Today, we give thanks for all Veterans and their service to our country, and we look back in time to take some lessons from perhaps our greatest President, Abraham Lincoln, who reminds us of the importance of the document every Veteran has sworn their life and sacred honor to defend: our Constitution.
On January 27, 1838, a twenty-eight year old Abraham Lincoln had just moved from a small pioneer village to the city of Springfield, Illinois. On that day, he delivered a speech to a group of community leaders on the subject of “the perpetuation of our political institutions.” The speech, which significantly influenced his later public life, was eventually given the title of the “Lyceum Address” and can be found here.
At the time of the address, a mere sixty-two years had passed since the Declaration of Independence, and only fifty years since the Constitution’s ratification by the states. And yet here was Lincoln, a future President, warning the American people that our political institutions are not inherently perpetual, but require constant vigilance if we expect them to endure. As President Ronald Reagan would later put it, Lincoln was warning America that, “Freedom is only one generation away from extinction.”
Lincoln looked out across Springfield, indeed across America, and saw many “ill omens” to our political institutions, even our Republic itself. He mentioned the “increasing disregard for law which pervades the country…” and derided a government which would move neither heaven nor earth to secure it. He even had the audacity as a twenty-eight year old to call down judgment upon the “pleasure hunting masters of Southern slaves.”
He warned the people of Springfield that while he knew the American people were “much attached” to their Government, and would suffer much for its sake, he prudently and presciently warned that “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.” (emphasis mine)
Are there parallels from 1838 that can be drawn to the condition of our Republic today?
The IRS, much like Lincoln’s “roving band of marauders,” terrorizes non-profit groups with particular political views, and as in Lincoln’s day, our modern printing presses are also under attack, in the form of contempt for journalists like James Rosen. We even endure modern “pleasure hunting masters,” whom advocate for the unceasing sacrifice of unborn life, some of whom have even recently called for mandatory, forced abortions for the next 30 years. We find the religious liberty of fine Americans like Richard and Betty Odgaard under attack, right here in Des Moines, Iowa.
Lincoln rightly understood that the very bulwark of successful government is the continued affection of its people. If that affection is divorced, our political institutions cannot endure.
This year, on Veterans Day, we ask the same question that Lincoln asked in his time: How then shall we fortify against the alienation of our people’s affections from their government?
The answer to what ails us today is the same answer that Lincoln gave in the Lyceum Address, and it is to remember the sacrifice of our Veterans and reaffirm our allegiance to the Constitution that was bequeathed to us, which our Veterans have sworn their very lives to defend:
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…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…
Lincoln was referring to our Constitution and the Bill of Rights when he admonished us to “swear by the blood of the Revolution” never to violate them in the least particular. It will not be easy to return to the original intent of the Constitution, but as Lincoln also understood, it is our only hope, and fortunately for all of us, our modern Veterans will help point the way.
We conclude today as Lincoln did in 1838:
“Upon these let the proud fabric of freedom rest, as the rock of its basis; and as truly as has been said of the only greater institution, ‘the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.’”
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