Remembering the Emancipator in Fond du Lac

Last night the Fond du Lac County Republican Party held its annual Celebration of Lincoln Dinner at the local Holiday Inn, where we enjoyed some great speeches by Judge Annette Ziegler, Attorney General JB Van Hollen, and Owen Robinson, who made at least a couple elected Republicans in the audience squirm with his unapologetic call for authentic conservatism from our party (always a plus!).

We also remembered that yes, Virginia, Abraham Lincoln was, in fact, a conservative in a series of three speeches delivered by local Republicans, which I’d like to share with you:

Lincoln on the Constitution (delivered by me)

Today’s Left claims it should be obvious that our Founding Fathers intended our Constitution to be a living, malleable document. It wasn’t obvious to Abraham Lincoln. In fact, Lincoln explicitly rejected that view. “Our safety, our liberty, depends upon preserving the Constitution of the United States as our fathers made it inviolate,” the President said. “The people of the United States are the rightful masters of both Congress and the Courts, not to overthrow the Constitution, but to overthrow the men who pervert the Constitution.” He warned his countrymen: “Don’t interfere with anything in the Constitution. That must be maintained, for it is the only safeguard of our liberties.”

Lincoln had direct experience with matters of constitutional interpretation; he was known on the national stage when the Supreme Court’s Dred Scott decision reinforced the notion that black men were property. Taking exception to the Roe v. Wade of his day, Lincoln responded to Chief Justice Roger Taney’s majority opinion on June 26, 1857. “We think the Dred Scott decision is erroneous. We know the court that made it has often overruled its own decisions, and we shall do what we can to have it overrule this.” He rejected Taney’s assertion “that negroes were no part of the people who made, or for whom was made, the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution…in five of the thirteen States—to wit, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, and North Carolina—free negroes were voters, and in proportion to their numbers had the same part in making the Constitution that the white people had.” The future president next took his day’s judicial activists to task: “[In the beginning] our Declaration of Independence was held sacred by all, and thought to include all; but now, to aid in making the bondage of the negro universal and eternal, it is assailed and sneered at, and construed, and hawked at, and torn, till, if its framers could rise from their graves, they could not at all recognize it.” In Lincoln’s eyes, the Court made a “mere wreck and mangled ruin” of “our once glorious Constitution.”

Needless to say, he read the document differently. “The assertion that ‘all men are created equal’ was of no practical use in effecting our separation from Great Britain and it was placed in the Declaration not for that, but for future use…it was that which gave promise that in due time the weights would be lifted from the shoulders of all men, and that all should have an equal chance.”

Like today’s conservatives, Abraham Lincoln boldly stood against those who sought to corrupt the Founding Father’s original intentions. He warned America that “if the policy of the Government upon vital questions affecting the whole people is to be irrevocably fixed by decisions of the Supreme Court…the people will have ceased to be their own rulers, having resigned their Government into the hands of the eminent tribunal.” In doing this, he set a standard for his Republican Party to follow. It has with men like Justices Scalia, Thomas and Rehnquist; and hopefully will continue into the future.

Lincoln’s Faith (delivered by Viola Sheppard)

Scarcely a day goes by without another critique of the “Religious Right.” Today President George W. Bush is accused of making decisions solely because Jesus tells him to, and we are constantly warned that social conservatives threaten the “separation of church & state.” Fortunately, our current president can be reassured that he stands in good company—Abraham Lincoln was every bit as religious, and even more explicit.

On August 15, 1846, Lincoln clarified his faith for the Illinois Gazette: “That I am not a member of any Christian Church, is true; but I have never denied the truth of the Scriptures…I do not think I could, myself, be brought to support a man for office whom I knew to be an open enemy of, and scoffer at religion.” It is easy to understand Lincoln’s strength of character when we know how heavily he relied on a higher power. He told biographer Noah Brooks that “I have been driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go. My own wisdom, and that of all about me, seemed insufficient for the day.”

Lincoln brought God with him to the presidency. As he left Springfield, Illinois for Washington, DC, he told an audience that “Without the assistance of that Divine Being…I cannot succeed. With that assistance, I cannot fail.” If they lived in the mid-1800s, surely President Bush’s secular foes would cringe at the way Lincoln saw himself and his position “as an instrument of Providence,” who had an “earnest desire to know the will of providence…And if I can learn what it is, I will do it.” Lincoln understood what Jefferson enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, what the Framers before him knew to be true: “Our reliance is in the love of liberty which God has planted in us. Our defense is the spirit which prized liberty as the heritage of all men, in all lands everywhere. Destroy this spirit and you have planted the seeds of despotism at your own doors.” It was this long-established understanding of freedom, as God’s gift to humanity, which led the President to view slavery as “degeneracy” for which he called upon Americans to “pray for [God’s] mercy…that the inestimable boon of civil & religious liberty, earned under His guidance and blessing by the labors and sufferings of our fathers, may be restored.” It was this faith that drove his Herculean efforts to unite America, to continue on in the midst of war.

The depth of Lincoln’s faith was expressed in his last words to his wife that fateful night at Ford’s Theatre. Mary Todd Lincoln recalled that her husband “said he wanted to visit the Holy Land and see the places hallowed by the footprints of the Savior. He was saying there was no city he so much desired to see as Jerusalem.” John Wilkes Booth’s bullet struck a moment later, and the First Lady mournfully noted “the soul of the great and good President was carried by the angels to the New Jerusalem above.” In his April 24, 1865 memorial address, Speaker of the House Schuyler Colfax fittingly noted: “The last act of Congress ever signed by [the President] was one requiring that the motto, in which he sincerely believed, “In God We Trust,” should hereafter be inscribed upon all our national coin.”

During a time that tried America like no other, our nation was blessed to have such a morally-certain leader. We must thank God for Lincoln’s crucial placement in history, and, in today’s war, take heart in his example. Abraham Lincoln never forgot that our God-given liberty was worthy of our blood, sweat & tears. Neither can we.

Lincoln’s Conservative Values (delivered by Laura Eckhart)

It’s no secret that today’s youth aren’t learning history properly, and President Lincoln is one of the many casualties of historical revision. For instance, in a piece titled “What Lincoln Foresaw,” University of California professor Rick Crawford cites a letter the president supposedly sent to Colonel William Elkins, which reads: “I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country…” What great evil did Lincoln “predict?” Capitalism. “Corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow…These capitalists generally act harmoniously and in concert to fleece the people.”

In fact, this letter is a forgery. It surfaced in 1888, and John Nicolay, one of Lincoln’s White House secretaries, actively worked to refute it. The real Abraham Lincoln rejected socialism and class warfare. He told the New York Workingman’s Democratic Republican Association, on March 21, 1864, that “Property…is a positive good in the world. That some should be rich shows that others may become rich, and hence is just encouragement to industry and enterprise…Let not him who is homeless pull down the house of another, but let him work diligently and build one for himself, thus by example assuring that his own shall be safe from violence when built.”

If President Lincoln’s words tell us anything, they tell us that he would certainly have far more in common with the Right than the Left. On March 9, 1832, discussing the importance of education, he said “That every man may receive at least, a moderate education, and thereby be enabled to read the histories of his own and other countries, by which he may duly appreciate the value of our free institutions, appears to be an object of vital importance.” Lincoln’s view stands in stark contrast to today’s universities, which teach resentment, not appreciation, of America’s institutions. Lincoln understood that “the philosophy of the school room in one generation will be the philosophy of government in the next,” so he would be disheartened to see how classroom indoctrination takes advantage of that reality today.

Lincoln didn’t appreciate moral relativism, either. “Important principles may, and must, be inflexible,” he said. And subjective truth? “How many legs does a dog have if you call the tail a leg?” he asked. “Four. Calling a tail a leg doesn’t make it a leg.” When combating media bias, conservatives should remember Lincoln’s belief that “If given the truth, [the people] can be depended upon…the great point is to bring them the real facts.” Would the president have approved of today’s litigation culture characterized by Senator John Edwards? Doubtful; in the July 1, 1850 “Notes for a Law Lecture,” he urged: “Never stir up litigation. A worse man can scarcely be found than one who does this. Who can be more nearly a fiend than he who habitually overhauls the register of deeds in search of defects, whereon to stir up strife, and put money in his pocket?…resolve to be honest in all events, and if in your own judgment you cannot be an honest lawyer, resolve to be honest without being a lawyer.”

On matters of war and peace, there’s little doubt that Lincoln would urge perseverance in today’s War on Terror. President George W. Bush has said that we didn’t ask for this war, but we’ll wage it rather than surrender. Echoing that understanding, President Lincoln said the following in his Inaugural Address: “Both parties depreciated war; but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive; and one would accept war rather than let it perish.” Lincoln knew he had to keep fighting the Civil War: “I expect to maintain this contest until successful, or till I die, or am conquered, or my term expires, or Congress or the country forsakes me…” he told Secretary of State William Seward.

The conservative values of the Republican Party have a long, proud heritage, and they work. It was principled, common-sense American conservatism that led Abraham Lincoln through national threat and strife, and into the ranks of history’s finest.

(If anybody’s interested in the research behind these speeches, I used
The Words of Abraham Lincoln, America’s God & Country Encyclopedia of Quotations, and Abraham Lincoln Online.)
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6 thoughts on “Remembering the Emancipator in Fond du Lac

  1. Calvin,Thanks for a great job last night.It was great to see everyone again. Your speeches were terrific. Also, congrats on a wonderful new blog site. Take it to college – keep it up ! 🙂charley (Mr. Olbroad)

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  2. Abraham Lincoln Quote:“I will say then that I am not, nor ever have been in favor of bringing about in anyway the social and political equality of the white and black races – that I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race. I say upon this occasion I do not perceive that because the white man is to have the superior position the negro should be denied everything.”Great role model, kid!

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