Lincoln On Liberty

Kevin Portteus, Lincoln’s Birthday Reflections His insights on liberty and tyranny still ring true today.

“Lincoln recognized and eloquently denounced tyranny, seeking to restore the nation to its foundation in “the laws of nature and of nature’s God,” which he recognized as the only sure foundation for liberty, equality, and justice. He also understood, in a way that few American statesman ever have, the tyrannical impulse that underlay the affirmative defense of slavery…

“Lincoln asked, “What will convince them? This, and this only: “Cease to call slavery wrong, and join them in calling it right.” The opponents of slavery must abandon their opposition, turning their backs on their basic moral principles, and wholeheartedly adopt the ideology of slavery as a positive good.  No one may be allowed to question slavery.  The North must enthusiastically participate in the recovery of fugitive slaves, which it had hitherto resisted.  In the end, the free constitutions of the Northern states must be repealed, and slavery must be nationalized.”

Portteus is drawing from Lincoln’s Cooper Union Address. Here is a fuller quote of Lincoln’s words.

Abraham Lincoln November 1863“…what will convince them? This, and this only: cease to call slavery wrong, and join them in calling it right. And this must be done thoroughly – done in acts as well as in words. Silence will not be tolerated – we must place ourselves avowedly with them….

“…Demanding what they do, and for the reason they do, they can voluntarily stop nowhere short of this consummation. Holding, as they do, that slavery is morally right, and socially elevating, they cannot cease to demand a full national recognition of it, as a legal right, and a social blessing.

Nor can we justifiably withhold this, on any ground save our conviction that slavery is wrong. If slavery is right, all words, acts, laws, and constitutions against it, are themselves wrong, and should be silenced, and swept away. If it is right, we cannot justly object to its nationality – its universality; if it is wrong, they cannot justly insist upon its extension – its enlargement. All they ask, we could readily grant, if we thought slavery right; all we ask, they could as readily grant, if they thought it wrong. Their thinking it right, and our thinking it wrong, is the precise fact upon which depends the whole controversy. Thinking it right, as they do, they are not to blame for desiring its full recognition, as being right; but, thinking it wrong, as we do, can we yield to them? Can we cast our votes with their view, and against our own? In view of our moral, social, and political responsibilities, can we do this?

Portteus draws the clear and very powerful analogy to the persecution and prosecution of those who stand for marriage and thus against its redefinition.

“…Today, the LGBT movement maintains that its liberty requires and allows the criminalization or ruin of anyone who disagrees, such as bakers, florists and photographers who refuse to service same-sex nuptials.

“As with slavery, acquiescence in the new morality is not enough. Wholehearted support is required.  As Lincoln noted, “Silence will not be tolerated. We must place ourselves avowedly with them.”

“This is the tyrannical impulse: The desire to reshape society and crush dissent, all in the name of a liberty that claims for itself the freedom to deprive others of their freedom.”

Lincoln closed with these words that are fully applicable to us today.

Let us be diverted by none of those sophistical contrivances wherewith we are so industriously plied and belabored – contrivances such as groping for some middle ground between the right and the wrong, vain as the search for a man who should be neither a living man nor a dead man – such as a policy of “don’t care” on a question about which all true men do care – such as Union appeals beseeching true Union men to yield to Disunionists, reversing the divine rule, and calling, not the sinners, but the righteous to repentance – such as invocations to Washington, imploring men to unsay what Washington said, and undo what Washington did.”

And let us consider Lincoln’s encouragement and exhortation in these last sentences and take them to heart.

“Neither let us be slandered from our duty by false accusations against us, nor frightened from it by menaces of destruction to the Government nor of dungeons to ourselves. Let us have faith that right makes might, and in that faith, let us, to the end, dare to do our duty as we understand it.

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