Lincoln and His Legacyby Joe Sobran
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[Classic, February 19, 2008] — At this point it is probably futile to try to reverse the deification of Abraham Lincoln. Next year, if I know my countrymen, the bicentennial of his birth will be marked by stupendously cloying anniversary observances, all of them affirming, if not his literal divinity, at least something mighty close to it.
But if Lincoln was so great, we must ask why nobody seems to have realized it while he was still alive. The abolitionists considered him unprincipled, Southerners hated him, and most Northerners opposed his war on the South. Only when the war ended and he was shot did people begin to transform him into a hero and martyr of the Union cause. But that cause was badly flawed.
The Declaration of Independence, which Lincoln always quoted selectively, says that the American colonies of Great Britain had become “free and independent states” — separate states, mind you, not the monolithic “new nation” he proclaimed at Gettysburg. The U.S. Constitution refers constantly to the states, but never to a “nation”; and this is a fact we should ponder.
No wonder his favorite play was Macbeth. He may have seen himself in the tyrant who had waded too far into a river of gore to turn back. Far more Americans died in his war than in any other in our history.
A few books have told the dark story of Lincoln’s suppression of liberty in the North, including the thousands of arbitrary arrests and hundreds of closings of newspapers; his war on the South required a war on the Bill of Rights in the North as well. All in the name of freedom, of course.
Maybe it would have happened anyway, but since Lincoln the Constitution has meant not what it says, but whatever the U.S. Government decides it shall mean. The very meaning of constitutionality has become entirely fluid, so that the law itself has become exactly what law should never be: unpredictable.
Think of the U.S. Supreme Court’s notorious 1973 abortion ruling. Nobody before then had ever suggested that abortion was a constitutional right, but the Court suddenly discovered that it was, protected somehow by the Ninth and Fourteenth Amendments. The laws of all 50 states were struck down at a blow, but thanks to Lincoln the remedy of secession was no longer available to them.
Imagine what Washington and Jefferson would have said about that question! They never dreamed that their countrymen would live in dread of the government created to secure their liberty. But that is what has happened to this country, and much of this is Abraham Lincoln’s legacy.
Copyright © 2017 by the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation. All rights reserved. “Lincoln and His Legacy” by Joe Sobran was published originally by Griffin Internet Syndicate on February 19, 2008.
The two latest Sobran collections, Subtracting Christianity: Essays on American Culture and Society and Hustler: The Clinton Legacy, a collection of 82 essays written by Joe Sobran’s collection during Bill Clinton's years in the White House, make great presents for your pastor, friends, family and colleagues. Order today.
Joe Sobran (1946-2010) was a syndicated columnist for over 35 years.
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