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H.L. Mencken on Abraham Lincoln
"Five Men at Random," Prejudices: Third Series, 1922, pp. 171-76. | H.L. Mencken

Posted on 06/20/2002 1:32:32 PM PDT by H.R. Gross

H.L. Mencken on Abraham Lincoln

From "Five Men at Random," Prejudices: Third Series, 1922, pp. 171-76.
First printed, in part, in the Smart Set, May, 1920, p. 141

Some time ago a publisher told me that there are four kinds of books that seldom, if ever, lose money in the United States—first, murder stories; secondly, novels in which the heroine is forcibly overcome by the hero; thirdly, volumes on spiritualism, occultism and other such claptrap, and fourthly, books on Lincoln. But despite all the vast mass of Lincolniana and the constant discussion of old Abe in other ways, even so elemental a problem as that of his religious ideas—surely an important matter in any competent biography—is yet but half solved. Was he a Christian? Did he believe in the Divinity of Jesus? I am left in doubt. He was very polite about it, and very cautious, as befitted a politician in need of Christian votes, but how much genuine conviction was in that politeness? And if his occasional references to Jesus were thus open to question, what of his rather vague avowals of belief in a personal God and in the immortality of the soul? Herndon and some of his other early friends always maintained that he was an atheist, but the Rev. Willian E. Barton, one of the best of later Lincolnologists, argues that this atheism was simply disbelief in the idiotic Methodist and Baptist dogmas of his time—that nine Christian churches out of ten, if he were live today, would admit him to their high privileges and prerogatives without anything worse than a few warning coughs. As for me, I still wonder.

Lincoln becomes the American solar myth, the chief butt of American credulity and sentimentality. Washington, of late years, has bee perceptible humanized; every schoolboy now knows that he used to swear a good deal, and was a sharp trader, and had a quick eye for a pretty ankle. But meanwhile the varnishers and veneerers have been busily converting Abe into a plaster saint, thus marking hum fit for adoration in the Y.M.C.A.’s. All the popular pictures of him show him in his robes of state, and wearing an expression fit for a man about to be hanged. There is, so far as I know, not a single portrait of him showing him smiling—and yet he must have cackled a good deal, first and last: who ever heard of a storyteller who didn’t? Worse, there is an obvious effort to pump all his human weaknesses out of him, an obvious effort to pump all his human weaknesses out of him, and so leave him a mere moral apparition, a sort of amalgam of John Wesley and the Holy Ghost. What could be more absurd? Lincoln, in point of fact, was a practical politician of long experience and high talents, and by no means cursed with idealistic superstitions. Until he emerged from Illinois they always put the women, children and clergy to bed when he got a few gourds of corn aboard, and it is a matter of unescapable record that his career in the State Legislature was indistinguishable from that of a Tammany Nietzsche. Even his handling of the slavery question was that of a politician, not that of a messiah. Nothing alarmed him more than the suspicion that he was an Abolitionist, and Barton tells of an occasion when he actually fled town to avoid meeting the issue squarely. An Abolitionist would have published the Emancipation Proclamation the day after the first battle of Bull Run. But Lincoln waited until the time was more favorable—until Lee had been hurled out of Pennsylvania, and more important still, until the political currents were safely funning his way. Even so, he freed the slaves in only a part of the country: all the rest continued to clank their chains until he himself was an angel in Heaven.

Like William Jennings Bryan, he was a dark horse made suddenly formidable by fortunate rhetoric. The Douglas debate launched hum, and the Cooper Union Speech got him the Presidency. His talent for emotional utterance was an accomplishment of late growth. His early speeches were mere empty fire-works—the hollow rodomontades of the era. But in the middle life he purged his style of ornament and it became almost badly simple—and it is for that simplicity that he is remembered today. The Gettysburg speech is at once the shortest and the most famous oration in American history. Put beside it, all the whoopings of the Websters, Sumners and Everetts seem gaudy and silly It is eloquence brought to a pellucid and almost gem-like perfection—the highest emotion reduced to a few poetical phrases. Nothing else precisely like it is to be found in the whole range of oratory. Lincoln himself never even remotely approached it. It is genuinely stupendous.

But let us not forget that it is poetry, 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 free; they came out with their freedom subject to the supervision and veto of the rest of the country—and for nearly twenty years that veto was so effective that they enjoyed scarcely more liberty, in the political sense, than so many convicts in the penitentiary.


TOPICS: Constitution/Conservatism
KEYWORDS: dixielist
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1 posted on 06/20/2002 1:32:32 PM PDT by H.R. Gross
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To: H.R. Gross
An Abolitionist would have published the Emancipation Proclamation the day after the first battle of Bull Run.

And resistance to the rebellion would have collapsed the same day.

Even after three years of war Lincoln said that giving up the support of the blacks would cause the loss of the war within three weeks.

Part of Lincoln's genius was in knowing what the country would accept, and another part was helping to guide it where it needed to go.

Walt

2 posted on 06/20/2002 1:38:13 PM PDT by WhiskeyPapa
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To: H.R. Gross
and so leave him a mere moral apparition, a sort of amalgam of John Wesley and the Holy Ghost.

Sounds as though he didn't know much about John Wesley who went into more situations of personal peril than Lincoln ever did (and saved England from a civil war rather than causing one), though both of them did have demented wives. It is said that some men waylaid Wesley one night and said, "We be the devil's brothers" to which Wesley was to have replied, "Well, then, you know me. I'm married to his sister."
3 posted on 06/20/2002 1:41:01 PM PDT by aruanan
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To: WhiskeyPapa
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.

I find this argument laughable coming from the slave holding states.

Hi Walt, looks like these idiots haven't given up yet!

4 posted on 06/20/2002 1:45:13 PM PDT by TheDon
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To: TheDon; WhiskeyPapa
I've heard of H L Mencken, but not of you two. Run those credentials again, for those of us who missed them.
5 posted on 06/20/2002 1:48:15 PM PDT by Treebeard
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To: H.R. Gross
My favorite quote from another thread:

It's time for another exciting episode of "The Tyrant Lincoln, Who Cut Down My Great-Great Grandma's Magnolias."

6 posted on 06/20/2002 1:50:34 PM PDT by TheDon
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To: okchemyst
I see, so you don't agree that the South held slaves. I guess you just discredited yourself.
7 posted on 06/20/2002 1:51:24 PM PDT by TheDon
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To: TheDon
I find this argument laughable coming from the slave holding states.

The southern states were right about self-determination and wrong about Blacks. Americans are now up to speed on the idea that Blacks are people, and as a result we can say that they too have lost on self-determination as a result of Union actions.

8 posted on 06/20/2002 1:59:17 PM PDT by Grut
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To: TheDon
Yeah, you can infer that from my post. With logical abilities like that, I bet you're a history professor.
9 posted on 06/20/2002 2:00:01 PM PDT by Treebeard
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To: TheDon
"I find this argument laughable coming from the slave holding states."

You mean Maryland, West Virginia, New Jersey, Kentu... Oops, those were Union states. Sorry.

OK, I guess I'm not sure what you find laughable?

10 posted on 06/20/2002 2:02:40 PM PDT by OBAFGKM
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To: okchemyst
Your debating skills could you some help. By constantly attacking your opponent, rather than addressing the topic, you give the impression that you cannot address the topic to your favor. Are you a liberal? You can usually tell a liberal because not being able to engage in debate, they simply resort to attacking their opponent.
11 posted on 06/20/2002 2:05:21 PM PDT by TheDon
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To: H.R. Gross; dighton; Orual
Dump.
12 posted on 06/20/2002 2:06:11 PM PDT by aculeus
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To: OBAFGKM
I find this argument laughable coming from the slave holding states.

If you need a dictionary with some of the words, try www.dictionary.com.

13 posted on 06/20/2002 2:06:38 PM PDT by TheDon
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To: TheDon
http://www.dixienet.org/dn-gazette/professors-sc.htm
14 posted on 06/20/2002 2:06:47 PM PDT by groanup
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To: TheDon
"If you need a dictionary with some of the words, try www.dictionary.com."

Your debating skills could use some help. By constantly attacking your opponent, rather than addressing the topic, you give the impression that you cannot address the topic to your favor. Are you a liberal? You can usually tell a liberal because not being able to engage in debate, they simply resort to attacking their opponent.

15 posted on 06/20/2002 2:10:33 PM PDT by OBAFGKM
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To: shuckmaster; stainlessbanner
fyi
16 posted on 06/20/2002 2:13:59 PM PDT by Fish out of Water
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To: H.R. Gross
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.

Well, actually only about 66% of the people in the south had the right to govern themselves but Mencken, being a professional curmudgeon, never allowed facts to slow him down when he was on a good rant.

17 posted on 06/20/2002 2:14:40 PM PDT by Ditto
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To: OBAFGKM
Nice to know that no one can support the views of DiLorenzo, the Michael Bellesiles of Lincoln studies.
18 posted on 06/20/2002 2:22:32 PM PDT by TheDon
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To: OBAFGKM
Nice try. It would score some points, except I was commenting on someone else's inability to respond to my point. I see you have nothing of value to contribute either.
19 posted on 06/20/2002 2:23:54 PM PDT by TheDon
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To: TheDon
Don't forget that the Union had slave holding states too. Slaves states on the Union side were exempt from the Emancipation Proclamation.

Slavery was a minor issue in the Civil War.
20 posted on 06/20/2002 2:43:10 PM PDT by El Sordo
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To: aculeus; Orual; H.R. Gross; TheDon
Dump.

Half-dump, in gratitude for small mercies. Mencken is generally readable, even when trotted out by the "Lincoln's Victims Never Have a Nice Day" crowd. Besides, it's vastly better than raimondo's junk, which H.R. Gross used to post regularly.

Then again, what *isn't* better?

21 posted on 06/20/2002 3:06:46 PM PDT by dighton
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To: El Sordo
Slavery was a minor issue in the Civil War.

Next I suppose you'll be telling us that Islam is a religion of peace.

Let us suppose that slavery was indeed a minor issue in the civil war. Why did the South secede, then? (And why did slavery figure so prominently in those wily Southerners' Declarations of Secession?)

22 posted on 06/20/2002 3:14:36 PM PDT by r9etb
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To: TheDon
So, in your view, calling people who don't share your views of Lincoln's deity "idiots" is acceptable within your parameters of civilized debate? Perhaps you're the liberal. You come out with insults, and when you reap results in return, you counter with "he broke the rules of civilized debate by insulting!"
23 posted on 06/20/2002 3:23:27 PM PDT by Treebeard
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To: H.R. Gross
His early speeches were mere empty fire-works-the hollow rodomontades of the era.
Rodomontade n [MF fr. lt Rodomonte character in Orlando Innamorato by Matteo M. Boiardo
1 a bragging speech
2. vain boasting or bluster
24 posted on 06/20/2002 3:47:11 PM PDT by Marianne
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To: r9etb
There were many reasons; tariffs that punished southern industry in favor of northern industry, sovereignty issues, dandy stuff like that. Such issues took up far more room in their declarations than slavery.

Ref:

http://sunsite.utk.edu/civil-war/reasons.html
http://ngeorgia.com/history/wh y.html
25 posted on 06/20/2002 4:52:52 PM PDT by El Sordo
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To: okchemyst
I can take the insults, as long as they are in the context of a debate on a topic. I have little interest in debates which strictly involve insults.
26 posted on 06/20/2002 5:09:20 PM PDT by TheDon
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To: El Sordo
Your reply is correct, except for the last sentence. Try imagining a reason for the South to secede if slavery had never been introduced to the Americas. You even state, "Slaves states on the Union side were exempt from the Emancipation Proclamation." The reason they were exempt was to keep them from joining the Confederacy.
27 posted on 06/20/2002 5:27:31 PM PDT by TheDon
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To: TheDon
I don't have a dog in this hunt. I am not interested in debating this issue, and neither is Walt, Non-S, Illbay, Ditto, X, etc. I and they know that neither side will change any minds by means either persuasive or pejorative.

It's not a big deal to me that they think Lincoln was a minor deity. I used to like devilled ham, too, but I got over it. The issue I have is that the pro-Lincoln faction always comes on here with sneering condescension toward anyone who does not share their view. Southerners are all crackers, slack jawed yokels, hicks, cousin-f***in, banjo playing morons. Anyone who displays the slightest hint of reverence or respect toward a dead Confederate soldier is ridiculed, called a "venerator of losers", racists, supporters of slavery, etc.

In that sense, your characterization of these threads as a debate, per se, is inaccurate. This is an electronic shouting match in which both sides trot out their pet quotes and belittle each other. I have been dragged into that, and I have done my share of belittling. It's really distracting and takes away from my rereading of Shelby Foote and Paul Johnson's History of the American People.(Go ahead, Walt and Non-S, tell me those aren't viable sources).

Thus, I'm going to stop and return to that pursuit. I have done lots of family history research and have stood at the graves of uncles, cousins, grandfathers, etc, that died in that war. It's disgusting to hear them called "perpetual losers" or "slave holding sons of bitches", or to read the sentiments that they "deserved to die" as traitors, or hopes that they are "rotting in hell".

One of the great physicists of the "Golden Era", perhaps De Broglie, said something to the effect that no theory gains acceptance because its opponents are suddenly converted to it, but rather because the opponents gradually die off and a new generation arises that has grown up with it.

28 posted on 06/20/2002 6:52:37 PM PDT by Treebeard
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To: shuckmaster; 4ConservativeJustices; one2many; billbears; Constitution Day; Alas Babylon!; ...
herewegoagain....
29 posted on 06/20/2002 7:09:53 PM PDT by stainlessbanner
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To: H.R. Gross
Mencken was great. I love hum. Great post! parsy.
30 posted on 06/20/2002 7:12:22 PM PDT by parsifal
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To: dighton; aculeus

31 posted on 06/20/2002 7:38:20 PM PDT by Orual
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To: H.R. Gross; Constitution Day; TomServo; billbears; aomagrat; stainlessbanner; archy; Ligeia; ...
America's tyrant ping!
32 posted on 06/20/2002 7:38:34 PM PDT by shuckmaster
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To: TheDon; El Sordo
Try imagining a reason for the South to secede if slavery had never been introduced to the Americas

How 'bout these in addition to South Carolinas attempts to secede.....


33 posted on 06/20/2002 8:17:57 PM PDT by stainlessbanner
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To: shuckmaster; stainlessbanner
Do you want to see Walt's latest find?

A Note On Footnotes(Lincoln Bashing)

34 posted on 06/20/2002 8:30:35 PM PDT by Libertarianize the GOP
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To: TheDon
i'd have to side with the others on this, don, it seems that you threw the first insult in your "debating"...

although maryland was never a union state, but a borderstate forced to remaining loyal by submission...

as for lincoln, our state song says it best... "maryland my maryland" ...
35 posted on 06/20/2002 8:48:37 PM PDT by teeman8r
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To: TheDon
<> Geez Don, Delaware and New Jersey join the Confederacy?
36 posted on 06/20/2002 8:58:49 PM PDT by Rebelo3
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To: okchemyst
I would like the record to show that in my mocking of DiLorenzo's attempts at rewriting American history, I have not portrayed the South, or in particular, the Southern soldier in a bad light. In fact I have not mentioned them at all.

But, so you will not have any misconceptions about what I think about the Confederacy, and those who fought for their cause, I will tell you that I hold the soldiers on both sides in the highest esteem. On both sides there were acts of great courage, loyalty, and self-sacrifice. I have read accounts of Civil War battles which have left me in awe of the common soldier of the South.

One can debate the cause of the South, and the North, without attacking those who fought well for their cause. This includes politicians as well as military leaders. If there are those who while attacking the arguments of DiLorenzo, resort to attacking the common soldier, or the South in general, that is unfortunate. I have not engaged in enough of these "discussions" on FR to say whether this is the usual, so I will take your word for it.

I too am a lover of history, but I am cautious about whose versions of history I will read. There are some out there who have a particular axe to grind and distort the history to suit their point of view. It is a waste of time to read "history" of that nature. Trying to filter out the point of view of the author from the historical fact becomes very difficult, and often the reader finds themselves infected with false history, and false views.

I would add, if it is not already apparent, that I do not think one has to defend the cause of the South, to uphold the honor, and good name, of those who fought for that cause. I do not doubt they believed in their cause every bit as much as the North did in theirs.

As there were many men who were willing, and in fact, did die for the Confederacy, it should not be surprising that there are many today who feel they were in the right. Your observation that many on these threads are engaged not in debate, but an "electronic shouting match", is probably correct. In that case, what is the point in posting this material? In particular, in the News forum?

Just as you do not like the South being bad mouthed, nor do I for that matter, neither do those of us who feel the North was in the right, like to see Lincoln being bad mouthed.
37 posted on 06/20/2002 9:04:04 PM PDT by TheDon
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To: teeman8r
My insult was in regard to an argument of DiLorenzo's, not against any of the posters. It is a subtle difference, but I'm sure you can see it. ;)
38 posted on 06/20/2002 9:06:58 PM PDT by TheDon
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To: Rebelo3
???
39 posted on 06/20/2002 9:08:07 PM PDT by TheDon
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To: WhiskeyPapa
We can actually thank(?) Robert Dale Owen for that Proclamation.

Heck, he even helped screw up the American Public School system . . .

40 posted on 06/20/2002 9:17:21 PM PDT by Alabama_Wild_Man
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To: TheDon
"The words ``coercion'' and ``invasion'' are in great use about these days. Suppose we were simply to try if we can, and ascertain what, is the meaning of these words. Let us get, if we can, the exact definitions of these words - not from dictionaries, but from the men who constantly repeat them - what things they mean to express by the words. What, then, is ``coercion''? What is ``invasion''? Would the marching of an army into South California, for instance, without the consent of her people, and in hostility against them, be coercion or invasion? I very frankly say, I think it would be invasion, and it would be coercion too, if the people of that country were forced to submit." - Abraham Lincoln, February 11, 1861
41 posted on 06/20/2002 9:25:58 PM PDT by GOPcapitalist
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To: Huck
Your still want to turn me on to Mencken?

Yet, this is damned good writing:

and it is a matter of unescapable record that his career in the State Legislature was indistinguishable from that of a Tammany Nietzsche.
Sophism is a joy to behold. (I should know.)
42 posted on 06/20/2002 9:28:59 PM PDT by nicollo
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To: Alabama_Wild_Man
Robert Owen, was born in Glasgow, Scotland, on 9th November, 1801. His father, a successful industrialist in Britain, decided in 1825 to establish a new community in America based on the ideas that he had developed over the years. Owen purchased an area of Indiana for £30,000 and called the community New Harmony.

Robert Owen left his son in charge while he carried on his business in Britain. Owen taught at the school and published the journal, New Harmony Gazette and worked closely with the feminist, Fanny Wright.

The couple also worked together on the Free Enquirer. In the journal Owen and Wright advocated socialism, the abolition of slavery, universal suffrage, free secular education, birth control, changes in the marriage and divorce laws. Wright and Owen also became involved in the radical Workingmen's Party.

Owen moved to Indiana in 1832 and was elected to the Indiana Legislature (1836-38) and the House of Representatives (1845-47). In Congress he advocated the allocation of government funds for public schools.

In 1853 Owen was appointed as charge d'affaires at Naples and two years later became the minister to Italy. On his return to the United States in 1858 he became an outspoken opponent of slavery. During the American Civil War Owen urged Abraham Lincoln to force the South to emancipate the slaves. He wrote two books on the subject, The Policy of Emancipation (1863) and The Wrong of Slavery (1864).

Robert Dale Owen
, who also wrote a novel, Beyond the Breakers (1870) and an autobiography, Threading My Way (1874), died at Lake George, New York, on 24th June, 1877.
43 posted on 06/20/2002 9:39:19 PM PDT by eddie willers
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To: GOPcapitalist
Abraham Lincoln
FIRST INAUGURAL ADDRESS
MONDAY, MARCH 4, 1861

...

I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so.

Those who nominated and elected me did so with full knowledge that I had made this and many similar declarations and had never recanted them; and more than this, they placed in the platform for my acceptance, and as a law to themselves and to me, the clear and emphatic resolution which I now read:

Resolved, That the maintenance inviolate of the rights of the States, and especially the right of each State to order and control its own domestic institutions according to its own judgment exclusively, is essential to that balance of power on which the perfection and endurance of our political fabric depend; and we denounce the lawless invasion by armed force of the soil of any State or Territory, no matter what pretext, as among the gravest of crimes.

...

I therefore consider that in view of the Constitution and the laws the Union is unbroken, and to the extent of my ability, I shall take care, as the Constitution itself expressly enjoins upon me, that the laws of the Union be faithfully executed in all the States. Doing this I deem to be only a simple duty on my part, and I shall perform it so far as practicable unless my rightful masters, the American people, shall withhold the requisite means or in some authoritative manner direct the contrary. I trust this will not be regarded as a menace, but only as the declared purpose of the Union that it will constitutionally defend and maintain itself.

In doing this there needs to be no bloodshed or violence, and there shall be none unless it be forced upon the national authority. The power confided to me will be used to hold, occupy, and possess the property and places belonging to the Government and to collect the duties and imposts; but beyond what may be necessary for these objects, there will be no invasion, no using of force against or among the people anywhere. Where hostility to the United States in any interior locality shall be so great and universal as to prevent competent resident citizens from holding the Federal offices, there will be no attempt to force obnoxious strangers among the people for that object. While the strict legal right may exist in the Government to enforce the exercise of these offices, the attempt to do so would be so irritating and so nearly impracticable withal that I deem it better to forego for the time the uses of such offices.

...


Context is everything, ain't it?

http://americancivilwar.com/do cuments/lincoln_inaugural_1.ht ml
44 posted on 06/20/2002 10:05:06 PM PDT by TheDon
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To: okchemyst
A lot of what you complain about isn't so much directed against the South or Southerners, but against Di Lorenzo, or specific posters, or the myths that they spread. I won't deny that tempers do run high on these threads. But when they start out with attacks on the "tyrant" or "monster" or "war criminal" or "ape" Lincoln it does set a tone. Read some of the Rockwellite articles on Lincoln or some of the wilder confederatist articles about the evil Yankees and ask if such things are apt to promote calm and polite discussion.

19th Century American attitudes about race were far from those currently accepted. When someone points to discrepancies or deficiencies in Lincoln's record about race it's natural that those who respond will bring in the Confederate record on race and the fact that slavery was an important part of Southern life at the time. Then this is taken for an attack on the South.

The things that you cite are to be deplored. They don't fit into the tone that debates should hold to. But they aren't always characteristic of the posters that you have named, and they certainly aren't unique to them. There is plenty of abuse from the other side that you don't mention. You do a disservice by singling out people that you disagree with in a complaint about things that you object to. There is a big difference between indulging in fruitless debates and resorting to insults.

The comments that you mention are more likely to come from casual passers-by who see Civil War thread after Civil War thread and don't see what the fuss is about. The Rockwell/League of the South world is a small one that circulates the same quotes over and over again and seems to be speaking largely to itself. There are a lot of important and obvious things that this group ignores or denies, and no shortage of those who, happening accidentally upon a Rockwell piece for the first time or the umpteeth time, address these omissions in a colorful or offensive fashion.

I think you're right that neither side will be convinced by convinced by anything said here. But it would be a mistake to say that "neither side will change any minds" or that no one is writing in an attempt to persuade. There are many who are uncommitted and still amenable to reason and persuasion. I had an open mind when I first encountered these threads, and made a decision based on the different arguments and the sources they cited. Others may be able to say the same, without endorsing everything that's said by one side or the other. Even if everyone were committed to one side or another, still the effort to found evidence and craft a reasoned reply could be seen as an effort to debate and persuade. While the debate is frustrating and largely fruitless, it has been an interesting and entertaining way to learn more about American history, and that has been of some value.

I see enough spitting on the culture of the North and the leadership of the Union to make me sceptical of the "We just want to be left alone to honor our heroes" argument. Understand that others want to do the same. There is room for honoring both. But "The South Was Right" school goes far beyond honoring the Confederate dead and actively demeans the cause of those who fought on the other side.

As for Mencken, I think he misunderstands the questions behind the Gettysburg Address. Lincoln wasn't talking about the right of self-determination, but about the survival of free, constitutional and democratic republics. The demands that groups made for self-determination would tear apart self-governing societies, and secession would be a warrant for perpetual war and all the anarchy and tyranny that war brings. You can agree or disagree with Lincoln, but simply giving a green light to every movement that demands secession on its own terms at its own will, doesn't prevent the dilemmas Lincoln calls our attention to. Such a policy would be more likely to create and exacerbate them.

The idea that state sovereignty equals the sovereignty of the people of the states equals freedom is another that can be called into question. The idea of minority rights defended by "state's right's" advocates can also be applied against "state's rights." If I am not free because of the abuses of majorities at the federal level, do abuses of majorities at the state level leave me any freer? Similarly, the idea that "the Confederates went into battle free" is also open to debate. It depends on how one defines "Confederates" and "free." Mencken's sentence opens up too many cans of worms to be accepted at face value as true. A committed group of warriors always goes into battle free, but that doesn't tell us much about the society in which they live, and the rights of others in it, including slaves, oppositionists, taxpayers and conscripts.

45 posted on 06/20/2002 11:02:31 PM PDT by x
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To: stainlessbanner
Thanks for the ping. Bump for Mencken.
46 posted on 06/20/2002 11:06:30 PM PDT by Tauzero
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To: x
"But 'The South Was Right' school goes far beyond honoring the Confederate dead and actively demeans the cause of those who fought on the other side."

Well, respectfully, duh. If the South WAS right, it appears they have a bit to complain about.

"The demands that groups made for self-determination would tear apart self-governing societies, and secession would be a warrant for perpetual war and all the anarchy and tyranny that war brings."

Again, respectfully, do you even hear what you're saying? It's preposterous. The argument that the essence of lawful self-government is the denial of self-determination is so surreal and Orwellian as to leave one dumbfounded, and the notion that peaceful secession leads inevitably to war is, frankly, equally so. If a State can secede lawfully, then there are no grounds for war. It was precisely the attempt to STOP States from seceding that led to war--just as in the case of the American colonies, when they seceded from Great Britain.

"The idea that state sovereignty equals the sovereignty of the people of the states equals freedom is another that can be called into question."

Then equally so national sovereignty when compared against global government.
47 posted on 06/21/2002 2:24:03 AM PDT by Sicken Tard
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To: nicollo; stainlessbanner; Tauzero
But in the middle life he purged his style of ornament and it became almost badly simple—and it is for that simplicity that he is remembered today. The Gettysburg speech is at once the shortest and the most famous oration in American history. Put beside it, all the whoopings of the Websters, Sumners and Everetts seem gaudy and silly It is eloquence brought to a pellucid and almost gem-like perfection—the highest emotion reduced to a few poetical phrases. Nothing else precisely like it is to be found in the whole range of oratory. Lincoln himself never even remotely approached it. It is genuinely stupendous.

Great description. Here he is addressing the style of Lincoln, and he is correct. Lincoln's rhetoric was stupendous. Absolutely I still want to turn you on to Mencken, nicollo. If you read enough Mencken, you see he was wrong about a great many things, but try to find another writer who is so entertaining and funny in the process of being wrong. If Bob Herbert or Thomas Friedman or Al Hunt were this funny, or this skillful with prose, I would read them regularly and disregard their political fallacies.

At times one wonders how serious he was about his subject matter. Which was more important to him? That he got his facts right, or that his sentence ended with the proper cadence. His humor, his gusto, and above all his style--the way he said things--is as lively and entertaining today as it must have been in his day. I imagine he was a great guy to have beer and steaks with, too. He was interested in a variety of subjects, including art, science, politics, history, sociology, psychology, sports, religion. But one doesn't go to him for facts, or even for excellent analysis. One goes to Mencken for language, and humor, and memorable aphorisms. Ultimately, we all find HLM saying things we don't like. I imagine fans of this Lincoln ditty might not like the following:

The South is one of the few regions in Christendom wherein it is still socially dangerous for a man to express belief in the ordinary principia of science. Northerners who are unfamiliar with the Southern mind are always loath to believe this, but it is a fact. Revivals still go on annually at nearly all of the principal sub-Potomac colleges, and in the smaller ones they are as important in the calendar as the annual football combats. It is impossible to imagine anyting properly describable as civilization in a region so dreadfully beset by organized imbecility. If any actual Southerner has ever spoken out openly and bravely against the tyranny of its reigning Protestant shamans I have not heard of him. They all devote themselves to furious debate over irrelevances, and usually end by putting the blame for all the troubles of the South on a Northern conspiracy. No such conspiracy exists. The North itself would be far better off if the South were more civilized.

--Henry Louis Mencken, Minority Report

HLM cut all ways. Here is my favorite HLM quote (available on my profile page:)

"To be an American is, unquestionably, to be the noblest, grandest, the proudest mammal that ever hoofed the verdure of God's green footstool. Often, in the black abysm of night, the thought that I am one awakens me like a blast of trumpets, and I am thrown into a cold sweat by contemplation of the fact. I shall cherish it on the scaffold; it will comfort me in hell.

--H.L. Mencken, "The Final Estimate," The Smart Set, 1919.

Superb writing. But he was wrong about a lot of things.

48 posted on 06/21/2002 3:18:05 AM PDT by Huck
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To: H.R. Gross
H.L.Mencken wrote better columns and had more wisdom on a bad day than all of the liberal establishment could hope to manage in a lifetime.

His shadow hovers over all of them laughing at their self-deception and stupidity.
49 posted on 06/21/2002 3:29:58 AM PDT by cgbg
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To: Grut
"The southern states were right about self-determination and wrong about Blacks."

Really? Ever been to Washington D.C.? Ever seen Al Sharpton? ;)

And do I need to mention crime statistics?

Undoubtedly slavery was morally wrong, but does anything get better after being "diversimyfied"? Is America a better, safer, healthier society today than in 1965, when it was over 90% European-American?
50 posted on 06/21/2002 5:09:04 AM PDT by pjsmith
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