Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Louis Mazur's Thoughts on Lincoln and "Modern-Day" Government

In the Sunday August 10, 2104 edition of the Dallas Morning News, Professor Louis Mazur presented a new cause for the American Civil War in his editorial "With our faith in modern-day government depleted, some lessons from Lincoln."  Mazur cites Lincoln's July 1, 1861 address to Congress in which the president  declared that the rebellion "presents to the whole family of man, the question, whether a constitutional republic, or a democracy — a government of the people, by the same people — can, or cannot, maintain its territorial integrity, against its own domestic foes."

Mazur wrote, "The goal of saving the Union and the emerging objective of abolishing slavery were both subsidiary to the primary question of whether a minority of 'discontented individuals' could combine to overturn the results of a national election and thereby 'put an end to free government upon the earth.' The Civil War demonstrated that there are many legitimate ways for minorities in a democracy to express themselves, but armed rebellion is not one of them."

Lincoln believed that there were democratic processes in-place to allow political minorities to express themselves and work for change. This may seem to be cynical in light of Lincoln's restrictions on the very process he went to war to defend. Lincoln suspended habeas corpus, closed opposition newspapers, and arrested dissenters. Hardly reasonable actions for someone who proclaimed that there were legitimate ways for minorities to express themselves.

Mazur says the most significant lesson of the Civil War was to demonstrate that democracy was "tough and resilient." Mazur states that the people would endure almost unimaginable death and destruction to preserve a government whose ultimate object was “to elevate the condition of men.” Professor Mazur wrote, "The Civil War reminded a reunited nation that everyone should have an opportunity to rise, that everyone should be given a 'fair chance in the race of life.' This, after all, is what democracy was for."

While these are lofty goals, I would be shocked if a poll of citizens and Republicans would select that idea in explaining why they fought.  Preserving the Union was the typical response. The aspect of what this entails was a lot harder to grasp. Prior to Lincoln's election, the US Army had been called upon to put down a revolution in Utah. The territory refused to obey federal laws. The military presence in Utah had more to do with chastising an unruly group than giving the citizens a "fair chance in the race of life." The Civil War was pursued with the same intent. 

Southerners felt that they had no voice in the Congress and that they were out of "legitimate ways... to express themselves." This left rebellion as the only option.  The behavior of the Lincoln Administration concerning dissenters provided evidence of Southern fears.

I doubt if anyone in the Lincoln Administration in 1861 was interested in giving everyone a "fair chance in the race of life." Lincoln's actions in regard to Fremont's emancipation order and status of Black Americans indicate that this was the case.  Lincoln ideas should not be confused with Andrew Jackson's views on democracy and social equality. Lincoln did change his views as the war progressed and found abolishing slavery was a stronger basis on which to justify the war. 

What lessons did we learn? Amendments were passed granting freedom, equality, and a place at the voting box. Then they were forgotten and replaced by a series of local regulations that endeavored to return Black Americans to a pseudo-slavery existence. 

Mazur quotes Lincoln who said that the "The legitimate object of government" is to do those things that "they need to have done, but can not do, at all, or can not, so well do, for themselves — in their separate, and individual capacities." This remains the true purpose of government and is the legitimate justification and reason for government.

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