Thoughts on Charlottesville

The David was also a very controversial monument in its day. The greatest explanation is that it is a rebuke of the Medici family and an assertion of the strength of the people in the face of tyranny. Where David represented the everyman, the underdog, and the slayer of the giant, the rich and empowered Medici could be tied to Goliath who was overpowered by the man with hidden strength and intelligence. A statue of Hercules was later erected to sit beside David outside the Medici palace as a message that brute strength rightfully rules


This all started because someone decided to cave and attempt to erase history. History is not for us to love or hate, but to learn from in order that we not repeat the mistakes of the past. So that we be better, wiser, and more prosperous than our fathers before us. Attempting to erase the past will only erase truth as well as our capacity to grapple with it and become wiser in order that we not repeat it.

America is founded upon certain principles. These principles are what Lincoln called the “sheet anchor of American Republicanism”. These principles, although we neglect to recognize it, are our “philosophical cause”, as Lincoln put it. In other words, they brought all other thoughts of America into being. In regimes past, you see, citizens were not free to dispute certain individual principles publicly or politically: it was illegal and punishable by death to go against the word of the representative body or the crown. America’s proclamation that individuals had certain inalienable rights, such as that of speech and demonstration, put an end to this understanding of rule. The Declaration of Independence thereby reversed the role of government and governed and made the ruling body subject to the words and orders of the people rather than vice versa. Because this “philosophical cause” gave weight and expression to all other ideas about American democracy and representative justice, Lincoln understood this philosophical cause as “entwining itself more closely about the HUMAN heart”. In other words, Liberty was something that we could all agree on. I argue that this should therefore be our spring board for civil discourse: it should be understood that this is what we all have in common.

What gave way to the Charlottesville “riots” is a demon that has been brooding in the heart of America and in Americans. It is a spirit much too maniacal to be considered “partisan”, as many have called it. I understand this demon as a depreciation of our capacity to grasp this common understanding of a “philosophical cause” which results in a neglect of an understanding of the common dignity of man. What follows from this understanding of the dignity of man is a certain sense of civility requisite for civil discourse and real self-government.We have lost this understanding, as we have lost what brings it into being. In order to understand our own dignity and the dignity of our fellow man, we have to understand, As Madison once told us, that all men are not angels, else there would be no need of civil government in the first place.

Our forgetting that men cannot become angels has brought us to Charlottesville, or at least the events that led to Charlottesville: the tearing down of General Lee’s statue. Why do we want to tear down monuments? Simply because we believe that we are better than those of the past merely by our existing in a time set apart from that of theirs. Because they can no longer defend themselves we tear them down in order to exalt ourselves. We do not do the due diligence of learning from them, and in turn learning of ourselves and educating our children in matters of right or wrong in order that they may rise to the level of wisdom and equality for good self-government, but rather we hide them from the truth because often the truth elicits some ugliness. We want to destroy all that is flawed in the world so our children do not witness it and we no longer have to bear it. We do this all the while neglecting to understand that we ourselves are flawed and the logical consequence of our destruction of the past and its monuments is a decimation of ourselves.

As for the technicalities of the Charlottesville tragedy, those who were protesting the tearing down of Lee’s statue had gotten a legal permit to exercise their first amendment rights from the local government. They had followed the proper regulations in order to exercise legal rights. We may dislike them, but their rally was lawful. Contrary to their position, the word went out for a counter-protest to occur which included groups from a different side of the political spectrum. What should have happened is that these two groups should have been kept miles apart. I do not understand why any local law enforcement agency would allow these two groups close proximity.

I do not wish to criticize either group, wrong as I think they each are. We have gotten into the habit of criticizing groups of people in this country, and that is very wrong. If we are to understand Liberty in order that we foster it we must begin to judge individuals with the dignity due to individuals. We must begin to understand that demonizing our opponents as if they are packs of wolves has gotten us nowhere, that both parties have suffered greatly from the onslaught lain at their doors by their opposition, and that justice and self-government, liberty and the safeguarding of individuals rights, is not a zero sum game. If one group loses, then we all lose. If you cut your neighbor down, then your conscience and sense of dignity suffers.

So how are we to understand one another? I am always apprehensive to write about contemporary politics. It is too ugly and complex, and therefore I refrain from passing judgment all too quickly. As Lincoln once said, “Better to stay silent and be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt”. I prefer beautiful things that lift people up to sad news that diminishes my respect for “this last best hope” for freedom.

So I turned to Moby Dick, as I always find myself doing.

“Men may seem detestable as joint stock companies and nations; knaves, fools, and murderers there may be; men may have mean and meagre faces; but man, in the ideal, is so noble and so sparkling, such and grand and glowing creature, that over any ignominious blemish in him all his fellows should run to throw their costliest robes. That immaculate manliness we feel within ourselves, so far within us, that it remains intact though all the outer character seem gone; bleeds with keenest anguish at the undraped spectacle of a valor-ruined man. Nor can piety itself, at such a shameful sight, completely stifle her upbraidings against the permitting stars. But this august dignity I treat of, is not the dignity of kings and robes, but that abounding dignity which has no robed investiture. Thou shalt see it shining in the arm that wields a pick or drives a spike; that democratic dignity which, on all hands, radiates without end from God; Himself! The great God absolute! The centre and circumference of all democracy! His omnipresence our divine equality!” 

A few paragraphs ago I pointed to history as a tool for teaching our children so that they may “rise to the level of equality requisite for self-government”. Although a peculiar phrase, I used it intentionally. I used it with my students just as my mentor Peter Schramm used it with myself and my fellow Ashbrooks. Melville and Peter could agree on this, I like to think: we are all born with a certain sense of dignity, being human and naturally free. We have great capacity and all the gifts that “radiate without end from God”; however, it is so very easy to slip up, to lose our privilege of practicing those rights which our forefathers have secured for us. I use the phrase “rising to the level of equality” because it is so easy to lose the privileges that come with the dignity that we are born with. Rising to equality means becoming strong and wise enough to make prudent choices that bolster our ability to practice freedom rather than making the choices that detract from the proper use of our freedom. Abuses of power and imprudent governance makes freedom falter just as we make the choice to limit our freedom when we commit injustices such as murder or theft. Although we like to believe that our natural dignity entitles us to certain privileges and freedoms, history teaches us otherwise. Millions of people before us have made mistakes in governing themselves and have lost the prosperity that their forebearers had worked so diligently to pass down. Although we like to believe freedom is promised, human history speaks to us of a perpetual endeavor not only to reach freedom, but to keep it. Benjamin Franklin famously declared that the founders had given us “A Republic, if you can keep it”. What Franklin, a student of history and a world traveller, understood was that it was much more difficult to keep the rights that our founding secured for us than it was to sign a document declaring that those rights were just.

But notice what Melville proscribes for the keeping of dignity. He claims that it is proprietous for good men to throw their “costliest robes” over the valor ruined. Although it is our impulse to rebuke the unjust, to point fingers and prove to the world that we are right when others are in the wrong, where has this gotten us? I hope and pray that we understand that it takes a community of robe throwers for men to rise to the level of equality and wisdom necessary to promote justice and the good. I pray that one day we will be wise enough to understand the blessings of union and the future felicity that compromise and selflessness have in store for those who can endure the pain of refraining from telling the entire world that they are right and the other side is wrong. I can promise you, that the world will not listen however loud you may proclaim.

This statue of Lincoln was found vandalized on August 16th, in the wake of the Charlottesville tragedy. Let us not fight fire with fire. 


The Innovation Schools Deserve


Image result for 1950s school

School is no longer about education. From 2004 to 2016 teachers’ unions provided political endorsement that has grown from $4.3 million dollars to an all-time high $32 million. While their aims are peddled as what is best for schools and classrooms, teachers unions contributions have ramped up school budgets and made innovation in the classroom less dynamic. Their solutions do not address the problem that our modes are outdated. In 2013 the US collectively spent over $620 billion on public and secondary schools, numbering at around $10,700 per pupil. Education spending has nearly quadrupled since 1984, reaching upwards of $67 billion in 2014 while showing virtually no quantifiable results in eighth to twelfth grade reading proficiency and math scores. Admitting that the current system is broken and that we are merely average in world education today would force us to radically change the school system, so we refuse to do what is best for our kids and our country; however, there are a plethora of innovations that can and should be adopted by states and school districts immediately.


If you had spoken to a teacher at the end of the previous school year, you would have heard the woes of the fidget spinner. It was an epidemic sweeping classrooms throughout the nation, akin to the water bottle flipping fiasco of 2014-15, and it was a result of our students seeking to distract themselves. It is unnatural that our students do not want to learn. All human beings desire to understand the world surrounding them, but when students are wasting their time with test preparation they begin to believe that education is not worthwhile. The first innovation that our schools need is that our curriculum must become richer and more personal. National and state standards cannot address this, nor can educational experts or additional funding. Education can only be made interesting by good books and good teachers. We must allow students to read books that have stood the test of time, and we must have passionate teachers teaching those books. Our teachers must prove to our students that they are involved in an ongoing conversation with great minds throughout history. Computers and worksheets cannot provide this conversation, and arbitrary standards imposed by the state deter students from realizing that education is, after all, for their own benefit.


The school day and school week needs to become shorter and more dynamic. No university in the country forces students to sit in a building for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week. There is no reason for high schools to so wastefully use time other than that the schedule is more accommodating for parents, and it is what the school day has looked like historically. Most states mandate that schools are in session 180 days of the year, and the average school day must be around 6 hours. It is little wonder that students wish to spin fidgets rather than learn: if the work is too rigorous they are worn out, and if the curriculum is too simple they become bored. Keep in mind that most classrooms are filled with students from any educational background. This makes it difficult for teachers to calibrate the rigor within the classroom to the needs of both the more advanced students and the weaker students. Advanced Placement classes have tried to remediate this deficiency, but they do not allow students the flexibility that they have merited; they provide the rigor without peaking their interest. What states should do is provide a more flexible environment for students who want to experience substantive work outside of school so that they may gain a taste of the real world and what they wish to do beyond high school; however, the high school schedule only provides students the time to work menial jobs after school hours. What the students miss out on is the opportunity to gain real world experience and learn about what they wish to specialize in for the rest of their lives.


The same is true for teachers: they need to be given flexibility. Although teachers unions are partially to blame for their defense of bad teachers, a plethora of studies show that millennials leave the teaching profession within five years of entrance. What teachers need is the flexibility to sharpen their academic gifts. While most businesses provide opportunities for development of low level entrants, our education system leaves teachers dead in the water within their first few years. Teachers should act as life-long learners who steward their pupils to pursue wisdom, but as teachers lack the time to pursue additional development themselves the discipline becomes stale through a lack of incentives.


Studies show that what fulfils teachers is appreciation, not money. Teachers need to be appreciated more and this begins with making school an extension of the home. Teachers face pressure from national and state standards, but also from administrators and parents. This detracts from what is done in the classroom and the critical voices often ring louder than the appreciative ones. Parents are too quick to blame the teacher when their child underperforms; however, it is difficult to blame them when high school achievement seems to set the path for the remainder of their child’s life. There must be more communication between parents and teachers, and parents need to take a stake in the education of their children. This begins with creating a partnership between families and schools; however this is incredibly difficult when teachers have so much on their plates. If the school week was shortened, teachers would have the flexibility to communicate effectively with families and provide one on one support with kids; schools could even facilitate such a program. Education should not only be about knowledge, but about wisdom. This means that a true educator must mentor pupils outside of the classroom as well as within it. This is not possible with given the amount of standards and regulations imposed on teachers. We have made it all but impossible for good teachers to go the extra mile.


Our school system was devised to meet the economic imperatives of the industrial revolution; since the conception of this school model, we have lacked innovation to fit the needs of the given day. It is high time that we take interest in the needs of education today, and tailor the school system to deliver what is necessary for students to succeed.

“You Can’t Die if You Don’t Give Up”

So now it was all over, he thought. So now he would never have a chance to finish it. So this way the way it ended, in a bickering over a drink. Since the gangrene started in his right leg he had no pain and with the pain the horror had gone and all he felt now was a great tiredness and anger that this was the end of it. For this, that now was coming, he had very little curiosity. For years it had obsessed him; but now it meant nothing in itself. It was strange how easy being tired enough made it. 

He was nineteen days shy of his sixty second birthday: prematurely old, multidiseased, mentally bewildered, delusional, slurred of speech, in exile from Cuba, from the Stream, unable to compose so much as one true sentence a day, or so he’d wept on a sofa in his living room. Is it any wonder the most imitated writer of the twentieth century rose sometime after seven o’clock that morning, moved past the master bedroom where his wife was sleeping, padded down the carpeted stairs, crossed the length of the living room to the kitchen, retrieved the key to the locked storeroom where the weapons were, went down to the basement, took shells from his ammo box, closed and relocked the door, came back upstairs, walked ten steps to the front-entry foyer, opened the foyer door, stepped inside, placed the butt of the gun on the linoleum tile, tore open the breech, slammed in the cartridges, snapped it shut, bent over, rested his forehead against the blue steel, and blew away his entire cranial vault with the double-barreled, 12-gauge Boss shotgun with which he once shot pigeons?

There are plenty of things for which you can criticize Ernest Hemingway. You can call him a coward for taking his own life, and you can point to Zelda Fitzgerald’s account of his making a pass at her in an alleyway one drunken night. Many have pointed out that his code-hero is simply an affirmation and vindication of his own machismo character, and many have argued that there is nothing creative about his work: that it is merely a retelling of events that indeed happened in Paris and in Pamplona. However, all this would be to miss the most important point of Hemingway’s contribution to American literature, and this would be to dismiss the aim of good writing.

Hemingway’s most widely read work, and perhaps his most tired, is The Old Man and the Sea. Of that work, Papa once said “There isn’t any symbolism. The sea is the sea. The old man is the old man. The boy is a boy and the fish is a fish. The sharks are sharks, no better, no worse.” Despite the criticism of his simplicity, Ernest Hemingway’s stories still endure because they touch what is all too human: failure in endeavor, and failure in self-redemption. Hemingway was able to produce work that was honest to his own life and his own vice, and this resonates with readers who are too weak to be honest with themselves about their own failures and their inability to white-wash those failures. Hemingway’s stories are the simplest of stories because they are the truest of stories, and they touch what is truest about ourselves; this is what most readers of Hemingway are too weak to confront, that his stories mimic the human fallen-ness that is too evident to all of us.

No story shows Hemingway’s confrontation and confession more so than The Snows of Kilimanjaro. Snows is the story of a man named Harry on safari in Africa with his rich wife. Harry is a writer who believes that he has become impotent as he has lived off of his wife’s wealth. Because he has become weakened by the life of luxury provided by his wife, when he becomes afflicted with gangrene in a cut on his leg he begins to distance himself from his beloved even blaming her for his demise as a writer and his belief that he “would never write the things that he had saved to write until he knew enough to write them well”.

The story is a reflection on the life of a writer and his suffering; of his inability to express those truths that “Maybe you could never write… and that was why you put them off and delayed the starting”. What is striking is that Harry has given up: he believes that he is going to die and there is no fighting it. Meanwhile, his wife holds out hope for his survival, telling him “You can’t die if you don’t give up”. Harry responds “Where did you read that? You’re such a bloody fool”. He treats of his death as an imminently practical matter, whereas his wife looks to the metaphysical. While she asks “What have we done to have that happen to us?”, Harry responds “I suppose what I did was to forget to put iodine on it when I first scratched it”.

There are threads that run through this story and provide its depth. On one hand you confront the difficulties of marriage. Hemingway provides a power struggle between his code-hero husband and wife. There is the bickering about Harry’s purported “giving up” and the way in which his readiness for death will affect his wife. On a much deeper level, we see Harry bickering with himself through flashbacks, internally confronting his own insecurity and fears of death while providing false strength in regard to his impending death.

But what we receive through the depths of this text is some knowledge that what is most important is out of both Harry and his wife’s control. Although Harry believes that he is already dead, he has hope that is above and beyond him despite his recognition of that hope toward which he may grasp. Harry reflects, “He had had his life and it was over and then he went on living it again with different people and more money, with the best of the same places, and some new ones”. You see, just as Hemingway believed that his life has ended as he no longer had the ability to write the things that he once wrote, Harry believes that his life has ended because he has given up the opportunity to write by marrying his wife. What he doesn’t realize is that what he subconsciously confronts in his reflections throughout the story: that his life contains the properties of a life well lived, if he could just make good of these properties. Most readers rebuke Harry for beating up his wife, which is understandable, but my reading is that Harry’s verbal abuse of his wife stems from his inability to see good in himself. He verbally attacks her in order to confirm his control over his own life, despite his understanding all the while that he has lost control. What must be understood by Harry and Hemingway alike is that salvation is not to be found in fame and writing; that one cannot redeem himself through the product of efforts on this Earth, and that honor is something above and beyond the individual endeavor or accomplishment. Hemingway struggled with this his entire life, and Harry never approached it.

The story has a double edged ending. Harry lies in his cot after dinner with his wife as he drifts to sleep. He has a dream that he has been rescued. Harry ascends and sees the square top of Kilimanjaro, and “he knew that there was where he was going”. This recalls the opening description of Kilimanjaro as “the highest mountain in Africa. Its western summit is called the Masai, the House of God. Close to the western summit is the dried and frozen carcass of a leopard. No one has explained what the leopard was seeking at that altitude”. However, Harry’s dream is interrupted as his wife wakes to the laughing of a Hyena and witnesses her husband dead in the night. Undoubtedly, Harry’s reflection points that he is assured that he is that leopard climbing toward the House of God. Nevertheless, the reality is not so. Helen wakes and is still haunted by her husband’s death and the cackling of the hyena that accompanies that death. The great question that the reader is left with is the same one that we all confront: does the man who acts viciously in times of despair reach the House of God, and is his vice pardoned in death?

Harry’s true failure is being like that leopard of whom no one knows what he is seeking. He reflects, “You kept from thinking and it was marvellous. You were equipped with good insides so that you did not go to pieces that way, the way most of them had, and you made an attitude that you cared nothing for the work you used to do, now that you could no longer do it”. Because Harry hides all that is internal for fear of being perceived weak, he neglects the opportunity to lead a life of honest. If Ernest Hemingway’s birthday warrants one lesson, it must be that we ought not worship false idols and sirens singing the psalms of temporal fulfillment. This is a lesson that we as Americans are in such deep need of, and it is fitting and proper that Papa provides this insight for all of us in which we often take for granted that which is most important.








Chapter 1: I Guess I Named Myself

Cornelius Sheridan Dare Postell. Wouldn’t that have been a hell of a thing to go by? The day that I was born my Uncle said “He will always be Bob to me”.

The tale that was told me was my uncle Frank Smith come in the morning I was born and heard that name. He always did his business on a Sunday. He asked, “What’d ya name him?”

“Hoho!” He laughed “He’ll always be Bob to me!”

That name stuck. So when I went into the Navy that was the name I put in: “Bob Postell”.

But the recruiter said that was just a nickname. I said “No… It’s not a nickname. I was named Bob”.

He said “That’s not a full name- you’re going to have to go by Robert”.

I complied because at the time that was all there was to do. There was no fighting it. So I’ve always signed my checks “Robert S. Postell”. It is the deal between what I was given and what I took; what the Navy give me and what I refused to give them.

I always said that I’ve named myself.

In school I went by Deacon. I always went to Sunday school because Pop always made us go. I had a friend who was named Bob Bryner and he was a Jehovah’s Witness. His folks had me over for dinner one night and his mother asked me when I would go with him to “class”. You see, they always called church “class”.

I replied “I’ll come with him to class when he decides to come to the Baptist church with me!”

Oh boy, did that go over bad!

So that’s when I hung the nickname “Baptist” on him. From that point on I was known as the “Deacon” among us boys. Old Dale Ward was “Cedrick”, Rolly was “Rolo”. And then there was old Carol Reams who we called “Dutch”; he was a really good friend of mine.

We started nicknaming one another early on. It was a way of knowing who we were, and that is what that Navy recruiter couldn’t understand. He couldn’t understand how deeply American it was because, rather than his own self-reliance, his obedience to the Naval order defined his American-ness. There is nothin’ more American than naming yourself. There is nothin’ more American than defining who you are and what you will be.


This is the story of my grandfather, my hero. He is an Ohioan who served in the Navy in World War II. He is extremely conscious of becoming too elaborate in his story-telling and when he heard that I had recorded him the first thing he said was “It wasn’t any braggin’ in there was it?”. He always defines these stories as “most of ‘em funny”. Every time he tells me stories he reveals that of which he is most proud saying, “I’ve had a good life, Sammy”.

He also reveals that which he wishes to be remembered by. He fathered three children with the same wife. He loved my grandmother deeply and faithfully. The first time I ever saw him shed a tear was the night before her funeral. He said “She was my left hand and my heart” and brought the entire room to tears. He wrote her every day when he was away at war while she was working in a factory and taking care of their first born daughter.

However, little of what is within these pages come from the letters. We were able to locate a plethora of pictures, keepsakes, notes, and Naval garb in my grandfather’s house, but only two letters that he had written to my grandmother. His story is that he saw her lighting them on fire because she was “bashful”. In my heart I know that my grandmother was too proud to relive losing him to the war for so long, and she was too “bull-headed” to admit how special they were to her.

The stories herein told are taken from several hours of recording on different occasions of his telling them to my brother and myself. At first, I thought it impossible that he could remember so many stories from as early as the age of eleven, but I have heard these stories on numerous occasions as have a few others. I have talked to others that he has spoken with and the stories are the same each time. He is either being honest or he has memorized lies. You may choose to believe what you wish.

My grandfather’s stories are important because they capture the character of a people and ennoble that character, shedding light upon the goodness of a people who are in great need of ennobling. What his stories capture are a dedication to family, country, and compass. He always put his family first, no matter how difficult, and he never thought a thing of it. He understood that family was the stuff of life. He always loved his country, honored it, and fought for what it stood for, despite the various things about that country that he could choose to hate her for. He always kept in view his own moral compass, never straying from what he thought was right and never backing down when had to fight for what he believed in.

My grandfather is my hero because he embodies what is redeeming about Midwesterners and about Yankees. My grandfather’s story is important because it preserves the character and the habits of a time past and it preserves the history of a time when Americans were dignified without believing themselves so.

The terms “Yankee” and “Midwesterner” that I use to describe my Grandfather ought to be synonymous; however, not all Yankees are Midwesterners and not all Midwesterners are Yankees. Nonetheless, I believe that a Yankee is what a Midwesterner and an American should strive to be.

Outside the United States all Americans are sometimes described as “Yankees”. This includes Southerners. The informal British and Irish English “Yank” refers to Americans in general. It is especially popular among Britons and Australians and sometimes carries pejorative overtones.

Within the United States, “Yankee” usually refers to those of the Midwest and the Northeast. It most precisely identifies those with New England cultural ties and descendants of colonial New Englanders. It is therefore more cultural than geographical. It ties Americans back to the settling of America before the United States became Independent from Great Britain and expanded Westward, allowing the descendants of those settlers to disperse. It recalls the grit and the stern Puritan faith of those who settled along that coast. They later migrated through New York, then Pennsylvania, and finally into Ohio, later dispersing throughout the Midwest in no certain pattern.

Southerners often refer to Northerners as “Yankees”, and this certainly carries a negative connotation. It refers to the nickname of those fighting for the Union side in the American Civil War. The term Yankee implies holding one’s ground, willing to fight in order to “nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best hope of earth”.

Yankees were the ones who migrated North, up the shore of America, and began operating fisheries and running towns. They were the ones who migrated West into what we now understand as the Midwest where they began to create the infrastructure that would later facilitate the industrialization that happened in the north. Because they were the first to define the habits and culture of the place that they inhabited to a great extent they informed the culture and the habits of immigrants who came to work throughout the next two centuries in hopes of becoming Americans. Throughout Industrialization, Yankees began to define themselves by work and work ethic in addition to grit and religion. It is peculiar the way in which a Midwesterner or a Yankee earns money and feels toward that money, especially if he becomes rich. Rich Yankees are different from any other rich men I’ve met.

If the hillbilly happens to become rich it is usually by chance. He takes a risk and stumbles upon wealth, only to expend that wealth quickly, lavishly, and foolishly.

The rich men on the coasts are always old money, or if they are not they feel self conscious that they are not. If their fathers were not rich they are burdened by this almost daily and conceive of a way to manufacture the circumstance of their birth in order to dignify themselves. They are defined by the wealth of their fathers and their fathers’ fathers before them.

Rich men in cities are self-made but often the product of calculated risk. They come to their own demise as a result of that risk, never taking a moment to cherish what they have got while they’ve got it, and never thinking about the provisions for the next day or for their children because they always believe that their industry and talent will provide income.

The Yankee, on the other hand, almost does not believe he has money even if he’s got it. It sometimes seems that he is bashful about having money for concern that he may appear to be reaching beyond his own means and therefore exercising haughtiness, but that is not quite it. The Yankee always deeply understands his past and his future and therefore he understands equality as the capacity of misfortune to bring any man to ruin. He does not feel exempt from the heaves and throws of life simply for having earned a few day’s bread. Even if he becomes rich he feels compelled to toil, often outlasting his necessary work years. The Yankee understands that work and toil define life and a man’s worth. It is almost as if the money is for naught. Even after the Yankee has ceased a life of labor and lives peacefully in retirement, he will conceive of a way to show those around him that he still struggles and works rather than rests. It is almost as if he believes that in giving up a life of labor he gives up life altogether. The Yankee feels self conscious if he is spending lavishly and frivolously and this will weigh on him. He will soon feel that his neighbors mock him and disdain him for breaking the appearance of equality of hardship and the fashion that is work.

This is but a mere sketch of what the Yankee is and what my grandfather has taught me is good within him. My grandfather’s stories should give vividness and expression to this description, and this should serve merely as a framework or reference to the themes throughout the book.

Congressman Arrington: You’re right, George Washington did Set the Standard for Term Limits. But Here’s What you Forgot to Consider.

Congressmen Jodey Arrington and Ro Khanna, a Democrat from California, were the first Members of Congress to jointly introduce bipartisan term limits legislation in the 115th Congress. The legislation would limit members of the U.S. House of Representatives to serving six two-year terms and members of the U.S. Senate to serving two six-year terms. In his piece in Tribtalk, a publication of the Texas Tribune, Arrington, Representative of Texas’ 19th district, investigates the topic of possible congressional term limits. He does so by paralleling congressional terms and the personal arguments set forth in George Washington’s “Farewell Address” for his refusal to run for reelection. He argues that Washington was a “selfless leader”, and we could use more of his kind in the nation’s capital today. He argues that Washington “understood that he needed to set a precedent that even presidents were — first and foremost — American citizens, no greater than anyone else”, and therefore to reaffirm that Congressmen are mere citizens, we should limit their propensity to hold political office for an unreasonable duration. Arrington attempts to accomplish two feats with his proposed bill: he wishes to stick up for democracy as a human good, and he touches on the issue that seems to plague America’s social state today, the large gap between the rich and the poor that makes America seem very undemocratic. The author’s thesis is that “Setting limits on the time politicians can serve in a particular office will not solve all the problems with Washington’s broken culture. However, I believe it will help achieve a much-needed, positive dynamic: more courage to solve the big problems for our country rather than congressional leaders planning their careers and protecting their longevity”. He provides shocking evidence that there is not much turnover in Congress, and eludes to the result of a more aristocratic ruling class wherein the representatives of the people are not checked by the interest of the people. 

However, Arrington confuses two things in his argument for his proposed bill. First, he ignores the natural differences between the executive office and Congress, and therefore does not do justice to Washington’s argument for precedent. And Second, he ignores what many of the other founders understood regarding term-limits and the political laxity that they may proliferate. The office of the President and the duty of a Congressman are very different. Even the differences between houses are very different. In order to Understand this difference all one needs to do is refer to Madison’s notes at the Federal Convention. But these differences between houses still exist today: the Senate is fewer in number and Senators serve longer terms. This is because senators are to play a counterbalancing role to the House. As for a more recent example, in Ben Sasse’s book The Vanishing American Adult, he reveals that he did not take the floor of the Senate until his second year in office because he was learning the ropes. He also reveals that this is decorum: most senators act accordingly. They do not introduce new legislation their first year because they still have much to learn including the wants of their constituents, and how best to further those wants. The goal of the Senator, as Madison points out in Federalist 10, is to serve as an “auxiliary filtration” for “factious passion”. He does so by checking his people and checking others in the nation’s capital in the complementary branch of congress. In other words, the Senator must understand both the government and the people at first. Then, he must understand what is reasonable and good for both in order to urge legislation that leads to a certain harmony between the people of the state and the people of the Union. The Senator is supposed to play a moderating and balancing act, and this takes artfulness and therefore time to master.

What Arrington ignores about Washington is that he did not mean to urge legislation limiting the term of a president, but rather that he was introducing a precedent that would moderate the people from appointing a Caesar. A precedent is different from a law because a law affords the government the authority to punish a transgressor whereas a precedent urges the people to honor a tradition. Washington had the political clout to urge an amendment limiting the terms of presidential office, but he did not do so. The reason was that Washington, like many of the founders, understood that mores and habits rather than laws were necessary for democracy and self-government. Although Arrington wishes to change the situation of congressional reelection, he is remiss in that he ignores what is at the root of reelection woes: low voter turnout and the tendency of the American people to let their political duty slip by the wayside. The bill that Arrington urges would reinforce bad political habits that the founders would scoff at: the habit of the government to rely upon laws alone for good government, and the habit of the people to clamor for laws because they wish to ignore the important and grueling work that is civic duty. Furthermore, Washington did not seek a third election because he did not want to become Caesar, but also very simply because he did not want to become president for a third term. He wanted to return to his family and his farm: he even writes to his wife Martha telling her so as early as 1775. Doubtless, Washington also understood that this was a time of fragility for American self-government and prudence would dictate that he not run again. He had no desire of making a law establishing a term limit that followed his conduct; however, he hoped that future presidents would be prudent enough to follow his political example on their own behest.

In addition to Washington’s disagreement with Arrington’s proposed legislation, various other framers disagrees with him. James Wilson and James Iredell, two early members of The Supreme Court, disagreed with term limits when the Anti-federalists would urge them. But what is most pressing is Alexander Hamilton’s argument in Federalist 72 regarding term limits. Although he is writing about presidential term limits, much of his argument applies unilaterally for representatives of the people. He writes that limiting terms would destroy the incentives for good conduct in office. He writes, “One ill effect of the exclusion would be a diminution of the inducements to good behavior”. In other words, the public official would not only refuse to act well, but he might attempt to act poorly in spite of that government that he is supposed to serve. It is no wonder that rumors of Obama giving large sums of US aid to countries in the middle east like Syria and Iran surfaced directly before the presidential election: the people could not trust that he would do good because he had no reason to. If a congressman was not eligible for reelection what incentive would urge him to serve the public good? Hamilton writes, “Even the love of fame, the ruling passion of the noblest minds” would discourage a president from attempting to accomplish great public goods if he knew that power would change hands before he could conclude his endeavor. This is because he may become jealous of the fame that his predecessor would claim by concluding his project. Additionally, Hamilton argues that the potential of great men would be lost. If they could not aim so highly in public office, He argued, the would become “discontented ghosts”: they would not attempt to accomplish great things for their country because they would begin to believe that they could not due to arbitrary term limits.
In addition to the arguments of the Framers, the Heritage Foundation conducted a study in 2009 to track state-based term limits. They found that there was little change in the efficiency of state governments who instituted term limits for state representatives. The amount of spending did not decrease, nor did the approval ratings of the representatives: everything remained virtually the same. The fact of the matter is that we have more to lose if ambition cannot be exercised in a controlled fashion, over a large period of time, and to our benefit, by our representatives. Hamilton even argues that the way in which we will get Caesars in the presidential office is if great men are withheld from running for another term and the people love them enough to follow them. Their spite for the government that does not serve the interests of the people by putting good men at the helm may be transferred to the people who love them. Although Arrington is right to point to Congress and its operation as a large problem with our nation’s governance, Congressional term limits do not unlock the full potential of citizens hoping to become representatives of the people by providing proper incentives for Congressmen. Additionally, term limits do not provide helpful incentives for checking the ambition of those in office, especially in their later terms. Nor do term limits enlarge civic engagement or foster a thriving political culture. And finally, he gets Washington and the rest of the Founders wrong in his understanding of term limits. Congressman Arrington: If you are interested in arguing for term limits, then your best bet is to rely upon the words of the Anti-Federalists, not of Washington. 


Because you made it all the way to the end: Here’s my favorite painting of George Washington! It is by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris and entitled “The American Cincinnatus”

Image result for george washington cincinnatus


In the middle of an old town in the middle of a grand nation there is a changing light that hangs in the middle of a cross section of two highways that carry old cars off into the horizon to meet the sunset.

An old Model-T has been known to hover over that old blacktop carrying a family to a service early on a Sunday morn as the sun rises in the east and cuts through the low hanging purple clouds.

That same car, summers ago, may have been placed on that same road carrying a corral of hearty young boys raisin Cain on Saturday night fresh off from farm duty. The same damp air that shrouded their bodies in a stuffy hay mow that adorned those bodies with the sweat of a good day’s work now envelops them in an expectant feeling as stars pepper the sky and aftershave stains their loose white collars.

That same crossroads was the place that the town would gather for a parade; lining the sidewalks with lawn chairs and gleaming young faces set wide with teeming young eyes awaiting the moment that sailors in all-whites would cross and firecrackers could be seen atop the two story business buildings that reached toward the heavens with hopes this year of more booms than busts.

Its said that those stars not only shone down to touch light upon the broad shoulders of boys, but they would dance across the sky one time ago as a hopeful courting couple would lay in the dead night’s streets as they claimed those stars with open and hopeful hearts.

Any old one stop light town is jus’ as good as any other, so don’t hold that again’ my story none.


“So costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom”

While the Lincoln Douglas debates are important because they grappled with the slavery question, they are of ongoing importance because the two statesmen debated the boundaries of liberty in a self-governing society. The lessons we learn from Lincoln are enduring, teaching us in an age of increasing ignorance what it means to be a free people capable of self-government. Lincoln’s lessons continue to apply as peace and progress displace the protection of liberty as government’s purpose, andas we the people favor the expedient rather than the just. Early in his career Lincoln vows, “If elected I shall consider the whole people… I shall be governed by their will…”, (Lincoln 57); however, Douglas afforded the people the most direct opportunity to decide upon the slavery question. Nevertheless, Lincoln best understood self-government as he understood that the people must be taught to honor freedom in order to sustain it. Only Lincoln regards the limits on majority rule that make the practice of freedom possible, whereas Douglas understands self-government as the unlimited will of the majority; furthermore, Lincoln, unlike Douglas, recognized that there were two pillars of the American founding, and understood that the right to self-government was derived from and dependent upon the principle of equal inalienable rights.

       Section I: The Compromise of 1850 and the Ongoing Dilemma of Slavery

    Our struggle for popular government is riddled with compromises and concessions. The historical events leading up to the Lincoln/Douglas debates grappled with a dilemma: whether to allow Congress to decide to restrict slavery to where it existed, or whether to allow the people to decide upon the question democratically. In Lincoln’s time, as in ours, many debated whether the founding fathers rejected or supported slavery. Despite their dedication to freedom did they relent their duty to apply their own principles in emancipating their slaves? Or worse, as some argued, did they regard African slaves as less than full persons incapable and undeserving of freedom? The very first attempt to place chattel slavery on the path to extinction was in the Declaration of Independence, and was overruled in order to ensure unity. The first draft of the Declaration, including the phrase “He (The king of Britain) has waged a cruel war against human nature itself…” (Rough Draft of the Declaration) was altered to avoid a principled stance against slavery. In the year 1787 the Northwest Ordinance was passed permitting Congress to declare that the Northwestern states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin became a territory in which slavery should never be permitted. Through the ratification of the Constitution in 1789 the word slave was omitted; however, the three-fifths clause was added surrendering representation of slaves to their masters and considering them less than men, as was Article IV, Section II, providing a provision later purposed as a fugitive slave clause. In 1803, upon the purchase of the Louisiana territory from France, several slave states were carved and the territories were admitted without controversy as slaves already therein resided. The later attempt of Missouri to enter the Union as a slave state was resisted by northern representatives of congress. At last, in 1820, a Missouri Compromise was agreed upon which would concede to Missouri the opportunity to enter as a slave state, so long as within the remaining territory North of 36 degrees and 30 minutes slavery should never be permitted. As more territory was acquired from Mexico, Congress agreed upon five separate bills which formed the Compromise of 1850: California would be admitted as a free state, the slave trade would be banned in the nation’s capital, Texas would be granted the money to pay her war debts, the Utah and New Mexico territory would be granted the opportunity to decide whether slavery be admitted within their borders, and a more stringent fugitive slave law was enacted. By the time of the acceptance of the Compromise of 1850 it had become evident that the question of slavery was woven into the fabric of American self government. Each major confrontation raised this fundamental problem: was slavery to be overruled by a distant power because of a moral principle, or did the democratic process have the authority to choose a moral wrong rejecting the principle of equal natural rights from which self-government derived its power.

A national debate ensued about what the Compromise of 1850 stood for. Douglas argued that the Compromise of 1850 endorsed the use of referenda to decide the slavery question in new territories, and endorsed this principle as one that ought to apply to all territories alike because he saw that it assured both unity throughout the nation and freedom of the people to decide their own fundamental laws. The Compromise of 1850 attempted to place the moral question of slavery to the side. Whigs and Democrats alike acquiesced the compromise measures in order to settle the turmoil that prevented the union from pursuing manifest destiny, each interest accepting concessions against their organizing principles. Henry Clay’s resolutions read, “It being desirable, for the peace, concord, and harmony of the Union of these States, to settle and adjust amicably all existing questions of controversy between them arising out of the institution of slavery…” (Clay). According to the legislation, the compromise was fashioned as a settlement for the sake of “peace, concord, and harmony”; however, Douglas would later adopt one compromise measure, popular sovereignty, as a universal tenet of freedom. The resolution from which Douglas derived the principle of popular sovereignty reads, “it is inexpedient for Congress to provide by law either for its introduction into, or exclusion from, any part of the said territory; and that appropriate territorial governments ought to be established by Congress in all of the said territory… without adoption of any restriction or condition on the subject of slavery” (Clay). Although popular sovereignty was but one concession of the compromise, Douglas saw in it a great opportunity to put the agitation of the slavery question to rest. In 1854 writing the Kansas-Nebraska Act, Douglas declared the prior Missouri Compromise “inoperative and void” as “being inconsistent with the principle of non-intervention by Congress with slaves in the States and Territories” (Douglas). Douglas saw in popular sovereignty an appeal to American independence to provide the unity necessary if the regime wished to achieve prosperity. Thereby, Douglas was able to introduce a new maxim of justice among the people, and a new mode of prudence among partisans and representatives. Popular sovereignty appeared just because it favored neither abolitionists nor slaveholders, the intemperate minorities who sought to mold the territories to their will. In addition, it appeared peaceful because it tempered the passions that raged among partisans. Moreover, it appeared prudent, favoring the measures of expediency necessary to pursue manifest destiny and its promise of infinite prosperity. Through Douglas’ interpretation of the Compromise of 1850, he aimed to introduce a mode of legislating the slavery question that afforded the people the freedom to choose.

In the wake of Douglas’ work were political events that entailed consequences for the Whig party and colored the way in which the people would understand the founding principles. Thus, Lincoln began to argue that popular sovereignty could not be considered a principle established by the Compromise of 1850, nor did the compromise supercede prior legislation as Douglas argued. Lincoln begins his Peoria Speech by harkening to the spirit of American compromise. He states:

These (Northwest) territories, together with the states themselves, constituted all the country over which the confederacy then claimed any sort of jurisdiction. We were then living under the Articles of Confederation, which were superseded by the Constitution several years afterwards. The question of ceding these territories to the general government was set on foot. Mr. Jefferson… conceived the idea of taking that occasion to prevent slavery ever going into the north-western territory. (Lincoln 284)

 Lincoln first sought to prove that at the time of our founding it was conceded that Congress had the power to prevent the spread of slavery into new territories. He then states: 

But now new light breaks upon us.- Now Congress declares this ought never to have been; and the like of it, must never be again.- The sacred right of self-government is grossly violated by it! We even find some men, who drew their first breath, and every other breath of their lives, under this very restriction, now live in dread of absolute suffocation, if they should be restricted in the “sacred right” of taking slaves to Nebraska. That perfect liberty they sigh for- the liberty of making slaves of other people- Jefferson never thought of… (Lincoln 285)

Lincoln argued that popular sovereignty was a renegotiation of a founding principle: freedom turned perfect freedom. Perfect liberty was freedom without restraint. This licentious interpretation would allow men to do anything with their freedom, including forfeit the natural equal rights of others, without restraint. Lincoln saw that perfect liberty was inconsistent with the founding, favoring one pillar, self-government, at the danger of the other, the equal inalienable rights of all. In distinguishing liberty from perfect liberty, Lincoln displays the Democratic party as the aggressor favoring reinterpretation, and the Republicans the party fighting for preservation. Lincoln prophesies that the reinterpretation of this principle not only destroys the achievements of the past, but has detrimental effects for the future. Because the right of self-government is derivative of the equal inalienable rights of all, the pillar of self-government would collapse if inalienable rights were not recognized and protected. 

        Section II: A New Maxim- Douglas’ Assertion of Popular Sovereignty

Douglas understood popular sovereignty as the principle upon which republican government depended; further, it was not only a right of the people, but it was the only system of government diverse enough for American localities. In his speech upon his return to Chicago, Douglas states:

If there is any one principle dearer and more sacred than all others in free governments, it is that which asserts the exclusive right of a free people to form and adopt their own fundamental law, and to manage and regulate their own internal affairs and domestic institutions. (Douglas, Chicago 1858)

Douglas believed that if the people of the states were to submit their right to decide upon the slavery question they must submit the right to decide all other questions. If the people could not be entrusted with the opportunity to regulate slavery, then they could not reserve the power to regulate anything. Douglas saw Congressional interference regarding slavery as a trespass of the promise to exercise the right to self-government. Because the regulation of slavery was not explicitly enumerated within the powers of Congress, it must be ceded to the states. Both the Constitution and the principles which backed that Constitution ought to permit the states to regulate their own affairs. Douglas thereby placed emphasis on one pillar of freedom, self-government, while dismissing the second essential pillar, the preservation of natural rights. 

Lincoln argues that popular sovereignty was not the true principle upon which the republic was founded; further, self-government, if not ordered by some higher principle, destroys freedom. In Lincoln’s speech on the Repeal of the Missouri Compromise, he speaks of the “declared indifference” regarding slavery as a “covert real zeal for the spread of slavery”. He states:

I hate it because it deprives our republican example of its just influence in the world- enables the enemies of free institutions, with plausibility, to taunt us as hypocrites- causes the real friends of freedom to doubt our sincerity, and especially because it forces so many really good men amongst ourselves into an open war with the very fundamental principles of civil liberty- criticizing the Declaration of Independence, and insisting that there is no right principle of action but self-interest. (Lincoln 291)

When Lincoln states that this declared indifference is a covert real zeal for the spread of slavery, he does not suspect an active conspiracy. This is likewise true regarding the claim he makes in his Peoria address. However, Lincoln believed that slavery was the product of consequences, and endorsing the principle of popular sovereignty created consequences friendly to the expansion of slavery. He continues “I do not blame the southern people…” because he believed that, being born amid the institution, they had become softened to accept slavery as just. The regard in which slavery is held, and the extent to which the people honored the inalienable rights of the Declaration of Independence, would either limit or unleash slavery within the United States of America. Lincoln believed that declared indifference was in truth a “covert real zeal” for the expansion of slavery because it produced the same result as endorsement of slavery. This indifference to the second pillar of the American founding, that all men have certain equal natural rights, removed all objection to the question of slavery. Lincoln disdained declared indifference because it reared those in the free states to “care not” if men wished to become despots, thus insulating slavery from public sentiment. Lincoln abhorred that this indifference led good men to dismiss the challenge to defend the pillar of the founding upon which self-government was contingent. Lincoln, unlike Douglas, understood that in a regime bereft an objective basis for morality, there could be no true democracy. The second pillar of the founding, that all men had certain equal rights, was the reason self-government was just. To Lincoln slavery was the tacit acceptance of despotism among a free people, and a failure to apply the principles of the Declaration in defense against the ambition of tyrants.

Douglas argued that Lincoln attempted to settle the slavery question with national policy contrary to that of a majority of the country, and such policy would undermine self government. As Congress continued to regulate their affairs, and assume powers over the localities in which the people lived, the love of freedom and the regard for self-government would decay. Douglas understood that placing the slavery question in Congress was an immediate danger, akin to the cause of the American revolution. He states:

It is no answer to this argument to say that slavery is an evil, and hence should not be tolerated. You must allow the people to decide for themselves whether it is a good or an evil… Whenever you put a limitation upon the right of any people to decide what laws they want, you have destroyed the fundamental principle of self-government. (Douglas)

Prohibiting slavery in the territories would effectually deprive citizens of freedom. Douglas believed that popular sovereignty was noble because it entrusted the people with the power they naturally deserved, and it was useful because “the laws and domestic institutions which would suit the granite hills of New Hampshire would be totally unfit for the rice plantations of South Carolina…” (Douglas). Douglas appealed to the sense of the people. Each day within their own localities the people managed their own affairs. If this practice applied to the governing the self, why ought this practice not apply to the governance of a large republic? In Douglas’ estimate, keeping the slavery question confined to small and homogeneous localities avoided the danger that a national conversation on the subject would incite. Lincoln, on the other hand, believed that self-government only went so far. And Lincoln, rather than Douglas, endeavored to allow the people to “decide for themselves” while providing for the unity of the nation, so long as their decision honored both pillars of the American founding. This implied that they be faithful to the principle of self-government, but recognize that the preservation of equal natural rights was the reason for which the right to self-government existed. 

    Lincoln’s response was that the uniform preservation of natural rights would not be upheld by the individual governments of the states, and that preservation was “the sheet anchor of American republicanism”. Self-government did not vindicate transgression against natural rights because natural rights were prior to self-government. Lincoln claims:

The doctrine of self government is right- absolutely and eternally right- but it has no just application, as here attempted. Or perhaps I should rather say that whether it has such just application depends upon whether a negro is not or is a man. If he is not a man, why in that case, he who is a man may, as a matter of self-government, do just as he pleases with him. But if the negro is a man, is it not to that extent, a total destruction of self-government, to say that he too shall not govern himself? When the white man governs himself that is self-government; but when he governs himself, and also governs another man, that is more than self government- that is despotism. (Lincoln)

Lincoln’s commitment to end slavery was thus based on more than the particular evil of the question at hand. His devotion was rooted in his conviction that slavery was the embodiment of a greater evil: a belief irreconcilable with the core principle upon which our regime rests, namely, the principle that no man may govern another without his consent. Later measures to ensure the observance of popular sovereignty would go much further: they would ensure that no one man could not object to one man’s ruling another without his consent. Without adherence to the core principle of American democracy, and without a check on those who wished to become despots in their own right, American self-government would fail. Our regime, bereft honor and observance of those limits on despotism that “clears the path for all- gives hope to all- and, by consequence, enterprize and industry to all” (Lincoln 513) could not provide the basis for sustained prosperity nor could it promise freedom for posterity. Lincoln understood the incongruence in the measures taken to ensure popular sovereignty and the founding principles in a way that others of his time did not. This understanding is what prompted Lincoln to view the question of whether slavery would expand as synonymous with the question of whether “a class of men… (would) blow out all the moral lights around us; that they must pervert the human soul, and eradicate the human soul and love of liberty” (Debates 77). Lincoln understood that the preservation of natural rights was the underpinning of self-government; if the people ceased to recognize that men were endowed with certain inalienable rights, they would likewise cease to recognize that each man had the right to rule himself and consent to those that governed him. 

        Section III: Douglas’ Teaching Tending Away from The Declaration 

Not only did Lincoln believe that the direction in which the nation was tending undermined the most sacred pillar of the founding, but he believed that the measures necessary to ensure popular sovereignty stretched the Constitution that preserved the Declaration. In Lincoln’s A House Divided speech he makes two claims that become widely criticized by Douglas’ pro-popular sovereignty coalition: one, that the American Republic has become divided and is tending in the direction of submitting to slavery, and two, that that very tendency is the product of preconcert. In the Lincoln Douglas debates, Douglas attacks Lincoln’s first claim in stating that he is inciting revolution, and his second stating that he is advocating nonadherence to the Supreme Court’s Dred Scott decision. Despite Lincoln’s making a claim about pro-slavery conspiracy with little evidence, he can be vindicated by providing that what he truly understood to be the conspiracy was the softening of the American mind with lullaby arguments for a “care-not” policy . It was in this “House Divided” speech that Lincoln would warn the country that slavery would not die off quietly as proponents of the Missouri Compromise might have hoped. Lincoln gave the American people an ultimatum because he understood that Douglas’ Kansas-Nebraska Act had transformed the question of slavery. He began to understand that compromise can delay the inevitable for only so long, thus he propelled himself back onto the national stage.

Section IV: Self Government and the Role of the Courts

Lincoln understood that the Court’s decision in Dred Scott, alongside the Kansas-Nebraska act, ensured that slavery would engulf the territories; for, the nation would become inclined to believe that it was unconstitutional to deprive masters of their slaves or from settling anywhere they pleased with those slaves. According to Taney’s decision slaves were private property protected by the Constitution, and the Missouri Compromise infringed on this constitutionally protected, substantive property right. In the first of the debates at Ottawa (Debates 74), Lincoln warned of a subsequent case (Lemon v. New York) which would, because of this previous rationale, rule that states had no power to prohibit slavery within their borders because such laws would infringe on slave owners’ constitutional property rights. Through the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, proslavery forces used the elected branches of the federal government to enact a law fundamentally inconsistent with the principle of liberty. But further, they used the courts to constitutionalize certain aspects of that choice and thus attempted to remove those aspects from the national conversation entirely. Specifically, they used the Supreme Court’s decision in Dred Scott to constitutionalize the notion that slaves were property, all but ensuring that a territory’s choice of being slave or free would develop in a proslavery direction. What Lincoln most feared was the right the Supreme court granted slave owners in transporting their slaves as mere property. If slaves were to be considered property in all states, then no territory nor state was free from being forced to permit slavery traveling through and potentially settling, despite their own principles regarding the justice or injustice of slavery. Lincoln understood that Douglas’ popular sovereignty rendered the sheetrock of American republicanism vulnerable and the Supreme Court was beginning to chip away at it. 

Douglas claimed that Lincoln was attempting to undermine the Constitutional authority of the Supreme Court; however, Lincoln, due to his correct reading of the Constitution and his observance of the councils of history, disagreed with a fundamental premise of the Dred Scott decision that the Judges granted without dispute: that slaves were not human, and therefore property. Lincoln understood that throughout the American founding slaves were considered, if not men, different from ordinary property. This was the purpose of the three-fifths clause of the Constitution, and this was the reason for the omission of the word slave: the founders hoped that because of the measures that they had prepared, slavery would gradually diminish, and they did not want to place anything in the Constitution to slow its disintegration. Lincoln recognized the Dred Scott decision as a judicial aggrandizement to grant the institution of slavery immunity by declaring the right to hold slaves constitutional. Lincoln refused to accept the granted premise that slaves were simply property, understanding that the founders believed slavery to be an evil which violated the principles of the Declaration of Independence. The Supreme Court attempted to insulate slavery from future democratic choice, and Douglas, claiming the mantle of self-government, prepared the people to accept this trespass on American principle. 

Lincoln was aware that policymaking, especially by judges, succeeds only to the extent that citizens permit it; thus, Lincoln devoted himself to educating public sentiment in the opposite direction that Douglas had. In his speeches, Lincoln describes proslavery forces and government initiatives such as the Kansas-Nebraska Act working hand in hand to educate and mold the public not to care whether slavery was voted up or voted down. This molding of public sentiment is precisely what Lincoln warned of years before in his Lyceum address. He states:

It is to deny, what the history of the world tells us is true, to suppose that men of ambition and talents will not continue to spring up among us. And, when they do, they will as naturally seek the gratification of their ruling passions, as others have so done before them… Many great and good men sufficiently qualified for any task they should undertake, may ever be found, whose ambition would aspire to nothing beyond a seat in Congress… What! Think you these places would satisfy an Alexander, a Caesar, or a Napoleon?- Never! Towering genius disdains a beaten path. It seeks regions hitherto unexplored. (Lincoln 83)

Very early in his life Lincoln understood that “we ourselves must be (destruction’s) author and its finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide” (Lincoln 77). Lincoln equivocates the losing of liberty to the death of the nation. Lincoln is today understood as the Alexander of his time, but Lincoln viewed Douglas as the true Alexander. He constantly reminded his audience that Douglas was more politically prominent. But what is more, Lincoln understood that Douglas, through ordering the passion of the people, aimed to subvert our understanding of Constitutional government and marginalize the Declaration of Independence rendering its principles partisan. He remarks, “And when he shall have succeeded in bringing public sentiment to an exact accordance with his own- when this vast assemblage goes back with these sentiments instilled into them, then it needs only the formality of a Dred Scott decision, which he is in favor of, to make slavery alike lawful in all the states” (Debates 77). Lincoln knew that the proponents of slavery could only succeed in imposing unjust policies if the public was lulled into indifference with palliations and lullaby arguments, and thus his aim became the education of the people for their own defense. Lincoln proved the great preserver, only because he was able to move public sentiment, whereas Douglas was the towering genius. 

Whereas Lincoln can be considered “that towering genius”, he in fact did not attempt to alter the regime out of ambition, as Douglas did, but rather returned to first principles in order to give rise to “a new birth of freedom”; further, Lincoln’s success is a tribute to the strength of the founding rather than its weakness. Because the nation was tending toward the dissolution of the most essential of the two pillars of the founding, Lincoln understood that if one pillar fell, the whole house, and “the last best hope” for freedom, would also collapse. Lincoln understood that there could be no popular sovereignty if the principle of equal natural rights was not upheld. Popular elections would cease to exist where equality ceased being honored. Only because men were endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights did consent become necessary to rule others. Throughout his political life Lincoln endeavored to educate the people of the congruence between popular government and equality through piety, history, and reason, as well as honor and dishonor. When the war came, Lincoln set to binding the nation’s wounds and maintaining the Constitution at all costs. Douglas, on the other hand, endeavored to alter the spirit of the founding through the Kansas-Nebraska Act, and endorsed altering the letter of the Constitution through the Dred Scott decision. The principles of the American founding reign true today only because Lincoln was able to reeducate the public to honor freedom rather than expand it at the most vulnerable period in our nation’s history. 

Works Cited

“Homecoming Speech at Chicago | Teaching American History.” Teaching American History. Web. 14 Aug. 2016.

Lincoln, Abraham, and Roy P. Basler. Abraham Lincoln: His Speeches and Writings. Cleveland: World Pub., 1946. Print.

Lincoln, Abraham, Stephen A. Douglas, and Harold Holzer. The Lincoln-Douglas Debates: The First Complete, Unexpurgated Text. New York: HarperCollins, 1993. Print.

“Rough Draft of the Declaration of Independence | Teaching American History.” Teaching American History. Web. 14 Aug. 2016.