Our "president to be" quoted this speech the night he was elected. He mentioned the "sacred bonds of friendship" or some such thing. It seems appropriate for him to have done so since there is so little left of that spirit. He has quoted this speech before in the matter of the "better angels of our natures." That makes the old words interesting.
I have no interest in visits to the White House or the other trivialities of the day’s news. The economy will rise or fall, depending on stimulus and the general level of fecklessness in bankers’ hearts. We can talk about that later. The next big story will be the personalities with which President-elect Obama populates the Executive Branch of the federal government. The identities of the appointed inhabitants of the Beltway Enclave will tell us much with regard to what is owed and to whom. In the meantime, life goes on…
Ah, yes, Lincoln. I had never paid much attention to his first inaugural address. As I recall it is the second inaugural address that is carved into the wall of his memorial along with the lyricism of the Gettysburg Address.
It is a remarkable speech, especially remarkable in that it was spoken at a point in time at which seven states had already seceded.
It is a plea for them to return. This is from the Wiki.
Strongest possible federal support for the Fugitive Slave Law and the service/labour clause of Section Two of Article Four of the United States Constitution
- He had just taken an oath "to preserve, protect, and defend the United States Constitution" which enjoined him to see that the laws of the Union be faithfully executed in all states.
- There would be no invasion of the South unless such were necessary for him as President to fulfill his obligation to hold, occupy, and possess the property and places belonging to the federal government.
- The Constitution was established "to form a more perfect union" than the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union had been, which was explicitly perpetual in name and text, and thus the Constitution too was perpetual. He added that even were the Constitution construed as a simple contract, it could not be legally rescinded without an agreement between all parties.
- He had no objection to the proposed Corwin amendment to the Constitution (that had already been approved by both houses of the United States Congress to protect slavery in those states in which it already existed — though he thought that such was already protected by the original Constitution and that the Corwin amendment merely reiterated that which was already contained in the nation’s highest legal document). (According to Henry Adams, Lincoln actually lobbied to help the Corwin Amendment through both houses.
- Nothing in the Constitution expressly says what either can or cannot be done regarding slavery in the territories.
- Mails would continue."
By this time, the departed seven clearly wanted "out," but if these words were not disingenuous, then war was not inevitable, not at all.
A couple of things stand out in this composition:
– The 16th president does not seem to have been much attached to the cause of abolition. This was evident in some of his statements in the Lincoln-Douglas Debates of 1856 and continues here. Lincoln’s willingness to accept and even support a constitutional amendment specifically barring in perpetuity federal interference in the states’ "domestic institutions" is striking.
– This is a lawyer’s pleading. The argument is made that states can not secede unless they do so in a legal way and then he effectively argues that there really is no "legal way." Lincoln says here that because the present US Constitution succeeded the "Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union," the resulting union of the states is also perpetual even though the constitution does not say that the union is perpetual. The fact that the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia was called to amend the "Articles of Confederation" but did not do so is ignored. Lincoln also makes a case that a contract entered into by several parties can not be separately voided by some of them without the consent of the others. Hmmm. Business contracts always, in my experience, contain the terms of their dissolution. This one did not and so he argues that it is not legal for some of the states to dissolve that contract. It is evident that he was a business lawyer.
– He says that force will not be used against the seceded states unless the seceded states "interfere with" the property of the US Government. Presumably he means military and naval bases, post offices, customs offices, etc. He puts it that way because he evidently saw himself as the legal custodian of the goods of the federal government, the "chief magistrate" as he puts it.
– He also says that the Constitution contains no guidance as to the disposition of the jointly owned property possessed by the states as a whole. He means the results of the "Louisiana Purchase" and the War with Mexico. Once again, the lawyer in him is assigning ownership rights.
Taken as a whole it is a remarkably moderate document, much different in tone from his second inaugural, "yea verily the Lord is Just, etc." (paraphrase). I am not surprised that the builders of the memorial preferred the later speech. Lincoln is revealed in this speech as a practical politician, a man who abhorred the institution of slavery, but was not willing to fight over it or see the country torn apart over it.
I sense somehow that President-elect Obama is somewhat like Lincoln, a man of principle, but not foolishly so. That is a good thing. pl