22 December, 2008

Honest Abe

There are those who insult Lincoln as America's Julius Caesar, who overthrew the Republic of Rome to make himself emperor, and accuse him of railroading America for his own fiendish purposes. They powerfully inveigh against his deconstruction of the Constitution, and the bloody war fought to satisfy his need to dominate the honorable men of the South. And those people are not defined by the fact they were raised Southern. They're dedicated Christians from all over the country.

You can find some of them here: http://www.theamericanview.com/

Just search for "Lincoln."

The argument is essentially this. America was formed as a union of sovereign states held together by a Constitution. In fact, the essential sovereign unit of American government was the state until Lincoln's power grab. When the South looked up and saw that their right to sovereignly rule themselves was being imposed upon by a self-important North, they resisted. They would not see the union, as orginally conceived, torn apart by Northern self-righteousness and arrogance. And Lincoln merely used those Northern vices in imposing his own power lust on the nation, and in sending many thousands of good American boys to their deaths.

The argument is disingenuous.

It ignores a handful of key points in building its airtight case. Actually, most arguments truly are airtight when seen from one perspective. The question, of course, is what one's perspective is, but that's the actual subject of this post and we'll get to it a little later. The history on this topic is of interest to me, so I'm going to carry on with it a little longer.

I was raised to believe that at times the American government was my enemy. I married a woman who sometimes believed the American government was our enemy. I buy food from a guy who believes the American government is sometimes our enemy. And I had immediate sympathy to this Lincoln as Caesar argument from the very first time I heard it back in the late '80's.

It was interesting to read an impassioned defense of this argument against Lincoln.

Then read 14 of Lincoln's speeches.

His arguments against secession went like this:

OK. Secede if you must. Just do it the right way. Don't do it by force of arms, but by force of election. The ballot formed the country, and only the ballot can splinter it.

Furthermore, it is right to give the entire country a vote on the secession of any part of the country, and that for several very good reasons. First, is there any contract which once formed can be broken by any one party at any time? The states have severally entered into contract together, and have profitably enriched one another in many ways. For the seceding states to take the wealth gained from the other states without compensation is theft. For the seceding states to close off the possible benefits of the contract from the remaining states is painful. They must honor their contract, even as they seek to end it.

Furthermore, there is no way to divide the nation that doesn't result in the overall impoverishment of each part. No matter how the country might be split, the states will have to deal with each other and the fallout of any separation. The final, resulting nations will be poorer for the division. So why divide with blood? If there must be division, why not equitable, legal, ballot-driven division.

Lastly, it is unthinkable that all of the states should decide to evict just one, and yet what is the difference between every state seceding from the one and every state agreeing to kick that one state out? The mean, selfish kind of a freedom demanded by the Southern states was an unjust freedom. The selfish acts of one member of a family have a depressing effect on every member. Sovereignty is not the same as freedom from obligation. When one member secedes from a marriage, it is not a simple and detached act of personal freedom; divorce is a devastating blow dealt to every member of even the extended families involved. The states are obligated to deal with the honest effects of their attempted secession.

These are reasonable arguments. To compare Caesar, who made himself Rome's destroying savior by marching his army into Rome and conquering the capital, against Lincoln who worked with the Congress and left the power of legislation in Congress' hands throughout the rebellion, is too much.

Lincoln made mistakes, and did things that caused questions in his time and ours. His suspension of Habeus Corpus is still talked about among people who talk about such things, but even at that it was only for a time and then Congress was given the reins. Lincoln was a man and not a god, and it showed in his mistakes. He was given a hard road to walk, and he walked it as honestly as I believe any man could. He took brave steps over and over and he saw the job through to its final stages.

But there are those who are not content for him to be a man. They need him to be an American Satan.


I believe it's because of their own desires. They desire their states to be free today in way they never will be again. Fair enough, but if they get their way in this will they be done? Or will they then want sovereign counties, and cities, and homes? (I'll tell you one thing. They'll love quoting that question within their own contexts.)

These are big questions. Where to place the dividing line between personal sovereignty and community good is contentious.

What I find interesting is that in 1861 this line was drawn by men who wanted to hold other men as slaves. The cry is loud and long that slavery was never the issue, and I hear that cry, but I cannot respect it.

In the end, Lincoln did not fire the first shot of the Civil War. The secessionists fired first on Fort Sumter. Lincoln had promised that he would not march on the South, and he never broke that promise. He proposed compromise after compromise, but the South would have none of it. They wanted the right to do what they wanted to do, and it cannot escape me that what they wanted to do was inarguably evil.

The first intended use of the lofty freedom for which those men of the South died was the continuance of a great evil.

And I believe I find a pattern in that. We are most usually willing to "fire the first shot" when we are protecting our right to do some evil after which we lust.

Having read Lincoln and his detractors, I am more impressed with Lincoln's character, courage and ideals than ever before.

My point of view has moved a lot in the last several years.


I'm about to take a bit of leap, so be sure to come with me.

I believe this was my mistake in trying promote the home church. It was not enough for me to want to see the church done differently. I needed the steeple-churches to suffer demolition. Following Luther's example, I wanted to secede from all Christian organizations and I wanted their hierarchies blown to smithereens.

My point of view has moved a lot on the church, too.

I find myself wondering how many of the men manning pulpits under gaudy steeples are men for whom I'd have the utmost respect, if I only knew their story. Instead, I only know them by a single doctrinal stand they've taken somewhere along the line, and that as framed by their enemies.

May the Lord forgive my ignorance. And may He bless the men who stand for Him as well as they know how.


Lynne said...

Fascinating!It's only in the last few years, on the 'net, that I've become aware that Lincoln is not universally revered in his own country. To the rest of the western world he is seen as one of the great heroes of history -- and that's how we, on the other side of the world were taught about him at school -- up there with people like Wilberforce and Shaftesbury as someone who sought to right a great social wrong. And to be honest, the whole notion of "states rights" confuses me, because it is a point where your constitution and ours are very different. Most of us don't think our states are very important.

As for your application, I've reached the point where I don't believe there's any one right magical way to do church.The basic problem with the church isn't a particular system, it's human nature -- and it's not going to go away. Meanwhile I hope I can appreciate those with whom I strongly disagree as brothers and sisters, but that's a work in progress!

Weekend Fisher said...

It was news to me that there was an anti-Lincoln faction (though I did wonder what was the reason for opposing secession in a democracy; I was glad you posted that).

As for Luther ... you know he never actually wanted to leave Rome, that he got kicked out rather than leaving? He just wanted Rome to have an honest debate on some doctrines and practices that seemed to him a little bit hard to defend ... I've heard a Roman Catholic refer to Luther's posting his 95 debating points as "vandalizing the church". Such is the open nature of our communication. And why Christian reconciliation's biggest obstacle, I think, is that we Christians -- myself foremost -- are not all as Christlike as we should be.

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF

Missy said...

I was dumbfounded and fascinated to read this about Lincoln! I have my own ideas about government at local/state/federal levels - which were formed as I closely watched church governance - but I never once thought of Lincoln as the enemy.

"We are most usually willing to "fire the first shot" when we are protecting our right to do some evil after which we lust."

Very probing analysis. I can certainly see that pattern in my own life. "Reactionary sin" is what I call the spray of bullets I often fire.

I also appreciate your consistent vulnerability in the self-analysis of your struggle with church.

Good to read ya again!

Milly said...

Coming from Southern people I’ve heard a lot about how the south was feeling and felt. I heard of the order to burn Atlanta. I was told of the devastation of the family’s former lives. Yes I can find information about our past on line. I could say that I feel shame and rage and in some ways I do. Still that’s a small part of who my past people were, after all Baltimore is still living on my family’s money. And I am proud of those who came to this country to make a difference in the lives of the future us.
That’s what it is trying to make a better future us. We want a better tomorrow for those who live past we do. We make monumental mistakes. At the end of the day we have to put our fate in His hands. What a great thing to be able to do.

Kansas Bob said...

Good stuff CP.. I was pretty ignorant of this anti-Lincoln sentiment until I read this.

I am heartily and fully with you on this:

"The cry is loud and long that slavery was never the issue, and I hear that cry, but I cannot respect it."

Many times I hear people talk about the constitution like it is scripture and MUST NOT BE CHANGED! I am seeing more and more that it is a living document (to a degree) and as such is imperfect.. we need to amend it when appropriate.

That is why I think that abortion is not a state issue.. the constitution should be amended to protect unborn life.

I see a lot of anti-institutional-church rhetoric out there that is reflected in this:

"It was not enough for me to want to see the church done differently."

There is a lot of negativity on so many blogs.. but I think that much of it is simply a reflection of the pain and disappointment that some have experienced in church settings.

Well, I look forward to reading more of your thoughts on this.

Have a great Christmas Kevin!

codepoke said...


You've obviously not spent time in the American South. :-) 10 years in Atlanta can be quite informative.

And I agree about the form of the church. I'm playing catch-up, but I believe the Lord is teaching me. At least I have faith that He can!

codepoke said...


I thought of you as I typed those Luther words. Yes, I understand that he was blown away when the church wouldn't debate his points, but instead came after him directly. And I've read those points, and I know how very little he was really asking for. And I could not agree more about how amazingly not Christ-like I continue to be!

The Lord is merciful forever.

codepoke said...

I've been enjoying your stuff, Missy! Your picture once baffled me, as you seemed so different in it. Now I would say the same about your blogging. You are impressive in your pursuit of the Lord, and in how you seem to be capturing Him more and more.

Praise the Lord!

codepoke said...

Atlanta would do well to listen to you, Milly.

It's easy to put our fates into His hands when the road is sunny and clear for miles. That you continue to do so through the murk is a praise to His faithfulness. Hang on to Him, Milly.

codepoke said...

KB. Thank you for your thoughts on negativity in the church.

I'm really curious what the cause is. I don't know whether it's pain or poor instruction or high idealism combined with low effort. No matter what it is, I think there's a lot to be learned from Bush II.

I don't think Bush II was a remarkable president, and I think history will look back on him as a solid one except in the most important thing - he lost the confidence of the people. And once he lost the people's confidence, everything was lost.

The church has lost everyone's confidence. Only the most committed denominationalists continue to have faith in the church, and then only in their own. Many have faith in spirituality, but few have faith in the church, and that cripples her in many of her duties.

May the Lord restore.