It was only about 50 years after the writing of the Constitution that a young twenty-six year-old Abraham Lincoln, then a member of the Illinois General Assembly, raised a warning voice about a trend he observed by those who would sidetrack America's great experiment of freedom.
Gratitude to the Founders for the Gift of LibertyIn a speech to the Young Men's Lyceum of Springfield, Illinois, entitled, The Perpetuation of Our Political Institutions , Lincoln declared:
“We find ourselves in the peaceful possession, of the fairest portion of the earth, as regards extent of territory, fertility of soil, and salubrity of climate. We find ourselves under the government of a system of political institutions, conducing more essentially to the ends of civil and religious liberty, than any of which the history of former times tells us. We, when mounting the stage of existence, found ourselves the legal inheritors of these fundamental blessings. We toiled not in the acquirement or establishment of them—they are a legacy bequeathed us, by a once hardy, brave, and patriotic, but now lamented and departed race of ancestors. Theirs was the task (and nobly they performed it) to possess themselves, and through themselves, us, of this goodly land; and to uprear upon its hills and its valleys, a political edifice of liberty and equal rights; 'tis ours only, to transmit these, the former, unprofaned by the foot of an invader; the latter, undec ayed by the lapse of time, and untorn by usurpation—to the latest generation that fate shall permit the world to know. This task of gratitude to our fathers, justice to ourselves, duty to posterity, and love for our species in general, all imperatively require us faithfully to perform.”
From where should we expect the approach of danger?In our comfortable circumstances, he asked if we should ever again be in danger of losing our freedom:
“At what point shall we expect the approach of danger? By what means shall we fortify against it? Shall we expect some transatlantic military giant, to step the Ocean, and crush us at a blow? Never! All the armies of Europe, Asia and Africa combined, with all the treasure of the earth (our own excepted) in their military chest; with a Buonaparte for a commander, could not by force, take a drink from the Ohio, or make a track on the Blue Ridge, in a Trial of a thousand years.Lincoln then observes, “…there is, even now, something of ill-omen amongst us. I mean the increasing disregard for law which pervades the country….”
“At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer, if it ever reach us, it must spring up amongst us. It cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide.”
Freedom may slip away while citizens aren't watchful“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.”
Let the Constitution become the Political Religion of the NationYoung Abraham Lincoln then gives the answer which reflects his life's work until his tragic death:
“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 legislat ive 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.”
Americans Returning to Their Constitutional RootsIf President Lincoln were here today, no doubt his message would be the same, but with perhaps even more urgency. The good news is that more Americans than ever are becoming interested in learning about our Constitutional roots. Their hope is that perhaps in this inspired document lies answers to America's problems.
Abraham Lincoln is best known as the president who saved the union. He did it by teaching and upholding the Constitution. Our task seems to be much similar to his—that of preserving the union. Let us use the same tool he used—the United States Constitution.
Earl Taylor, Jr.