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tv   The Presidency Lincolns Speeches  CSPAN  May 31, 2022 5:36pm-6:36pm EDT

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thanks again for joining us today. thanks for everyone listening in. >> thank you, thanks for doing. abraham lincoln's call, or -- talk about the 16th presidents
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speeches and what they revealed about his views on the constitution. the national constitution center in philadelphia is the host of this event. >> and now it is such a pleasure to introduce our extremely distinguished panel of americas leading lincoln scholars to discuss lincoln's speeches and the american idea. michael burlingham holds the chancellor naomi b lynn, distinguished chair and lincoln studies of the university of illinois springfield. he's the author of several books of lincoln, including lincoln observed, the inner world of abraham lincoln and the two volume american law around lincoln's life as well as his new book, which he will be discussing tonight, the black man's president, abraham lincoln, african americans, and the pursuit of racial equality. noah feldman is the felix frankfurter professor of law, chair of the society of fellows, and founding director of the julis-rabinowitz program on
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jewish and israeli law at harvard university. he's the author of nine books, including the three lives of james madison, -- partisan president, and his latest book, which we will be discussing tonight, the broken constitution, lincoln's slavery and re-founding of america. diana, schaub, it's professor of political science at loyola university in maryland and a nonresident senior fellow at the american enterprise institute, where she focuses on american political thought and history. she is the author of several books, including what so proudly we hailed, the american soul and story, speech in song, and her new book, is his greatest speeches, how lincoln moved the nation. welcome, michael burlingham, noah feldman, and diana schaub. michael -- let us begin with you. tell our friends why you argue, in your new book, that lincoln was the black man's president and you have several speeches
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of frederick douglass that you begin with, including in 1865 eulogy on lincoln, where he said no people of class, people in the country have a better reason for lamenting the death of lincoln then have the colored people. what is the significance of that speech and why do you believe that lincoln was the black man's president? >> thank you very much for your kind introduction and thank you for inviting me. i feel a little out of place because my book is focused, the central thing on my book is, let's not focus on lincoln's speeches and writings and policies, let's focus on lincoln's interaction with black people, both in springfield and in washington. but the title of the book comes from a eulogy that frederick douglass delivered on june 1st, 1865. in cooper union, the premier site in the country to give a major speech. and it was covered widely in the new york press. but it's been on accountability ignored by historians and ethnologists of douglas's speeches. and in this remarkable speech, he says abraham lincoln was
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predominantly the white man's president. the first to rise above the prejudices of his paper and his country. by inviting me, frederick douglass, so the white house to consult on public affairs, lincoln was saying by that gesture that i am the president of the black people, as well as a white, and i mean to honor the rights as men and citizens. and it's a striking contrast to the speech that is very well-known widely anthologies, and commented on regularly, and that is the speech he gave 11 years later at the dedication of a statue, the immense patient memorial in washington, in which he said, abraham lincoln was predominantly the white man's president. i remember when i first encountered this speech in the douglass papers in the manuscript, i was always astounded. i said, surely i would've seen this speech in the five volume edition of douglas's speeches at the yale press published or the four volumes studied in philip foreigner had -- philippe foreigner went back to those sources and those speeches weren't included.
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and so, that got me thinking about lincoln and race in general. and then kate missouri, very fine historian at northwestern university, published an article recently on the white house receptions and black peoples perception attendance of white house perceptions. in my 2000-page biography, i had a little bit to say about that. but i thought jeez, how did i miss so much of the good information that she has unearthed? and so, i decided to plunge deeper into that subject, and then that let me deeper and deeper into lincoln's interactions with black people back in springfield and in washington. and lots of people know about lincoln's interaction with frederick douglass, because douglas would describe them in his autobiographies to some detail. but little has been done about lincoln's interaction with other black people. and so, thanks to the enormous
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utility of modern word searchable newspaper databases, i was able to dig up a lot of new information. i got everything on print that needs to be updated, thanks to be databases. and so, what i found is that both in springfield and in washington, lincoln interacted with a large number of black people, all of whom commented on how respectful he was, how kind and how generous we. and it was not just courtesy. it was also gestures, actions based on appeals that they made that indicates to my way of thinking that lincoln was instinctive a racial egalitarian. >> fascinating, thank you so much for that and thank you for calling our attention to the tremendous significance of digitized primary text, which have indeed transformed historical research and our understanding of lincoln. no feldman, you've argued so powerfully in your book that the original constitution of 1787 was broken.
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and as you put it in the new york times, lincoln fatally injured the constitution of 1787. he consciously and repeatedly violated court elements of the constitution, had they not been understood by nearly all americans of that time. and through these acts of destructions, lincoln effectively broke the constitution of 1787, paving the way for something very different to replace it. tell us more about your thesis and the broken constitution. >> thank you, jeff. it's an honor to be here with these distinguished scholars. i am a constitutions person rather than a lincoln person, so i came from the standpoint of the constitution itself. and among those of us who work on the founding in 1787, it's for the most part, there might be one or two exceptions, commonly accepted that the constitution was a compromise document in which one of the central compromises was a compromise over slavery. and so, we have the three fifths compromise, famously. we have the guarantee that the international slave trade would remain for at least 20 years, and we also have the fugitive
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slave clause, which effectively required the states that did not recognize slavery on their own to acknowledge and recognize slavery itself. so, that's the setting for the way the constitution functions from that time up until the civil war. there were moments where the constitutional compromised seemed near breaking, but congress, for the most part, managed to ryan scribe that compromise with new variations. the missouri compromise is the most famous example of this. and lincoln actually very much supported that structure of the constitutional compromise throughout his political career. because we are mentioning speeches of lincoln, i will mention in this context very briefly something which diana has written about very extensively, lincoln's address to the young men -- in springfield in 1838. the only passage i want to mention from that is a speech where lincoln was actively defending the constitution is lincoln's statement there that we should be aware of people like alexander the great or like caesar, or like napoleon,
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who in their seeking of greatness would be willing to enslave free men or to free enslaved people. that is to say, an act that would be extraordinary outside the bounds of the constitutional norms would be wrongful. it's clearly against us. and that's because the constitution as it then existed legally mandated the continued existence of slavery in those states that chose to have slavery. so, that lincoln's view. and once he becomes president, he confronts the reality that there have been sessions by at that 0.7 states. he has to decide what to do about that. and of course, that secession is a fundamental breaking of the constitution. and lincoln responded by himself breaking the constitution, in i argue three ways, which i will just mention each very briefly. the first is, sort of surprising. we don't necessarily think of it as breaking the constitution. the decision to go to war unilaterally, to obligate the succeeding states to return to the union, was not under
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contemporary constitutional norms. an obvious authority or right of the presidency or even of the whole government. the new cabinet administration and official opinion by the attorney general embraced by buchanan in his state of the union address and said that although secession was revolution, the president, congress, indeed, no part of the federal government had the authority to force the states back into the union. it is nothing in the constitution that explicitly authorize it and because of the principal consent of the government. govern. the southerners in those states had chosen to no longer give their consent to be governed. it violated that principle of consent to coerce the back. in lincoln unilaterally, eventually with the support of congress, took up arms to force them back in. the second was the suspension of habeas corpus. the right that says if the government grab what we have to appear in court, give a reason, put you on trial, if you are not convicted let you go. lincoln unilaterally suspended habeas corpus early in the war. he kept that
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suspension in place even after the supreme court, via the chief justice, or at least the supreme court justice raja tani reggie to decision saying this with unconstitutional. only congress has the ability to suspend--. that is still the view of almost all constitutional scholars. the supreme court after the wall also repudiated the world that without a suspension by congress that martial law could be applied within the united states, or no war was going on. lincoln did, that he did it extensively. he imprisoned between 15 and 40,000 people, there is a lot of debate of how many, over the course of the war without trial and without the opportunity to appear in court. this is the largest suppression of free expression in american history by a huge margin! last but not least, much more uplifting lincoln also broke the constitution as he understood it when he issued the emancipation proclamation. formally freeing enslaved people in areas that were under confederate control. lincoln himself when the war began reiterated his commitment to the idea that slavery was
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constitutionally protected. i think we will talk a little bit tonight about his second inaugural address, the gettysburg address, the two you see when you walk into the lincoln memorial. the never hear the first inaugural address. it opens with him saying that he has neither the will nor the inclination or the constitutional power to change slavery, which he says is protected by the constitution. lincoln, overtime, shifted in his view. in my book we spent a lot of detail time trying to show that shift, and he came to believe that it was somehow and in itselalready as president, as commander-in-chief in wartime to break the guarantee of property rights, break the fugitive slave clause, which quite literally would've said that anyone who escaped would have to be returned to slavery as under the constitution of the war, lincoln and the emancipation proclamation is
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that people who would escaped would not be returned and would in fact become permanently free. so, that's a morally good breaking of the constitution in my view, but a breaking of, it nonetheless. >> thank you so much for that wonderful summary of your book and for calling our attention to the first inaugural. diana job, i'm going to do something which may or may not work, which is to try to screen share, because it's so wonderful to have the text in front of us. could that work? for the lights him address? i think that everyone can see it, unless anyone objects. and your project is so inspiring to really do close readings of the likes of address and the gettysburg address in the second inaugural. there's so much here and of course, we can't parse the whole thing with this theme that -- mentioned with the rule of law and also the comfort and reason and passion jumped out. but there may be other aspects of it that you want to call our attention to. so, tell us about how we should read the lyceum address. >> maybe i can, for a minute,
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just say something about the overall thesis of the book. and then turn to the lies he. so, yeah, the book, holding it here. we've got books, out we should show them. is a close reading, i believe in close and careful reading, of three lincoln speeches. first, the lie see him address, the speech he gave as a young man. and then the two most famous presidential addresses. the lyceum address in the second inaugural. actually, when i'm struck by is how often lincoln anchored his speeches in dates, insignificant dates. so, the lyceum address begins with the constitution and the date of 1787. the gettysburg address, as everyone knows, forced parents avenue years ago, takes us to 1776. the declaration of
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independence, that's with the lyceum address is anchored in. and then the second inaugural, i don't think this has maybe been noted enough, but it is actually anchored in 1619. if you do the math, the reference to 250 years of the slaves unrequited toil, that takes you to 1615. he's of course rounding the number off. so, lincoln is aware of the origin date of slavery on the american continent. so, i argue that lincoln really tells the story of american and helps us understand america through these three significant dates. those two texts and the relationship between those texts and slavery in the united states. so, i think the second inaugural really deserves to be known as the original and actually better 1619 project. so, to go to the lyceum address,
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the speech that he gives as a very young man. i think it's a remarkable address, it's a diagnosis of the dangers that lincoln sees abroad in the land at the time. more general diagnosis of the problems that democracy is always prone to. so, one of lincoln's notes is the growing prevalence of mob rule throughout the nation. breakdown of law and order. this breakdown is, triggered he is not talking about looting and rioting. he's talking about vigilante justice, acts of vigilantism. these vigilantes are driven by their passion for justice, but they are running roughshod over the due process and rule of law. so, lincoln highlights this danger, he gives this diagnosis and then
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he proposes a solution. and his solution is reverence for the constitution and laws. so, his recommendation is law abiding. not simply law-abiding, but a particular attitude in which one obey the laws. this attitude of reverence. so, that's his diagnosis of the present danger. but the second half of the speech is not about the present danger, but about future dangers. this is where lincoln's analysis of passion is really developed. here he goes back to a famous distinction that the ancient political philosophers always, used the distinction between the few and the many. so, lincoln says, what happens if a person of the founding type springs up after the founding? what is that person going to do,
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what's outlet for their vast ambition will be available? this is what he gives for his warning against the alexander, is the caesar's and a napoleon's. those who won't be content to be the 41st or the 42nd or the 43rd president of the united states. they're not content to be a custodian in the house of the fathers. this ambition is presented as morally neutral. if there are good avenues to pursue, like the freeing of the slaves, that might be done. if the avenues of the good have already been trod, they will set boldly fourth enslaving free men. so, there's a problem of inordinate ambition and there's this problem on the part of the many. and that is these negative passions of human nature. jealousy, envy, hatred, revenge. lincoln says at the time of the founding, those passions were able to be harnessed toward good ends. you could hate the british and achieve liberty for yourself.
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but now and in the future, those passions will be dangerous. his denunciation of passion is very strong. passion may have helped us by can do so no more. in the future, passion will be our enemy. i think it is significant to note, that lincoln always means by passion the negative passions. so, for instance, he doesn't mean bonds of affection, he doesn't mean friendship. you can look at, actually, the first inaugural, which also says the passion is the problem. think of that last paragraph. passion may have strained the bounds of affection, but we don't want it to separate us. so, his solution then for this future danger is reason. he's got a double diagnosis. mob rule, the present danger. future danger, this problem of the passions.
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and then a double solution. the solution to the problem of mob rule is reverence for the constitution and laws. the solution to the dangers ahead of inordinate ambition and runaway passion is reason. i should probably stop there, but i try to explain how these two solutions could perhaps fit together. how can you recommend both reverence and reason. >> that was wonderful! thank you so much for that, it's so fascinating to read it closely with you. and you've helped me understand how deep that classical influence was. because these devices of hate and avarice, indeed, the classical ones. he talks about the ruling passion, which is from cicero and aristotle, it's always negative. and reason has to constrain it. and that we see, as you say, the ambition manifested by caesar and alexander are negative
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examples. so, thank you. i wasn't sure whether the screen sharing would work, but you always learn so much when you read closely. and thanks for inspiring us to do that. now, for this next round, we're going to use the gettysburg address as a jumping off point but i don't want to constrain us to close reading. but it is the anniversary in november, of the address, and it would be wonderful to hear all of your thoughts on it. as i call it up, michael, how does the gettysburg address fit into your thesis? that lincoln was the black man's president, and what do you want to tell us about the gettysburg address? >> it's been argued by some, including fine commentators, that it's striking that the gettysburg address doesn't say anything about slavery. the word slavery doesn't appear. it appears clear to me that the new birth of freedom that lincoln refers to in the
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gettysburg address is a direct illusion to emancipation and, presumably, beyond that, of first class citizenship. even though the address doesn't have a great deal to say about race and the like, the implication of a new birth of freedom does seem to herald not just the complete emancipation, extended not just to the confederate states but throughout the country. which happens with the 13th amendment. but also by implication of the 14th amendment in the 15th amendment, establishing civil rights for blacks and voting rights for blacks. it's implicit and that notion of a new birth of freedom. lincoln's support for black voting rights, for example, which wasn't articulated publicly until i his last public address. which,
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of course, he didn't know it is going to be his last public address, on april 11th, 1865. in which he, called for the first-time, for blacks voting rights. at least limited black voting rights. that is to say, those who had served in the armed forces and those who are very intelligent. by which we assume he meant literate. now, he had privately recommended that to the governor of louisiana, which was the model in lincoln's mind for reconstruction. what can the north expect the south to do to rehabilitate itself politically, after the war? and louisiana, he had worked very hard to get something like black civil rights or voting rights included, working behind the scenes. and then he writes a letter, upon having been visited by two black gentleman from new orleans, bearing a petition signed by roughly 1000
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men in new orleans who said, look, we are literate, we are property owners, we are taxpayers and we would like the right to vote. they tell them, well, under our constitution, the eligibility requirements for voting or established by states and not the federal government. so, i'm very sympathetic but you really have to get this constitutional convention, which is about to meet and louisiana, to agree to do that. and so, he says that to these gentlemen, but then he takes it a step further. he writes a letter to the governor, newly elected governor of louisiana. saying, i suggested in the ew constitution that is going to be drawn up, you include voting rights at least four veterans of the union army and the very intelligent. the fact that lincoln then, as part of this new birth of freedom, publicly announces that, two days after robert e. lee surrenders, is noteworthy because it means he is shifting
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away from a rather moderate position on reconstruction, to a much more radical position. frederick douglass said that i was in that audience that day, april 11th, 1865, and i was disappointed in the scope of the recommendation for black voting rights. because it was so limited, just to the veterans of the armed forces on the very intelligent. but we should've recognized, and many of my abolitionists friends were also disappointed. but we should recognize that that was an extremely important speech, because abraham lincoln learned his statesmanship in the school of rail splitting. to split a rail, you take a wedge. you insert the thin edge of the wedge into the log and you drive a home with a big hammer, i'm all. we should've known that, once abraham lincoln inserted the thin edge of the wedge publicly, that you could count on him to drive home the thick end of the wedge. there was one gentleman in the audience who did appreciated significance, and that was john works booth. and he said that means and word citizenship, that's the last beach is going to, gave i'm going to run it
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through. three days, later murdered lincoln. not because of the emancipation proclamation, which is here a mai tai. and not because he supported the 13th amendment. but because he called for black voting rights. therefore, i think it's appropriate for us in the 21st century to regard lincoln as a martyr to black civil rights, as much as martin luther king or medgar evers or any of those other people who are murdered in the 1960s that they champion the civil rights revolution of that time. >> thank you, very much, indeed, for that. noah feldman, you write that the use of biblical imagery in the gettysburg address marked a big change for lincoln, who is a non religious rational list. he cannot describe the aims of the war and constitution in new, moralized arms. you very provocatively argued that the idea of new birth and re-teaching a berth in christ. tell us about the fascinating reading of the gettysburg address, and what else you want
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our friends to learn about the gettysburg address. and you can introduce any other speeches that you think are important to helping us understand the thesis of your book. >> thanks. let me start by saying that plenty of people have looked at the gettysburg address and seen classical greek overtones, and those are unquestionably there. gary wells famously drew attention to those, very actively to this. the speeches also suffused with biblical language and a biblical ideal of morality. it's the beginning, in my view, of lincoln articulating his own moral vision of the entire history of the united states. in the second inaugural address, which maybe we will come to in our next round of conversation, he is most explicit about doing that. in my, view he's starting to do that in the gettysburg address. the three score and seven is self consciously double sizing, it's biblical. to the americans of the 19 century, almost all of whom were protestants, biblical language meant general morality. 19th century
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americans believed that reality was derivative of the bible. they were, as i said, heavily protestant, and protestant said that you should read the bible and through the bible you would get access directly to morality. lincoln could not interpret the united states in these moral terms, or the constitution in these moral terms. so long of the constitution and try and slavery, which he knew to be a moral wrong. so, up into the emancipation proclamation he was committed to the constitution under the rule of law principles that dana was talking about. but that means he was committed to a compromise that included a compromise with a morality, and that put him in a contradictory situation. after emancipation, he was now able to describe the constitution has fundamentally moral. so, when he said that the country was not only conceived in liberty but dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal, he could not have said that about the constitution until he broke the constitution. because the constitution wasn't dedicated to that proposition,
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because the constitution enshrined slavery. once emancipation was an established fact by lincoln, he could reconceptualize the country in these terms. this is where the new birth of freedom part comes in. i've talked about this with peter wagner, who i think is in the audience, one of the early readers of my book. new birth is a very resonant phrase for 19th century american protestant christians, all of whom, i think, would've recognized immediately the idea of new birth in christ. now, i'm not arguing here that lincoln was making a consciously christian argument. what i'm saying is he was drawing upon the common thread of protestant moral thought, which was derivative of christian ideas, to express a new idea. and the idea here was that, just as the old testament had be superseded by christian liberty in the new testament, so the new birth of freedom would supersede the slavery present in the original constitution so that the country would then be reborn,
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and he plays out this more fully in the second inaugural address, as a moral country, one that therefore could be improper or fulfillment of the ideals of morality that were present in the original declaration of independence, on lincoln's reading. but we're not president a constitution. that, i think, is the explanation for why lincoln was able to use this kind of religious language, both in the gettysburg address and ultimately in the second inaugural bcause he was freed up to do so by emancipation, which ended the and moral qualities of the constitutional compromise and opened the possibility of a moral accounting. of course, that was very appropriate at a funeral, what was, after, all in a way, a commemorative funeral oration for people who have died. eventually, in the second inaugural, lincoln would give specific, sacral meaning to the deaths of the people who died
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fighting in the civil war. >> thank you very much for that. diana schaub, i'm not even going to call the gettysburg address up because its'short and we know it almost by heart. but what should we know that the gettysburg address? >> i just want to maybe begin by saying that i agree with noah, about the presence of the biblical language in the gettysburg address. and of course even more so in the second inaugural. but i don't think that's new. in fact, i think that's present in his rhetoric from the beginning. you see it at the very end of the lyceum address, where he quotes from the bible. the gates of hell should not prevail against. it draws a connection between the only greater institution, the church, and the united states. you see it in the dred scott speech, where he put the united states in the position of pharaoh and the enslaved blacks in the position of the enslaved hebrews. you see it in the has divided speech. that itself is a biblical phrase, a house divided itself cannot stand. i
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think that's always been present in his rhetoric. maybe just a word about the relationship between lincoln's thinking about the constitution and the declaration. so, i argue that the lyceum address is anchored in the constitution, and i think that lincoln is a dedicated constitutionalist. and, unlike noah, i believe he remains a dedicated constitutionalist. nonetheless, it's true that, as the crisis over the house divided develops, lincoln's attention in the speeches in the 1850s shifts from the constitution to the declaration of independence. this actually beginning in 1852, with the eulogy to henry clay. he begins that speech by saying, on the 4th of july, 1776. and in every one of the great speeches that he delivered throughout the 1850s, he recurs
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to the declaration. i think the reason that he has to do that, in other words the reason that his textual horizon shifts, is because americans in the 1850s are getting to repudiate the self evident truths of the declaration. they're doing this in an outright manner, and people like calhoun and his followers who have taken to calling the self evident truths self evident lies. they're also doing it in more evident, weighs more insidiously in folks like stephen douglas and roger b taney. i think, as those repudiate's of the principle of liberty for all become stronger, lincoln has to demonstrate their error. and so, throughout the 18 50s, he appeals to the declaration in speech after speech. not just
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appeals to, it but gives explications of the declaration. but properly understood, it does mean it''s only by readopt in but that coloration that the challenge posed by slavery and slavery's extension can be met. i've got his decade of reflection on the meaning of it reaches its culmination in the gettysburg address. really, that 30 word sentence with which he begins the gettysburg address. and it's quite remarkable that, post gettysburg, lincoln does not again recur to the declaration. it says of his thought about it had achieved its final form. and that's the statement that he wants to remain, and that he wants all americans to memorize. maybe just one other point about the new birth of freedom. i agree that it makes sense to read the new birth of freedom as a reference to emancipation and the steps that will follow emancipation. but i also
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believe that, perhaps, the more fundamental meaning of the new birth of freedom is that, if the union is victorious, then the heretical suggestion of secession, that argument that was made for secession, will be refuted. and that that refutation itself constitutes a new birth of freedom. in other words, that's what's necessary to return to the original meaning of the founding charters. so, i don't know that that's the usual way of reading it, but i think it fits with what lincoln says about the meaning of the war in other places where he says, the real meaning of the war is so that americans will have the proper
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understanding of the relationship between ballots and bullets. once you agree to be bound by ballots, you don't get to have recourse back to bullets. it's basically a lesson in democratic theory. >> thank you, very much. for that. well, our last text is the second inaugural. i'm going to give myself the great pleasure, which i get to do as moderator, of reading the famous last sentence. which we all do know, and then i'll ask you to give your thoughts on the speech. here we go. with malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as god gives us to see the right. let us drive on to finish the work we are in. to bind up the nations wounds. take care for him who shall
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have borne the battle, and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and share cherish the just and lasting peace among ourselves, in all nations. michael burlingame, what do we know about the second inaugural? >> the second paragraph, of course, is the one that people know best. but frederick douglass, in that remarkable speech i mentioned earlier, the eulogy of june 1st, 1965, is the more remarkable paragraph as one the immediately proceeds. in which lincoln starts off by quoting jesus. woe until the world because of offenses, for when it needs to be the offense has come. but well until that man for whom the defenses commit. he goes on to say, if we should suppose that american slavery is one of those offenses, which, in the providence of god, must needs come? as gone there is appointed time, he comes now to move. he goes to both north and
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south this terrible war, as the lowdown on to them by whom the offense came. should we discern there in any departure from those divine attributes which the believers and the living god have always described to him? fondly do we hold, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. but, if god wills that it continue until all the wealth pile by the bondsmen's 250 years of unrequited toil should be sunk, and all the blood torn by the last should be another torn by the sword, so it must be said i was was said 3000 years ago, the judgments of the lord are true and righteous altogether. and frederick douglass said, this is a truly remarkable notion. that's reveals the depth of lincoln's commitment to racial justice and racial equality, that, to say, on an occasion like the second inaugural address of a president, something to the effect that god has punished white people for having enslaved black people. and the
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war has gone on so long because the scales have to be balanced, there have been 250 years of unrequited toil. and a lot of income was generated by that and it has to be an amount of white property equal to the back wages that were denied the slaves, it has to be destroyed. and the notion that, for all the blood. because we have to remember this war was incredibly bloody. the total number of deaths was roughly 750,000 on a population base that's one tenth of the population base -- imagine if we lost seven and a half million men in the war against terror, the scope of the bloodshed was extraordinary. and for frederick douglass to say, for lincoln to say that, impressed frederick douglass very profoundly, as well it might. it wouldn't have sounded out of place in the mouth of a presbyterian minister, say, reflecting on the nation's
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ordeal of the war. but for a president to say that, it's truly extraordinary. and i think that douglass's understanding of that and how radical it was and how deep it was and how much it reflected his sense of justice and his compassion for blacks, i think is truly remarkable. and therefore that paragraph deserves to be more carefully scrutinized than the more famous final paragraph that immediately follows it. >> thank you for calling our attention to it and thank you for reading it. noah feldman, the second inaugural? >> i strongly agree with michael and his emphasis on that paragraph. i would say that that paragraph amounts to what we would call the political theology of the united states. a political theology is the use of religious ideas, distinctively religious ideals, to explain political events and to give
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them meaning. i think that what lincoln is doing here is offering a version, i wouldn't call it secularizing because god is in it, but a version of the united states that is heavily dependent on protestant christian ideas about liberation forums. so, in this picture, slavery is the original sin that lincoln describes, which is an offense, but it's an inevitable offense, something that had to happen. much as originals and have seen an early protestant theology has an inevitable reality that was, nevertheless, fundamentally evil and sinful. the only thing that can cleanse original sin is the sacrifice of christ, through his blood. and here, the blood of the civil war dead is used by lincoln as a substitute for christ's blood. it's passionate, it's a technical, sense it's christ passion or suffering that forgives original sin. and that's what's going on here. the blood of the civil war dead were themselves martyrs, it's
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being used theologically to cleanse the united states of the original sin of slavery. and what emerges from this is a new world where it is possible to view the entire picture as, in some sense, righteous in the eyes of god. because it is a judgment. because there has been sin, and the sin has been purged. and i think it's also true, as michael mentioned earlier, that since he himself was assassinated he came to function in our theology as devised, as a martyr of the process of emancipation and liberation. then, because of the failure of reconstruction and the imposition of segregation and disenfranchisement of black people, it was necessary for the civil rights movement to come around and bring about a
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further redemption of the constitutional guarantee of freedom. and here, it was martin luther king junior who played that central role. it's not an accident that is most famous speech took place in front of the lincoln memorial. and then he too was assassinated, becoming a further martyr of this political theology of the constitution, in which a price is being paid, a price of blood and sacrifice is being paid, to try to cleanse us of the sins of slavery and of racism. so, that is a political theology that i think is still with us and deepened and made even more powerful by the civil rights movement and by martin luther king's own martyrdom and sacrifice. that's why we have a martin luther king day today, as well. it's part of our official or unofficial, both official and unofficial, american theology. now, i just want to add to that there might be some listeners who feel troubled by the idea that our political theology is so derivative of christian stories and ideology. after all, we do have an establishment clause in
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our constitution, a free exercise clause. lots of us would like to believe that we have a separation of church and state, although not everyone agrees that's the way it should formulated, i believe it is a good way to formulate it. i think the key to recognize when it comes to making of narratives, narratives are made, including national narratives, by the people making the decisions in the country according to their own moral instincts and judgments. and at the time that lincoln was speaking the united states was descriptive early and literally a christian country. there were very few jews, there were very few muslims. it was overwhelmingly a protestant country. as a consequence we have -- that so much so that we can't even quite recall or realize the christian origins of these types of christian. cards on the table, i'm jewish,
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i was raised jewish, i am still very committed to the jewish tradition but as an american i'm not troubled by this political theology of lincoln spoke in the moral language that most americans at the time held. that moral language was in a sense, christian. i don't think that makes it any less capable of being honored, and he looked capable of being respected, or any less capable of being embraced by americans today. we are capable of updating and changing our believes, of keeping our narratives and keeping them more inclusive over time. we have to believe that because if we didn't believe that we would have to think not with lincoln but unlike lincoln, that because of the racism in slavery that existed in our origin we are doomed forever as a country to be just that same group of people. i don't think we are so doomed. we are capable of change, we are capable of expansion. we are capable of improvement. we don't always do it, we don't always do it right. and we don't always go forward. i think king said that the arc of the universe tends towards justice. we want that to be
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true but it's not always in the straight line. we do make mistakes, we do sometimes go backwards. we are capable of going forward. i think that enables us to be more expansive and more open. >> thank you very much, indeed, for that close reading. diana schaub, the last word on the second inaugural is to you. >> yeah, i think it's great that we lead allowed both the fourth paragraph and a substantial part of the third paragraph. i think really the question of the speech is what's the relationship between that third paragraph and that fourth paragraph? his aim is obviously to get to the fourth paragraph. to make that call to act without malice but to charity with all to set the task ahead. so i think the theological interpretation makes possible, it opens up the space for human charity. i don't think i would actually call it a political theology. i
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think it's real theology with a political purpose. i think it is important to know that the theological interpretation of the meaning of the civil war is not presented as a certainty. it is presented by lincoln as a supposition. if we should suppose that, and if god wills. so it is a supposition or hypothesis. i think that is part of what's protects it from being some kind of crossing of the line between church and state or religion and politics. it also prevents it from being used for purposes of fanaticism. it's clear actually that the theological interpretation is intended to induce humility on the part of human beings. and i think that the message on that third paragraph is very specifically targeted to three different audiences. lincoln is trying to avert the danger of northern arrogance, northern persecution
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of the south after the war, blaming them as the traitrs who started the war. even though they were the traitors that started the war [laughs] that kind of blame won't be helpful after the war! he is also trying to address the problem of southern recalcitrance. and i think by calling it american slavery, not southern slavery, not african slavery, but american slavery, all americans, all white americans being able to share in that blame, he hopes to do what he can to induce the south to admit the fault. and then i think that last sentence of the third paragraph, the one that frederick douglass always quoted whenever he referred to lincoln, i think this is true in every reference after the war where frederick douglass made reference to lincoln, he
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always quoted that divine reparations sentenc, the one about the 200 years of unrequited toil and every drop of blood withdrawn with a lash being repaid by another from the sword. i think that is repayment being offered to african americans. it is and admission of the nation's guilt. it is at acknowledgment that god was all along on the side of the slave. and it's a kind of vision of divine reparations. and the fact that frederick douglass so latched on to that passage is an indication that he understood what lincoln was doing there with that line. >> thank you very much, indeed, for that. and thanks to all of you for this wonderful parsing of these essentially important speeches. so meaningful to
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learn with all three of you. we have just seven minutes left, our only constitution -- was on time. i think that is enough time for a question for each of you, and some very brief clothing thoughts. michael asked, how can they react to the seneca falls convention for voting rights for black women as well as white women? was he the friend of black women as well as black man? what other clothing thoughts you have to share with our friends? >> well, we have no direct illusion to what the senator wrote about in the senate a fall convention. he was as i argue in my book, he was sort of a proto-feminist in that he was opposed to the sexual double standard of a home violating the marriage vows the wife has every right to do so.
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he does, in one of his speeches, running for reelection to the state legislature, say that he believed that all folks who pay taxes should be, or serving in the militia, should be able to vote, not excluding females! sometimes people sneered that. no females pay taxes in those days, but widows certainly did! he also refused to gossip about women. he was famous, all the men were forever telling stories about the lack of virtue of this woman or that woman or the other one, and lincoln refused to have anything to do with that. he also as president, was very reluctant to execute or sign the execution orders for any soldiers who have -- to death by any court martial, unless he had been convicted of rape. then he showed no hesitation in signing that. he took vigilante action, actually, this opponent of vigilantism he actually acted as a vigilante in punishing a wife beater. a fellow in springfield had been beating his wife. lincoln and his friends told him to stop it,
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he didn't stop it. so they went and hauled him out and gave his wife a belt and said, lay into him. i think lincoln was by temperament a fair minded man who sympathized with the notions of feminism. and then as for black women, during the war a question arose whether widows of black soldiers, the women who had been in effect wives of black soldiers, should get a pension even if they hadn't been formally married. and lincoln said yes, yes they should be given some. so he did sympathize with black women in that particular context. i think in general he was sympathetic to the ideas and ideals enunciated at seneca falls. >> thank you very much, indeed for that. noah feldman, several questions about the constitutional arguments against secession and whether or not lincoln was correct to argue that it was unconstitutional. and your
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closing thoughts well? >> thank you. you now, the articles of confederation said that the union was perpetual. the constitution did not say that the union was perpetual, but it did say that it would be more perfect. and perfect in the technical sense, not in that contemporary sense the way that president obama like to use it, but perfect in the sense of complete. the argument on lincoln's side was the articles of confederation made the union perpetual and the constitution made that more perfect, it was to be just as perpetual or more perpetual and therefore there was no way out. i think the most honest and sophisticated answer is to say that in any political union that doesn't include a specific inclusion for withdrawal, if some group of people choose to withdraw and others think they shouldn't withdraw it is very hard to give an objective answer as to whether they are permitted or not but the effect of it is revolutionary. and
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remember, to the framers generation there was nothing wrong with being revolutionary. this was also true of lincoln's generation. a revolution was just something that people did. and in fact, lincoln, when he was in his one term of congress gave a speech, he was actually speaking about the mexican american war, he was referring to the texan revolution. he embraced the idea that any group of people no matter where they were at a fundamental right to, as he put it, revolutionize. the best way to put it was it was a revolutionary act. the people debated if it was a legitimate ingest revolution or illegitimate revolution. as from lincoln's perspective as the person who was actually running the country he didn't think he had the option of accepting this as it just revolution. the way he described it was to say that congress could decide it if they wanted to but he on his own did not have the authority to say that it was just. he felt he needed to execute the laws. the laws were not being executed in those states. therefore he felt it was his obligation based on the oath registered in heaven as he put it in his first inaugural, to
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go out and do what it took to enforce those laws. i think those who want to argue that secession was somehow legitimate can argue that it was legitimate in that it was an act of revolution anticipated by the political theory of the declaration. on the other side who want to insist it was definitively not legitimate also have something to rely on. and that was why there was a war. that is why we fought a war over this. that leaves the question of whether the outcome of the war tells you that one side is right or wrong. that is the might makes right theory of history. it may or may not be true descriptively, it's probably not true normally and morally. my concluding thought on all of this is it is amazing to me how much we, as americans, still care about these questions. and i think this is why we have a national constitution center. it's why we struggle to try to get constitutional questions right today. it's because these issues are central to who we
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are as a people. and that's the best thing you can say about our constitution. it gives us a mechanism for arguing about who we are that is better than fighting. although we did fight on one occasion, we ought not to on the future, the work of the national constitution center is to contribute to us not fighting each other. >> thank you for those kind words, thank you for contributing so well to that inspiring mission which i know we all share. diana schaub, the last word is to you. our friend colin thibeault says some of lincoln speeches are famous for being very short. was that intentional and does that impact his rhetorical intention and constitutional ideas? your thoughts on his shortness as we close this wonderful program. >> yes, and i think i don't have much time left to answer this. so i will try to be as brief as lincoln. yes, he acquires this gift for brevity and you see it especially in the gettysburg and the second inaugural. i think it's very
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deliberate on his part. part of it, especially in the gettysburg address, i think is he hoped it would be memorized by americans. so my suggestion is that we all commit both the gettysburg address and the second inaugural to memory. >> what a wonderful challenge, and friends, let's take up diana schaub'challenge. and if you succeed in memorizing either the gettysburg address or the second inaugural, then write to me and jay rosen at the constitutional center dot org and let me know! i will send you a congratulations. we will let diana and noah and michael know about it. i'm sure they will be as pleased as i am that this deep, civil, rigorous and learned discussion will have inspired you to commit these sacred words to memory. michael burlingame, noah feldman, and diana schaub for constitutional conversation in the highest possible tradition,
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thank you so much, and thank you, friends, for joining us i'm looking forward to seeing you all again soon. thanks, goodnight.
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william crowley -- talked about theodore reza votes life and legacy. this is about 50 minutes. >> i am pleased to announce a special mini-series of six lectures entitled great presidential lives. this series is particularly attractive for two main reasons. the first being its timeliness. as we face a presint


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