In a New York Slimes piece on 17 Nov. 2013 Alan Guelzo wrote a piece lauding the cult figure Abraham Lincoln and Lincoln’s Gettysburg address. Now, it should be known before I take on Guelzo here that I’ve read Guelzo’s, “Abraham Lincoln; Redeemer President.” As such I’ve given Guelzo a fair shake on his take on Lincoln. It should also be known that Guelzo has connections to the Claremont Institute which is a Think Tank that has, as part of its purpose, keeping alive the Lincoln myth.
The piece I’m dissecting can be found here,
“The warning Lincoln issues is his admission that the Civil War was testing whether or not democracies are inherently unstable — “whether that nation, or any nation so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure.” Today, many take democracy for granted as the endpoint of political development. But it did not look that way in 1863. The French Revolution, which promised to be the American Revolution’s beachhead in Europe, swiftly circled downward in the Reign of Terror and then the tyranny of Bonaparte; democratic uprisings in Spain in 1820, in Russia in 1825, in France in 1830 and across Europe in 1848 were crushed by newly renascent monarchies or subverted by Romantic philosophers, glorying in regimes built on blood, soil and nationality rather than the Rights of Man.”
1.) Guelzo refers to us as a “Democracy.” We were never intended to be a Democracy. America’s Founding Fathers warned earnestly against a Democracy. James Madison, in Federalist Paper No. 10, said of a pure democracy, “there is nothing to check the inducement to sacrifice the weaker party or the obnoxious individual.” At the 1787 Constitutional Convention, Edmund Randolph said, “. . . that in tracing these evils to their origin every man had found it in the turbulence and follies of democracy.” John Adams said, “Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There was never a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.” Later on, Chief Justice John Marshall observed, “Between a balanced republic and a democracy, the difference is like that between order and chaos.”
In point of fact the US Constitution’s Article IV, Section 4 itself offers,
“The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government…”
We were never intended to be a Democracy though by the actions of Abraham Lincoln our Republican form of government was utterly destroyed in favor of an ever increasing Democracy.
2.) Lincoln, by his unconstitutional and anti-constitutional actions himself destroyed Old America. There was one Nation fighting to be self governed by the parameters of the Old Constitution and that was the Confederates States of America. Those who died on the Union Side of Gettysburg died, in order that the principles of the American Nation which our Founding Fathers conceived and to which they were dedicated, would be forever eliminated.
3.) The beach-head which Guelzo talks about was never the American experiment exported to France. Many have been the scholars who have clearly limned out the differences between the American Revolution, which was a conservative counter-Revolution, and the French Revolution which was the first Revolution of the coming of Modernity. No, Guelzo has it backwards here. The beachhead that was established was in 1861 by the French Philosophes with their World and live view as France exported the French Revolution to American via Lincoln’s Red Brigades (48’ers), assorted radical abolitionists, and philosophical Transcendentalists. The American experiment, that Guelzo appeals to, was crushed between 1861-1865 by those who hated all that Founding Fathers had created and envisioned America to be.
4.) Guelzo writes so glibly about “the Rights of man” without informing us that the whole French idea of the “Rights of man,” (has Guelzo forgotten the “Declaration of the Rights of Man” as that was inspired by those inspired by the likes of Robespierre and Danton?) was inspired by a Worldview that was opposed to the whole idea of the Creator as found in the US Constitution? Guelzo rails against blood and soil and nation while implicitly supporting a European mob who was seeking to remake Europe into a Internationalist Socialist Utopia. Guelzo relishes in the whole “Rights of Man” tradition but fails to mention that his cherished “Rights of Man” has now become “the Right to Abortion,” and “The Right to marriage your same sex partner.” The whole Right of Man fantasy was a disaster to begin with. Only God has rights. Man only has duties.
“The outbreak of the American Civil War only gave the monarchs further reason to rejoice. The survival of the American democracy had been a thorn in their royal sides, unsettling their downtrodden peoples with dreams of self-government. That this same troublesome democracy would, in 1861, obligingly proceed to blow its own political brains out — and do it in defense of the virtues of human slavery — gave the monarchs no end of delight.”
1.) In 1861 America was NOT a Democracy. It was a Republic of Republics. In 1865 America was something different. In 1865 America was a Democracy. But contra Guelzo, Democracy did not survive in America because it had never been in America. Democracy was forced upon the American people with Lincoln’s impersonation of Robespierre on the American people. Robespierre used the guillotine. Lincoln used the bayonet and the canon ball.
2.) The American “Civil War” put to the end of one people’s vision of self government. The Confederates States desired to be self governed but instead Lincoln, seeking to create a proposition nation, where blood and soil and nationality did not matter, was responsible for the deaths of almost 600,000 Americans, not to mention the man who sanctioned Total War against Southern Civilians with all its accompanying criminal activities.
3.) The war was not fought in defense of the virtues of slavery without at the same time being fought in order to enslave men. Mr. Lincoln’s war did more to enslave far more people than it ever did to release people from slavery. The war only accomplished taking some slaves from the Plantation Owners while empowering the State to make even more men slaves to the Federal Government. Repeating the same old canard that the war was fought over slavery is intellectual laziness on Guelzo’s part. Slavery was the occasion of the War but it was not the cause of the war.
“Lincoln’s task at Gettysburg was to persuade his hearers, on the evidence offered by three days of battle, that democracy’s sun had not set after all. Gettysburg was not only a victory, but a victory won with the Union Army’s back to the wall, and its news came, appropriately, on July 4.”
1.) Lincoln’s task at Gettysburg was to fool his audience, by his rhetorical smoke, that the nation was founded upon the French Revolution idea of equality. Equality was never spoken of in the US Constitution which was the covenant compact of the nation. Equality as referred to in the Declaration was not the equality of Mr. Lincoln and the French Revolution but the equality of Englishmen. That this was and remains true is seen in the reference in the Declaration to Indian Savages. Does Guelzo really believe that, given that “savages” language in the Declaration, the Founders would have agreed with Lincoln, in his Gettysburg address, that the Founders formed this nation dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal? This is just an example of Guelzo, along with Lincoln, trying to read egalitarianism back into our origins.
2.) Oh … and Americans in 1863 were smart enough to know they were not a democracy.
“Above all, the victory was the product of self-sacrifice — 3,155 Union dead, 14,529 wounded and 5,365 “missing,” rivaling British and Allied losses at Waterloo. These casualties were not professional soldiers, Wellington’s “scum of the earth” who had taken their shilling and their chance together, nor were they dispirited peasants, driven into battle by the whips of their betters, but precisely those ordinary citizens whom the cultured despisers of democracy had laughingly doubted could ever be made to do anything but calculate profit and loss.
1.) Well, I should hope that when one Army has the high ground, and the material advantage, they would be able to beat back those who are sacrificing themselves take said high ground.
2.) The New York draft riots occurring about 10 later suggests that men were being driven into battle by the whips of their “betters.”
3.) These men died to destroy the Constitution.
4.) Guelzo writes some variant of “Democracy” 15 times in the last few paragraphs. We were not and are not a Democracy.
Looking out over the semicircular rows of graves, Lincoln saw in them a transcendence that few people, then or now, have been willing to concede to liberal democracy. And he saw something all could borrow, a renewed dedication to popular self-government, “that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion.” Like the jeremiad, it would point toward a renewal, a new birth, not of freedom from sin, but political freedom.
The genius of the address thus lay not in its language or in its brevity (virtues though these were), but in the new birth it gave to those who had become discouraged and wearied by democracy’s follies, and in the reminder that democracy’s survival rested ultimately in the hands of citizens who saw something in democracy worth dying for. We could use that reminder again today.
McAtee responds and ends by quoting H. L. Mencken,
“… let us not forget that it (the Gettysburg Address) is oratory, not logic; beauty, not sense. Think of the argument in it! Put it into the cold words of everyday! The doctrine is simply this: that the Union soldiers who died at Gettysburg sacrificed their lives to the cause of self-determination — “that government of the people, by the people, for the people,” should not perish from the earth. It is difficult to imagine anything more untrue. The Union soldiers in that battle actually fought against self-determination; it was the Confederates who fought for the right of their people to govern themselves. What was the practical effect of the battle of Gettysburg? What else than the destruction of the old sovereignty of the States, i. e., of the people of the States? The Confederates went into battle an absolutely free people; they came out with their freedom subject to the supervision and vote of the rest of the country—and for nearly twenty years that vote was so effective that they enjoyed scarcely any freedom at all.”