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Lincoln’s 1838 Warning: The Threat to Liberty Comes From Inside the House

Lincoln’s 1838 Warning: The Threat to Liberty Comes From Inside the House

In 1838, 28-year-old Abraham Lincoln delivered a Lyceum lecture, The Perpetuation of Our Political Institutions. The Lyceum lectures were part of a voluntary adult education movement. Lincoln was a new lawyer and member of the Illinois House of Representatives.

It had been just over 60 years since the start of the American Revolution. Yet, Lincoln reflected on being “inheritors” of “fundamental blessings” that were unimaginable not long ago:

We find ourselves in the peaceful possession, of the fairest portion of the earth, as regards extent of territory, fertility of soil, and salubrity of climate. We find ourselves under the government of a system of political institutions, conducing more essentially to the ends of civil and religious liberty, than any of which the history of former times tells us.

Lincoln humbly extoled America’s precious inheritance: “We toiled not in the acquirement or establishment of them—they are a legacy bequeathed us, by a once hardy, brave, and patriotic … departed race of ancestors.” His concern was the preservation of America’s legacy.

The preservation of “liberty and equal rights” was to be a civic duty performed with “gratitude” and “love.” Lincoln said, “This task of gratitude to our fathers, justice to ourselves, duty to posterity, and love for our species in general, all imperatively require us faithfully to perform.”

Then, Lincoln served up an insightful vision. Because of America’s geography a “military giant” made up of “all the armies of Europe, Asia and Africa combined, with all the treasure of the earth … could not by force, take a drink from the Ohio, or make a track on the Blue Ridge, in a trial of a thousand years.”

A powerful warning followed. Lincoln added, if America were to perish, it would be via national suicide: “If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide.”

Of course, today we could perish via a nuclear attack, but Lincoln’s point stands the test of time: The threat to liberty comes primarily from inside the house.

We need look no further than how America’s youth is being educated for an example: Educators are teaching un-American Marxist doctrines that antithetical to the founding principles of the United States.

Additionally, Lincoln was “wary” of “the increasing disregard for law which pervades the country; the growing disposition to substitute the wild and furious passions, in lieu of the sober judgment of Courts.”

Lincoln was referring to lynching, not only of “negroes” and their white supporters, but also of gamblers and criminals.

In our time, the rule of law is also under assault. During COVID, authorities allowed BLM protesters to protest, destroy, and loot generally without facing consequences, while people were banned from going to church. Student loan debt is being transferred from students to the taxpayer. Millions of illegals are welcomed into the country, though they may have little understanding or respect for this country’s founding principles. Harassment of Jewish students occurs at major universities.

If Lincoln were alive today, he might have noted the unhinged passions of celebrities and the media directed at Donald Trump. He might be alarmed by a ranting Robert De Niro or MSNBC commentator Lawrence O’Donnell calling Trump prosecutor Alvin Bragg “the anointed one.”

Lincoln warned of the capriciousness of a mob:

If the laws be continually despised and disregarded, if their rights to be secure in their persons and property, are held by no better tenure than the caprice of a mob, the alienation of their affections from the Government is the natural consequence; and to that, sooner or later, it must come.

While recognizing there were “bad laws” that needed to be changed, Lincoln had a “simple” solution to the dangers of “mob law”:

As the patriots of seventy-six did to the support of the Declaration of Independence, so to the support of the Constitution and Laws, let every American pledge his life, his property, and his sacred honor;–let every man remember that to violate the law, is to trample on the blood of his father, and to tear the character of his own, and his children’s liberty.

Lincoln reflected that at the close of the American Revolution, “nearly every adult male had been a participator in some of its scenes.” Thus, “a living history was to be found in every family … a history, too, that could be read and understood alike by all, the wise and the ignorant, the learned and the unlearned.”

Already in 1838, gone were those patriots imbued with America’s greatness and the fruits of liberty: “They were a forest of giant oaks; but the all-resistless hurricane has swept over them, and left only, here and there, a lonely trunk, despoiled of its verdure, shorn of its foliage.”

Lincoln implored his audience to step up and supply new pillars of “unimpassioned reason” to “be moulded into general intelligence, sound morality, and in particular, a reverence for the constitution and laws.”

Lincoln’s noble aim was for American citizens to remain “free to the last.” Alarmingly, we can ask how many Americans today share Lincoln’s means and goal. If there is not a critical mass of the public with that goal, our great nation will, as Lincoln warned, “die by suicide.”

Image credit: public domain


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    June 11, 2024, 10:21 am

    It was known well before Lincoln.

    A nation can survive its fools and even the ambitious.But it cannot survive treason from within. An enemy at the gates is less formidable, for he is known and he carries his banners openly against the city. But the traitor moves among those within the gates freely, his sly whispers rustling through all alleys, heard in the very halls of government itself. For the traitor appears no traitor; he speaks in the accents familiar to his victim, and he wears their face and their garments and he appeals to the baseness that lies deep in the hearts of all men. He rots the soul of a nation; he works secretly and unknown in the night to undermine the pillars of a city; he infects the body politic so that it can no longer resist. A murderer is less to be feared. The traitor is the plague."

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