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The Lyceum Address

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March 26, 2022

January 27th, 1838

"...there is, even now, something of ill-omen amongst us."

The line above is from Abraham Lincoln's earliest published speech, the "Lyceum Address," given to the Young Men's Lyceum of Springfield, Illinois, in January of 1838.

Lincoln was only 28 years old at the time, but wise beyond his years; possessed of uncanny insight into the minds of men, and the consequences of their acts.

Christopher Bedford's excellent essay in the Federalist has prompted me to reexamine the lessons therein from these earliest words of our nation's 16th President. I share those with you here.

Lincoln recognized the peril facing a nation whose founding generation had passed away, leaving a generation that had not yet shed blood to gain their freedom, responsible for maintaining the freedom bequeathed to them.

In a discourse delivered 183 years ago, Lincoln describes our present state of affairs with prophetic precision. A more timely example of history repeating itself, or a reminder that "there is nothing new under the sun," cannot be found.

Lincoln explains -

"I mean 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; and the worse than savage mobs, for the executive ministers of justice.

Accounts of outrages committed by mobs, form the every-day news of the times. It would be tedious, as well as useless, to recount the horrors of all of them."

People unwilling to set aside their thirst for instant gratification to await the often-slow mechanisms of our legal process, had begun bypassing these hallmarks of civil society, using brutality and deadly violence to pursue their agendas.

Because the victims of mob violence were, at least at the outset, frequently worthy of public disdain and deserving of severe punishment anyway, the general public largely responded with a collective shrug.

Like today's BLM and Antifa attacks, the government also turned a blind eye, as the violence ultimately served their purposes as well, ridding them of first, miscreants, and later troublesome opposition to their political agendas.

Lincoln spoke of recent events in Mississippi, where professional gamblers had been lynched, not for violating any law, but for being "undesirables" engaged in "low behavior."

He expanded further on other atrocities, linking the prevalence of the horrific acts to the indifference of both government and law-abiding citizens.

"Next, negroes, suspected of conspiring to raise an insurrection, were caught up and hanged in all parts of the State: then, white men, supposed to be leagued with the negroes; and finally, strangers, from neighboring States, going thither on business, were, in many instances subjected to the same fate.

Thus went on this process of hanging, from gamblers to negroes, from negroes to white citizens, and from these to strangers; till, dead men were seen literally dangling from the boughs of trees upon every roadside; and in numbers almost sufficient, to rival the native Spanish moss of the country, as a drapery of the forest."

Men, unrestrained by the rule of law, will grow increasingly lawless, reaching new heights of viciousness, unless brought up short by either the intervention of law, or the overwhelming disapproval of their fellow citizens.

Lincoln perfectly encapsulates our present circumstances in his next paragraph; noting mankind's tendency to become jaded and unaffected by even egregious injustice, as the frequency of such incidents renders them mundane.

"Such are the effects of mob law; and such as the scenes, becoming more and more frequent in this land so lately famed for love of law and order; and the stories of which, have even now grown too familiar, to attract any thing more, than an idle remark."

Lincoln elaborates on the consequences of indifference to lawlessness, predicting it will grow unchecked.

"...till all the walls erected for the defense of the persons and property of individuals, are trodden down, and disregarded."

None of this occurs in a vacuum.

Lincoln tells us winking at lawlessness, invites an even deadlier consequence than the violence itself.

"...good men, men who love tranquility, who desire to abide by the laws, and enjoy their benefits, who would gladly spill their blood in the defense of their country; seeing their property destroyed; their families insulted, and their lives endangered; their persons injured; and seeing nothing in prospect that forebodes a change for the better; become tired of, and disgusted with, a Government that offers them no protection; and are not much averse to a change in which they imagine they have nothing to lose.

Whenever this effect shall be produced among us; whenever the vicious portion of population shall be permitted to gather in bands of hundreds and thousands, and burn churches, ravage and rob provision-stores, throw printing presses into rivers, shoot editors, and hang and burn obnoxious persons at pleasure, and with impunity; depend on it, this Government cannot last."

A government uninterested in upholding law, or worse still, enforcing it selectively for political aims, will soon be alienated from its citizens, the bond of trust severed, the consent of the governed withdrawn.

Lincoln describes the inevitable result -

"I know the American People are much attached to their Government;--I know they would suffer much for its sake;--I know they would endure evils long and patiently, before they would ever think of exchanging it for another.

Yet, notwithstanding all this, 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."

We in 2022, are confronted with identical circumstances; beset by those with a mindset unevolved from the worst elements of the 1830's.

We are shunned and marginalized by oligarchs using their near-monopolies to accomplish on behalf of the government that which the government itself is prohibited from doing - abrogating the Constitutional rights of a disfavored segment of the population.

That government then obstructs access to avenues of redress, whether through the courts or legislation.

As it was then, it is now, with the same danger of civil war or similar revolutionary violence looming in the near distance.

Lincoln offers the solution to our troubles, calling to mind the singular power of dedication to the preservation of our uniquely constituted nation, a nation he would describe, nearly 3 decades later, as "the last best hope of earth."

"The question recurs, "how shall we fortify against it?" The answer is simple.

Let every American, every lover of liberty, every well wisher to his posterity, swear by the blood of the Revolution, never to violate in the least particular, the laws of the country; and never to tolerate their violation by others.

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.

Let reverence for the laws, be breathed by every American mother, to the lisping babe, that prattles on her lap--let it be taught in schools, in seminaries, and in colleges; let it be written in Primers, spelling books, and in Almanacs;--let it be preached from the pulpit, proclaimed in legislative halls, and enforced in courts of justice.

And, in short, let it become the political religion of the nation; and let the old and the young, the rich and the poor, the grave and the gay, of all sexes and tongues, and colors and conditions, sacrifice unceasingly upon its altars."

These final paragraphs show us the way. It's up to us to overturn the hegemony of anti-Americanism in our institutions, culture and education.

Should we fail, we will meet the same fate as our forebears, and find our hope for success lying on the far bank of a river of blood. -30-

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