret route to avoid danger, guarded by General Winfield Scott’s soldiers.

Even in this atmosphere, Lincoln’s trust in the people was supreme. In his inaugural address, he stated:

“This country, with its institutions, belongs to the people who inhabit it. Whenever they shall grow weary of the existing Government, they can exercise their constitutional right of amending it or their revolutionary right to dismember or overthrow it. I can not be ignorant of the fact that many worthy and patriotic citizens are desirous of having the National Constitution amended. While I make no recommendation of amendments, I fully recognize the rightful authority of the people over the whole subject, to be exercised in either of the modes prescribed in the instrument itself; and I should, under existing circumstances, favor rather than oppose a fair opportunity being afforded the people to act upon it. I will venture to add that to me the convention mode seems preferable, in that it allows amendments to originate with the people themselves, instead of only permitting them to take or reject propositions originated by others, not especially chosen for the purpose, and which might not be precisely such as they would wish to either accept or refuse.”

Even discussing succession, he stood firm on the role of the people versus the role of the government (including the judiciary).

“The Chief Magistrate derives all his authority from the people, and they have referred none upon him to fix terms for the separation of the States. The people themselves can do this if also they choose, but the Executive as such has nothing to do with it. His duty is to administer the present Government as it came to his hands and to transmit it unimpaired by him to his successor.

Why should there not be a patient confidence in the ultimate justice of the people? Is there any better or equal hope in the world? In our present differences, is either party without faith of being in the right? If the Almighty Ruler of Nations, with His eternal truth and justice, be on your side of the North, or on yours of the South, that truth and that justice will surely prevail by the judgment of this great tribunal of the American people.”

How different he found the role of the government…one gets the idea that our contemporary situation would have been unthinkable to him.

“By the frame of the Government under which we live this same people have wisely given their public servants but little power for mischief, and have with equal wisdom provided for the return of that little to their own hands at very short intervals. While the people retain their virtue and vigilance no Administration by any extreme of wickedness or folly can very seriously injure the Government in the short space of four years.”

There are many that think that the conservatives and the Tea Party Movement are calling for open rebellion simply by recognizing the same constitutional provision that Lincoln spoke of. This idea is so foreign to our sensibilities that the Left uses it as a rhetorical weapon, a scare tactic. Recently on Don Imus’ radio show, Democratic Party operative and Clinton crony, James Carville, warned that there was the potential for “civil unrest” over Obama’s (mis)management of the economy.

Carville bluntly told Imus: “You know, look — this is a humanitarian — you know, you’re smart enough to see this . . . People, you know, if it continues, we’re going to start to see civil unrest in this country. I hate to say that, but I think it’s imminently possible.”

When the government (meaning any of the triumvirate – legislative, judicial and executive) is unresponsive or insulated from the will of the people and acting on its own, is it so farfetched that a new revolution is possible?

Lincoln certainly contemplated that it was within the scope of the Constitution:

“Whenever they shall grow weary of the existing Government, they can exercise their constitutional right of amending it or their revolutionary right to dismember or overthrow it.”

Can you imagine a modern president making that statement? I can’t.

Our governmental modus operandi has shifted so far away from Lincoln and toward the tenets of Marx, that it is unthinkable that a popular uprising could ever overcome the power of the central government or that such a movement could even be legitimate – ergo the bashing of the Tea Party by the statists in the political arena. For both major political parties and the bloated bureaucracy that supports them, the survival of the status quo is primary and the will of the people is secondary.

Would that Lincoln was correct in that “people retain their virtue and vigilance” so that “no Administration by any extreme of wickedness or folly can very seriously injure”. There are a significant percentage of our fellow citizens that are so dependent on government or are steeped in Marxist belief that they have lost any concept of retaining independence and freedom via exercise of “virtue and vigilance”. They have abdicated that responsibility – probably the reason that they demagogue anything that the Tea Party Movement stands for.

The Republic is in every bit as much danger of ripping apart today as it was in 1861. Then, the conflict was due to the enslavement of a race of people who were determined by the customs of the times to be inferior. A similar conflict arises today that cuts across racial and social lines, the economic slavery of the productive class of America by a Marxist government, regular people who are determined to be inferior by our elitist political class.

5 thoughts on “The Wisdom of Abraham

  1. A well-written letter, and a cleverly playful title. The following are thoughts inspired by your prose, and are not necessarily criticisms.
    Lincoln did not follow his own words. He preserved the Union, against the wishes of those who sought to separate themselves from it.
    The divisions in this country today are not sufficiently geographical in nature to favor secession as a possiblity, but I do envision a milder form of the sort of violence that plagued Ireland for decades.

    Every program designed to help the poor out of their situation, be it job training or tuition money, small biz loans or drug rehab programs, is criticized by the right as an unfair or wasteful use of tax dollars. Prisoners are just warehoused now, most rehab and vocational programs have been curtailed.

    I know people who have, with federal help, lifted themselves out of poverty, onto the tax rolls, and now they share the burden of taxation, and are no longer part of the reason for it. Too bad that route does not conform to your desired form of governance, sir, because there is no immediate profit in reforming crooks, only long-term benefits.

    • Greg: I really appreciate your visit and comments. I know that we disagree a lot but it means a lot that you took the time to engage.

      Thank you…

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