What is America?Poli 110J 4.2 Apples of Gold
Main Themes of Lincoln’s Speech • US a single people • The nation is specially obligated by Providence to seek ever-greater levels of political equality • Defining the community • The nation is a moral unit • Sin is omnipresent, existing within all individuals and all peoples • This means that everyone is equal in important ways.
60 seconds of theology (redux) • What is sin? • Not being a bad person • Not doing bad things (individual sins) • In Christian thought, the taint of original sin is a state of inherent moral imperfection. • A person can be very good and still be stained by sin. • Makes forgiveness necessary • Separates humans from God • For Lincoln, only God is beyond sin
Long-term outcomes of the Civil War • Federal government decisively rendered superior to state governments • Necessities of war lead to dramatic expansion, bureaucracratization of federal gov’t • Push to homogenize law across states • Expanded power of business, closer ties to government
Equality • Equality the first-order political good of the Union: • In letter to Lincoln, friend quotes Proverbs 25:11: “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver.”
Equality • Lincoln’s response: • “The expression of that principle [that all men are created equal] in our Declaration of Independence was the word ‘fitly spoken’ which has proved an ‘apple of gold’ to us. The Union and the Constitution are the picture of silver subsequently framed around it. The picture was made not to adorn or destroy the apple; but to adorn and preserve it. The picture was made for the apple, not the apple for the picture. So let us act, that neither picture nor apple shall ever be blurred, bruised or broken.”
Secession • Nov. 6, 1860: Lincoln elected • December 20, 1860: South Carolina secedes • By February 1861, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas join it to form the Confederacy, later joined by Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina, and Tennessee • March 4, 1861: Lincoln inaugurated • April 12, 1861: South attacks & takes Fort Sumter, war begins
First Inaugural • Major themes: Secession is bad because it • Breaks contract • Violates the nation • Is anti-democratic
First Inaugural • Contract & Covenant: • ““All profess to be content in the Union, if all constitutional rights be maintained” • No one can name “a single instance in which a plainly written provision of the Constitution has ever been denied.”
First Inaugural • Contract & Covenant: • Even if the Constitution were only a contract (it’s not), one party cannot unilaterally exit a contract • The question is one of definitive interpretation: • “May Congress prohibit slavery in the territories? The Constitution does not expressly say. Must Congress protect slavery in the territories? The Constitution does not expressly say.” • Power over the meaning of the law
First Inaugural • Likewise, the Constitution is silent on “the only substantial dispute” facing the country; that “One section of the country believes slavery is right, and ought to be extended, while the other believes that it is wrong, and ought not be extended.” • How is this dispute to be resolved? • The black letter of the law can’t fix this, it is a matter of persuasion & argument (politics)
First Inaugural • But the Union is not a contract, it is a single, national people • “The Union is much older than the Constitution… finally, in 1787, one of the declared objects for ordaining and establishing the Constitution, was ‘to form a more perfect union.’ • But if the destruction of the Union, by one, or by a part only, of the States, be lawfully possible, the Union is less perfect than before the Constitution, having lost the vital element of perpetuity.”
First Inaugural • Secession anti-democratic • “Unanimity is impossible; the rule of a minority, as a permanent arrangement, is wholly inadmissible; so that, rejecting the majority principle, anarchy, or despotism in some form, is all that is left.” • The choices are between despotism, democracy, or anarchy
First Inaugural • The Union is bound by a shared history and belief • “I am loth to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, streching from every battle-field, and patriot grave, to every living heart and hearthstone, all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”
Gettysburg • July 1-3, 1863, after Lee’s invasion of the North • 95,000 Union soldiers, 75,000 Confederate • 23,000 Union and 28,000 Confederate casualties • Myth of Lee’s invincibility broken, major turning point in the war • Pickett’s Charge
Gettysburg Address • Main Themes: • America is a nation founded in and directed toward equality • Americans can succeed or fail in this charge • The Union is the definitive test case for democracy • Redemptive potential of the current crisis • Central metaphors of birth, death, and rebirth • Giving the war meaning by embedding it w/in greater narrative
Gettysburg Address • “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” • Biblical method of dating • Language of conception & birth • Equality the central ideal of American politics, it is the telos. • Defining the American community
Gettysburg Address • “Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.” • The war is an ordeal, a test • The case of the US is determinative. Can democratic republican governments endure w/o succumbing to anarchy or tyranny?
Gettysburg Address • They came to dedicate the cemetery, • “as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live” • Gave their lives • Died so the nation might live • Martyrs
Gettysburg Address • It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us---that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion…
Gettysburg Address • The living must show greater devotion even than the dead • The great task is not the war, but the national pursuit of equality.
---that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain---that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom---and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
Gettysburg Address • By the blood of martyrs, the US will be born anew, purified of its gravest sin. • But we can fail, we must show necessary resolve. • “Under God” • Religious authorization of refounded Republic, but also chastened by knowledge of its higher accountability
Gettysburg Address • All of the people, the polity includes all Americans regardless of whites. • The community is defined by its belief in equality, not in particular origins or racial classes
Gettysburg Address • “perish from the earth” • Jeremiah 10 • Promise of divine retribution • The fallibility of human works