The Imaginary Abe
Harry Jaffa says Jack Kemp and I have been conducting an uncivil
A Reply to Harry Jaffa's In Re Jack Kemp v. Joe Sobran
by Joseph Sobran
Declaration of Independence.
What, exactly, did the
free and independent states. Now in 1776 and long afterward, a state was by definition free, independent, and sovereign. If it formed a confederacy with other states, it could withdraw secede reassert its independence at any time, because a confederacy was, again by definition, a voluntary association of sovereigns. And the Declaration said nothing about a Union, or as Lincoln later put it, a new nation.
Constitution, older even than the states. How could a union of things be older than the very things it
was a union of? Isn't that a bit like saying that a marriage is older than either spouse?
right of secession during the Mexican War, but never mind. He came up with a fine and convenient distinction between a revolutionary and a constitutional right of secession.)
enjoyed its independence not only of Britain, but of the other states.
settle for recognition of the United States in the aggregate.
Note that the Constitution always speaks of the
Perhaps a Straussian analysis will
The Constitution says nothing about
Constitution. As a matter of fact, the longer I study Lincoln, the more I am convinced that he was simply ignorant of the greatest body of American political thought; I seriously doubt that he ever read even The Federalist Papers. If he did, he never assimilated their thinking about the problems of confederation,
consolidation, usurpation, and the like. Jefferson Davis was steeped in these ideas and completely mastered them, as his memoirs show. Lincoln, however, couldn't have carried on an intelligent conversation with Madison, Hamilton, or his hero Jefferson (whose Kentucky Resolutions he also seems ignorant of).
simplistic nationalist ideology.
Jaffa tries to make Lincoln sound like an
Confederacy; I think it was foolish to secede when it did, though it was fully within its rights. The point is that Lincolns war deprived all the states of their ultimate defense against federal tyranny and usurpation. Since
1865 the federal government has had little to fear from the states, and it has steadily usurped their reserved powers without much opposition and with total impunity.
To my mind, the most egregious case was the
states. This amounts to an admission that it was Jefferson Davis, not Lincoln, who was fighting to preserve the Constitution.
launched a bloody war against the South, violating the Constitution he'd sworn to uphold. Well, I can't help it if I remind Jaffa of such folks, any more than he can help it if he reminds me of a desperate Trotskyite defending true Communism against Stalin's betrayal. The carnage of the Civil War (620,000 deaths) was wildly disproportionate to that of Fort Sumter (one horse was killed).
constitutional abstractions carry little weight; all they want to know is, 'Who started it?' Firing the first shot makes you look like the aggressor in the eyes of the masses. Both sides understood this well enough, but
Davis committed a terrible mistake by letting Lincoln maneuver him into shooting first. Nobody was killed (except the aforementioned horse), but the North went mad with war fever.
So much for secession. Now for what Jaffa
must know better. He refers to his 1959 book Crisis of the House Divided, "a book Sobran once knew well, and once spoke of with great approval. In it I explained that Douglas's strategy was to identify Lincoln with abolitionists, the most radical, and radically unpopular, of those in the antislavery coalition. Lincoln's disavowal of abolitionism was absolutely necessary to his political survival in the climate of opinion of Illinois
voters in the 1850s. To have failed to make such disavowals would simply have disqualified him as a political leader of the antislavery cause. Sobran knows this, and his present use of these quotations is simply disingenuous."
Not exactly. I've never read that book
Lincoln didn't just disavow
Lincoln always supported the fugitive slave
colonization encouraging free Negroes to return to their native clime, Africa. They were Africa's lost children, and restoring them to their homeland would be a glorious consummation of the misfortune of slavery in America. If it could be accomplished, Lincoln thought it would be remembered as one of Clay's greatest services to his country and his kind. Later he would settle for sending them to a tropical climate in the Western Hemisphere, always provided it was outside the United States.
his native clime. He wasn't seeking office yet. He simply believed what he said -- that God made us separate.
During his 1858 debates with Douglas, Lincoln
physical difference between the races as sufficient reason why they could never live together on equal terms.
Far from being a campaign ploy, colonization
hope but a practical project.
As president, even as the Civil War raged,
accompanied by colonization to South America. He pledged to pursue colonization in his preliminary draft of the Emancipation Proclamation. He invited a delegation of free Negroes to the White House, where, citing the physical difference again, he exhorted them to lead their people in a mass migration to Panama, where they could support themselves by mining coal.
I trust that by now its obvious to
is a wholly imaginary being. The Mythic Lincoln, sent down to earth from heaven to vanquish not only slavery but racial prejudice and inequality, cant long survive the publication of Lerone Bennett Jr.'s Forced into Glory: Abraham Lincoln's White Dream. Bennett adduces a thousand facts that show why serious abolitionists derided Lincoln as the Slave-Hound from Illinois; I have cited only a few salient details.
Jaffa insinuates that anyone who quotes the
Actually, Lincoln had a double purpose: to
Lincoln wound up performing two of the most
only, out of necessity, fooling lesser men who were not yet prepared for the full blaze of his divine truth. He always remained, in his pure essence, uncompromised. If he sometimes said unseemly things about the very people he had been appointed to deliver from bondage, he didn't really mean them. He couldn't have meant them. And shame on those who say he did mean them.
This is the Mythic Lincoln; Harry
as well. In his prize-laden book Lincoln at Gettysburg, Garry Wills dismisses Lincolns belittling remarks about Negroes as accommodations to the prejudice of his time and makes not a single mention of Lincoln's desire to ship the dark people abroad.
This is the man I will present in King
concrete human being who, for some reason, never allowed his children to meet their grandfather. The Mythic Lincoln is open and universal, with nothing to hide: the real Lincoln was secretive, reticent,
shut-mouthed. The Mythic Lincoln quoted Scripture and talked like the King James Bible: the real Lincoln could never bring himself to believe. The Mythic Lincoln detested cruelty and violence: the real Lincoln accepted 620,000 deaths, to save an ill-defined Union.