Harry V. Jaffa
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- 1 Quotes
- 1.1 1950s
- 1.2 1970s
- 1.3 1990s
- 1.4 2000s
- 1.4.1 A New Birth of Freedom: Abraham Lincoln and the Coming of the Civil War (2000)
- 1.4.2 Thoughts on Lincoln's Birthday (2001)
- 1.4.3 Aristotle and Locke in the American Founding (2001)
- 1.4.4 The Peace Process Is Dead. Let's Bury It (2001)
- 1.4.5 Bush's Lincolnian Challenge (2002)
- 1.4.6 The American Founding as the Best Regime (2002)
- 1.4.7 The Real Abraham Lincoln: A Debate (2002)
- 1.4.8 Is Diversity Good? (2003)
- 1.4.9 Before In History (2004)
- 1.4.10 The Logic of the Colorblind Constitution (2004)
- 1.4.11 The Central Idea (2006)
- 1.4.12 God Bless America (2008)
- 1.4.13 The Speech That Changed the World (2009)
- 1.4.14 Interview with Peter Robinson (2009)
- 1.5 2010s
- 2 Quotes about Jaffa
- 3 External links
- Douglas's doctrine of 'popular sovereignty' meant no more than that: in a democracy justice is the interest of the majority, which is 'the stronger'. Lincoln, however, insisted that the case for popular government depended upon a standard of right and wrong independent of mere opinion and one which was not justified merely by the counting of heads.
- Lincoln was again and again to refer to the proposition, 'all men are created equal', as an 'abstract truth', a truth which was the life principle of American law. The implications of this truth were only partially realized, even for white men, and largely denied as far as black men were concerned. Yet it supplied the direction, the meaning, of all good laws in this country, although the attempt at that time to achieve all that might and ought ultimately to be demanded in its name would have been disastrous. A law is foolish which does not aim at abstract or intrinsic justice; and so is it foolish to attempt to achieve abstract justice as the sole good by succumbing to the fallacy to which the mind is prone, which regards direct consequences as if they were the only consequences. Those who believe anything sanctioned by law is right commit one great error; those who believe the law should sanction only what is right commit another. Either error might result in foolish laws; and, although a foolish law may be preferable to a wise dictator, a wise law is preferable to both.
- The American Revolution and the Civil War were not merely discrete events. They constitute the first and last acts of a single drama. The fourscore and seven years between the Declaration of Independence and the Gettysburg Address comprehended the action of a tremendous world-historical tragedy.
- How to Think about the American Revolution: A Bicentennial Cerebration (1978) p. 53
- Also quoted in Vindicating the Founders, by Thomas G. West, p. 32
The End of History Means the End of Freedom (1990)
- Full text of "The End of History Means the End of Freedom" (17 January 1990), by Harry V. Jaffa, The Claremont Institute
- In the tradition of American constitutionalism, all men are equally endowed by their Creator with certain rights. The equality of man is understood in the light of man's inequality with God: because men are not and never can become God or gods — because unqualified wisdom is never available to human beings — only government by the consent of the governed, and under the rule of law, is intrinsically in accordance with the eternal order.
Defending the Cause of Human Freedom (1994)
- Full text of "Defending the Cause of Human Freedom" (15 April 1994), by Harry V. Jaffa, The Claremont Institute, The Claremont Institute
- Alexander Hamilton Stephens' Constitutional View of the War Between the States, which was and remains probably the best defense of the Confederate cause. It is all about states' rights, and the defense of the minority against the tyranny of the numerical majority, although the "silent minority", the four million slaves, are never counted. It is substantially the book that Calhoun would have written had he been alive to do so. Stephens, who was Vice President of the Confederacy, had also been widely known, north and south, as one of the intellectual luminaries of his time.
- Jefferson Davis is categorical in pronouncing four million Americans, and all their descendants for all future time, to be "the degenerate sons of Ham", fit only to be slaves. This implies that Negroes were descended from the Canaanites. But the Canaanites were not black! Neither were the great majority of the many millions of slaves in the ancient world. We mention these facts as conclusively refuting Davis' thesis, even if there is someone not under legal constraint who is inclined to accept the lunatic notion that anyone today can be justly enslaved because of the episode described in the ninth chapter of Genesis.
- The vice-president and the president of the Confederate States of America grounded their justification of American slavery on the grounds of a fraudulent science and a crazy fundamentalism. No sane person today can regard them as other than pathetic reminders of a society, like Nazi Germany, mentally unbalanced by its commitment to human inequality.
- John C. Calhoun was the philosopher-king of the old south, the spiritual mentor of Stephens, Davis, and most of the political leaders of the Confederacy. Bradford and McClellan, following Willmoore Kendall, are obsessed with the utterly false notion that Lincoln was somehow responsible for the permissive egalitarianism of the contemporary welfare state. But equality as such was no less important to Calhoun than to Lincoln. It was just a different kind of equality.
- We see here the essence of the southern understanding of equality, why it was so highly prized, and why so resolutely defended. Every white man can be proud of himself, can consider himself an aristocrat, not because of his virtues or accomplishments, but simply because he is not black! By rejecting the principle that all men are created equal, by keeping "the degenerate sons of Ham" under foot, and under the lash, one need never do anything to become important, like members of the royal family. It is not without reason that Lincoln compared slavery to the divine right of kings! Calhoun demanded equality no less than Lincoln. But his equality required a "cornerstone" of slavery.
The Party of Lincoln vs. The Party of Bureaucrats (1996)
- Full text of "The Party of Lincoln vs. The Party of Bureaucrats" (13 September 1996), by Harry V. Jaffa, Writings, The Claremont Institute.
- Bob Dole and Jack Kemp declared that the Republican Party is the party of Lincoln. But just what is the connection between the Republican Party of 1860 and that of 1996? The essence of slavery, Lincoln said, was expressed in the proposition: "You work; I'll eat." Upon his election as president, he was besieged by office seekers who drove him to distraction. Lincoln was blunt in his judgment of the great majority of them. They wanted to eat without working. Lincoln saw the demand for the protection of slavery and the demand for government sinecures to be at bottom one and the same. The origin of all constitutional rights, according to Lincoln, was the right that a man had to own himself, and therefore to own the product of his own labor. Government exists to protect that right, and to regulate property only to make it more valuable to its possessors.
- Pro-slavery impulse still governs the Democratic Party, the party of government sinecures. It is the party that wants to use political power to tax us not for any common good, but to eat while we work. Consider the Great Society and its legacy. In the fall of 1964, I was on the speech-writing staff of the Goldwater campaign. In September and October I went on a number of forays to college campuses, where I debated spokesmen for our opponents. My argument always started from here. In 1964 the economy, thanks to the Kennedy tax cuts, was growing at the remarkable annual rate of four percent. But federal revenues were growing at 20 percent; five times as fast. The real issue in the election, I said, was what was to happen to that cornucopia of revenue. Barry Goldwater would use it to reduce the deficit and to further reduce taxes; Lyndon Johnson would use it to start vast new federal programs. At that point I could not say what programs, but I knew that the real purpose of them would be to create a new class of dependents upon the Democratic Party. The ink was hardly dry on the election returns before Johnson invented the war on poverty; and proved my prediction correct. One did not need to be cynical to see that the poor were not a reason for the expansion of bureaucracy; the expansion of bureaucracy was a reason for the poor. Every failure to reduce poverty was always represented as another reason to increase expenditures on the poor. The ultimate beneficiary was the Democratic Party. Every federal bureaucrat became in effect a precinct captain, delivering the votes of his constituents. His job was to enlarge the pool of constituents. But every increase in that pool meant a diminution of our property and our freedom.
- The recently passed law to "end welfare as we know it" came about because a lethargic public has been aroused at last, not by the failure of the welfare system but by its success. The public indignation, however, would have been of no effect had we not elected a Republican Congress. No Democratic Congress would ever have passed such a law. Just as welfare reform may help end the poverty industry, the California Civil Rights Initiative on the November ballot may lead to the demise of another 1960s product, the racism and sexism industry. The 1964 Civil Rights Act outlawed discrimination based upon race, sex, color, religion or ethnic origin. The act was based on the premise that the only race to which a person must belong is the human race. With respect to God-given natural rights, "all men are created equal".
- The civil rights establishment, led by the NAACP, fought the good fight that led to the Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954 and the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1965. They fought that fight under the banner of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment, which reflected the equality proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence. The classic statement of this principle is to be found in Justice John Marshall Harlan's dissenting opinion in Plessy v. Ferguson, the infamous 1896 decision that enshrined "separate but equal" into constitutional law for more than half a century, "In view of the Constitution, in the eye of the law, there is in this country no superior dominant ruling class of citizens. There is no caste here. Our Constitution is color blind, and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens. In respect of civil rights, all citizens are equal before the law. The humblest is the peer of the most powerful. The law regards man as man, and takes no account of his surroundings or of his color when his civil rights as guaranteed by the supreme law of the land are involved".
- Hubert Humphrey, one of the chief authors and sponsors of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, had declared that under Title VII no discrimination on the basis of race or color was to be lawful. He explicitly said that this meant no discrimination of white against black, and no discrimination of black against white.
- Suddenly, however, remedies for something called 'racism' became the order of the day. The word itself, like 'sexism', is of recent coinage and will not be found in any older dictionaries. The civil rights movement, premised upon individual rights, suddenly became the black power movement, premised upon group rights. 'Affirmative action' became a euphemism for the baldest kind of racial discrimination. That whites had long enjoyed preference over blacks was now taken to be a justification for blacks having preference over whites. What was lost sight of was that the evil of the past, whether of slavery or of Jim Crow, was evil not because it was done by whites to blacks, but because it was done by some human beings to other human beings. The purpose of the law was to end evil acts, not continue them in the guise of 'affirmative action'.
- Affirmative action, rightly understood, would justify a wide variety of outreach programs for those whose lives have been stultified by poverty, broken families, bad schools, and neighborhoods filled with drugs, crime and gangs. One can heartily commend a program for tutoring young blacks, or young whites, who had never had a genuine teacher in a real classroom. One cannot, however, commend a program of raising the grades of young blacks, but not young whites, without having raised their skills. And what possible justification can there be there for giving scholarship assistance to the child of a black middle-class family, while denying it to a poor white? Can one imagine a more crass disregard for the genuine meaning of the Equal Protection Clause? The priests of this new religion of 'affirmative action' are not without material interests. Hundreds of millions of corporate dollars are spent annually on 'sensitivity training'. Within the universities, centers for black, brown and women's (i.e., feminist) studies are being established, with vast amount of patronage bestowed upon them. Traditional courses in Plato, Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas, Shakespeare and the Bible continue to appear in the catalogs, but they are increasingly taught by 'deconstructionists', who have no interest in the texts, but only in subjective reactions to the texts.
- Abraham Lincoln was self-educated. His curriculum included Shakespeare, the Bible, Euclid and the Declaration of Independence, the monuments to the freedom of the human soul, the possession not of western man, but of a humanity compounded of all colors and every condition. In Independence Hall on February 22, 1861, Lincoln asked what it was, above all else, that went forth to the world on July 4, 1776. It was not, he said, the mere matter of the separation of the colonies from the motherland, but something in that Declaration giving hope to the world for all future time. The declaration gave promise that in due time the weights would be lifted from the shoulders of all men, and that all would have an equal chance. These are the principles upon which the Republican Party must stand, in 1996 no less than in 1860.
A New Birth of Freedom: Abraham Lincoln and the Coming of the Civil War (2000)
- A New Birth of Freedom: Abraham Lincoln and the Coming of the Civil War (2000), Rowman & Littlefield Publishers
- Much has been written about Jefferson himself being laggard, later in life, in his efforts against slavery. But in Jefferson the draftsman and spokesman for the American people in the American Revolution, the man of whom Lincoln would say that he 'was, is, and perhaps will continue to be, the most distinguished politician of our history', there was never the least equivocation as to slavery's injustice and immorality.
- p. 23
- That the equality of human souls in the sight of God ought to be translated into a political structure of equal political rights has come to be regarded as the most authentic interpretation of the Gospel itself. Slavery, and the imposition of all arbitrary forms of inequality of man by man, has come to be seen as demeaning to the souls of God's creation.
- p. 151
- The subculture of American Negroes is perhaps the most deeply rooted of all American subcultures, since most black Americans are descended from ancestors who were on the North American continent long before those of the great majority of white Americans. And the blood of many of them is, in truth, mingled with that of the great white families of the colonial and Revolutionary periods. The achievements of this subculture, both in slavery and in freedom, are among the most exalted in human record. It is doubted whether any expression of the human spirit transcends the Negro spiritual.
- p. 162
- There is a further and deeper reason why colonization failed and why all subsequent attempts to return Americans of African descent to Africa, even those originating solely within the black community, have failed. The reason is that the overwhelming majority of these Americans regard their destiny to be in the United States. They were, after all, sold into slavery originally by black tribesmen, who captured them in order to sell them, and who slaughtered the ones they did not sell. No resent of slavery, however profound, engendered any love of a mythical African homeland. To have asked them to return to Africa was not unlike asking American Jews whose parents or grandparents fled czarist or Stalinist tyranny to return to Russia. However involuntary their emigration from Africa, American Negroes, whether free or slave, have always seen America itself as the promised land. Both Christianity and the Declaration of Independence embodied promise to all men. They saw no better or equal hope anywhere else, and certainly not in Africa. The truth is that the slaves, ignorant and illiterate as they may have seemed, were far from unintelligent. The Bible that they heard about, even if they were not allowed to read it, contained stories that convinced them that the same God that had freed the children of Israel would free them. Jefferson Davis might have thought this to be mere credulity. Yet it certainly compared favorably with his own absurd reading of the story of Noah.
- p. 164
- While slavery meant Egypt, and slavemasters meant Pharoah, America itself remained the promised land. The slaves knew that it was not in Africa, Europe, or anywhere else that a nation had been founded upon the self-evident truth that all men are created equal. It was their destiny to cross over jordan here, and to make their decisive contribution to the human story here, by partaking of that new birth of freedom that alone could vindicate the cause of all human beings everywhere.
- p. 164
- [S]lavery existed among the Americans largely because of the action of the crown. For the king to have been complicit in the importation of slaves into America and then to have attempted to use them in a war against their masters merited condemnation in its own right. In no way did such condemnation imply a justification of slavery itself.
- p. 211
- [S]laves are never referred to in the Constitution as anything but 'persons', a characterization that is perfectly neutral as to race or sex. That some of these persons were slaves was something arising from state law, not from the Constitution itself.
- p. 211
- The paradox of calling the same human beings persons and property brings the cause of the Civil War into the sharpest focus. A person by definition is a being possessed of a rational will. A chattel by equal definition is a piece of movable property without a rational will. Because a horse or a dog lacks a rational will, its owner is responsible for any damage or injury it may cause. But slaves were held as responsible for their own actions, as were their masters, under the criminal codes of the slave states. The slave owners, in seeking to have the slaves counted as five-fifths, were asserting that they were full human beings. At the same time, by claiming the right to their labor as chattels, they were asserting them to be sub-human. How the slaves could be both was something that Jefferson Davis and his friends never explained.
- p. 212
- This remarkable address conveys, more than any other contemporary document, not only the soul of the Confederacy but also of that Jim Crow South that arose from the ashes of the Confederacy. From the end of Reconstruction until after World War II, the idea of racial inequality gripped the territory of the former Confederacy, and not only of the former Confederacy, more profoundly than it had done under slavery. Nor is its influence by any means at an end. Stephens's prophecy of the Confederacy's future resembles nothing so much as Hitler's prophecies of the Thousand-Year Reich. Nor are their theories very different. Stephens, unlike Hitler, spoke only of one particular race as inferior. But the principle of racial domination, once established, can easily be extended to fit the convenience of the self-anointed master race or class, whoever it may be.
- p. 223
- [T]he generation of the Founding Fathers, who certainly knew the story of Noah and his sons, nonetheless believed in the equality of the races.
- p. 224
- According to Davis it did not require a Galileo or a Harvey (or a Darwin) to discover the natural inferiority of the Negro. All that was necessary was a visit to the District of Columbia jail!
- p. 226
- In 1860 Senator Wilson, like Lincoln, could not ask for recognition of more than the black man's natural rights. But he showed in dramatic fashion that his argument, like Lincoln's, applied ultimately to all rights, civil and political no less than natural.
- p. 228
- That one man can run faster than another is no reason to prevent the latter from entering the race. Indeed, until the race is run, how do we know who can run faster? In comparing the known inequalities among whites to the alleged inequalities between blacks and whites, Wilson illuminates the logical and moral irrelevance of the distinction of the races in considering the principles of republican government. Nevertheless, this topic could not be addressed in the pure light of reason and nature, because public opinion, North or South, would not permit it.
- pp. 228–229
- South Carolina cites, loosely, but with substantial accuracy, some of the language of the original Declaration. That Declaration does say that it is the right of the people to abolish any form of government that becomes destructive of the ends for which it was established. But South Carolina does not repeat the preceding language in the earlier document: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal'.
- p. 231
- It is only with this prelude that the Declaration of 1776 proclaims the right to revolution. The people do not have an indiscriminate or uncontrolled right to establish or to abolish governments. They have a right to abolish only those governments that become "destructive of these ends". "These ends" refers to the security of equal natural rights. It is only for the sake of security of these rights that legitimate governments are instituted, or that governments may be altered or abolished. And governments are legitimate only insofar as their "just powers" are derived "from the consent of the governed". All of the foregoing is omitted from South Carolina's declaration, for obvious reasons. In no sense could it have been said that the slaves in South Carolina were governed by powers derived from their consent. Nor could it be said that South Carolina was separating itself from the government of the Union because that government had become destructive of the ends for which it was established. South Carolina in 1860 had an entirely different idea of what the ends of government ought to be from that of 1776 or 1787. That difference can be summed up in the difference between holding slavery to be an evil, if possibly a necessary evil, and holding it to be a positive good.
- p. 231
- [T]he one unforgivable sin, according to dominant Southern public opinion, was moral condemnation of slavery.
- p. 249
- [P]reservation of the Union was not a partisan policy.
- [I]t is impossible for men who exercise their reason to believe that any one part of the human race has been marked out by God or nature as so superior to any other. No man is by nature, or by manifest declaration of God's will, the possessor or possession, the master or slave, of another. Whoever asserts such a right to such domination or possession is, in Congress's words from that same document, 'rightfully resistible'.
- p. 370
- For nearly three quarters of a century, Jim Crow imposed on free Negroes a regime in many respects harsher than slavery. The persons of slaves received a certain protection from the fact that they were valuable property, a protection that was stripped from them after they were free.
- p. 526
Thoughts on Lincoln's Birthday (2001)
- Full text of "Thoughts on Lincoln's Birthday" (22 January 2001), by Harry V. Jaffa, Writings, The Claremont Institute.
- The peaceful and orderly inauguration of George W. Bush, as 43rd President of the United States, after the closest election in American history, is an event deserving thoughtful and thankful reflection. There were present on the inaugural platform former presidents of both parties, as well as the gracious loser in the contest just ended. They were testimony to the prizing above all political differences, of the rule of law under the Constitution. We are accustomed, now, to resolving our differences with ballots and not bullets. We are accustomed, now, when we lose an election to look to the next election to advance our political fortunes. But few of us today are aware of how recent in human experience, and how fragile, is this phenomenon.
Aristotle and Locke in the American Founding (2001)
- Full text of "Aristotle and Locke in the American Founding" (10 February 2001), by Harry V. Jaffa, Writings, The Claremont Institute.
- The king is not responsible for the fate of each man's soul. Every man is responsible to God, but not the king, for this. Shakespeare, while displaying unflinchingly the defects of kingly rule, does not in the English histories have on his horizon any alternative to divine right monarchy. The American Founding's Lockean republican political theory provides an answer to the defects of Christian divine right monarchy, the answer that Lincoln inherited. This supplied as well the theoretical foundation for Lincoln's assault on slavery.
The Peace Process Is Dead. Let's Bury It (2001)
- Full text of "The Peace Process Is Dead. Let's Bury It" (24 May 2001), by Harry V. Jaffa, Writings, The Claremont Institute.
- There cannot be a constructive diplomatic process between a tyranny and a democracy. The problem of Hitler could be resolved only by the destruction of Hitler. After Hitler, Germany became a peaceful, democratic regime, able to join the neighbors it had once conquered in an equal partnership in the European Union. The Palestinians whom Arafat represents are like the Germans Hitler represented. The Palestinian Authority, like the Nazis, is a gangster regime that rules its own people by terror. More Palestinians have been murdered by their own government for expressing dissent than have died in action against Israeli Defense Forces in the Intifada. The bulk of the hundreds of millions of dollars we have poured into Arafat's treasury has been embezzled.
Bush's Lincolnian Challenge (2002)
- Full text of "Bush's Lincolnian Challenge" (15 February 2002), by Harry V. Jaffa, The Claremont Institute, The Claremont Institute.
- George W. Bush has said he wants to change things in Washington. On this President's Day, we find him attempting this change in a most profound way. President Bush is to be commended for his recent Proclamation of National Sanctity of Human Life Day, in which he reminds his fellow citizens of the true principles of free government. But those principles today are usually ignored, or scorned. By taking up the challenge of defending these principles, President Bush aligns himself with the greatest President of our nation's history.
- "This nation was founded," President Bush wrote, "upon the belief that every human being is endowed by our Creator with certain 'unalienable rights.'" The President, in using the exact language of the Declaration of Independence, including the archaic "unalienable," has expressed the conviction that "the laws of nature and of nature's God" furnish the moral foundation of constitutional government. "President Jefferson's timeless principle," he wrote, "obligates us to pursue a civil society that will democratically embrace its essential moral duties..."
- The President's proclamation is intended to give heart to, and rightly does give heart to, the Right to Life movement. It does so by identifying the right to life of the unborn with the first of the rights mentioned in the Declaration. It does so as the free soil movement and the Republican party, in the antebellum United States, had identified the right to liberty in the Declaration as the principled ground of its opposition to slavery. Then it was understood that the principle of equal rights for all in the Declaration of Independence was, as Lincoln said it was, "the apple of gold in the picture of silver" that gave life and meaning to the Constitution. Then it was understood that the original intent of those who framed and those who ratified the Constitution was to "secure these rights," the rights that defined the moral order which the legal order was to implement.
- That moral order, we know, encompasses, beside the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, many other rights, as for example the right to the free exercise of religion, to freedom of speech and of the press, and to freedom of association. These are rights antecedent to the political process-rights that do not depend upon majority will-rights that majorities may not violate. They are all features of the moral "laws of nature and of nature's God." Clearly, the implications of the President's endorsement of the idea of a moral order, antecedent to all positive law, including the law of the Constitution, go far beyond the debate over abortion.
- The President's Proclamation is in direct contradiction of the legal positivism reigning in the legal profession, a positivism held no less tenaciously by conservatives than liberals, a positivism that denies all constitutional status to the principles of the Declaration of Independence. The contrast between the President's Proclamation and this positivism reveals a profound alienation from the principles of the American Founding among our nation's intellectual elites.
- If "safeguards of individual liberty" do not have "any intrinsic worth", then neither does individual liberty. And if individual liberty has no intrinsic worth, neither does individual life. It is impossible to imagine a more complete denial of President Bush's proclamation of the sanctity of human life, or of his assertion of an "essential human dignity attached to all persons by virtue of their very existence." This is not only legal positivism, it is nihilism. It is not only a denial of any moral foundation of constitutionalism, it is a denial of any moral foundation of political community.
- By the principles of the Declaration of Independence, majority rule in a free society is not an end in itself, nor is it a source of the purposes served by free government. Majority rule exists to secure the rights with which all human persons are "endowed by their Creator." The recognition of the origin of these rights, in God and nature, comes before any action of any majority. Only as we all recognize that "the just powers of government" exist to secure the equal rights possessed by every human being, whether in the majority or minority, can tyranny be prevented.
- The President's proclamation is a mighty blow against the legal positivism that infects our legal establishment, and the moral relativism that pervades our society. But this can only be the beginning of a far greater struggle than that against the physical danger of terrorism. It means taking up once again the burden Lincoln bore, in reasserting the truth of the Declaration, against the "positive good" theory of slavery, and against the still more deadly theory that majorities, and not the difference between right and wrong, should decide the future of slavery.
- In this struggle President Bush will find, like Lincoln, and like one who came before Lincoln, that "a man's foes will be those of his own household." However hard and long it might be, this battle must be borne. For what is at stake is nothing less than the future of our entire civilization.
The American Founding as the Best Regime (2002)
- Full text of "The American Founding as the Best Regime" (15 May 2002), by Harry V. Jaffa, The Claremont Institute, The Claremont Institute.
- The idea of liberty, or the liberty which is a blessing, being an emancipation of the passions from moral restraint had no place in the constitutional doctrine of the novus ordo seclorum. The liberty which is a blessing must be good for the one who possesses it. It must therefore be a good in the sight of God, who is the source of blessings. Such a good must point to felicity, whether in this world or the next, as its consummation. By calling the advantages of liberty "blessings," the Constitution, which in certain respects makes perhaps the most radical break in all human history with all that has gone before it, nonetheless, in its understanding of the connection between happiness and virtue, aligns itself decisively with traditional moral philosophy and moral theology.
The Real Abraham Lincoln: A Debate (2002)
- Full text of "The Real Abraham Lincoln: A Debate" (7 May 2002), The Independent Institute.
- On the question of the gentlemanliness of the debate, I'm reminded that in the Congress, just before the Civil War, the Senator from New Hampshire, I think, made an anti-slavery speech, and a Senator from Mississippi, not Jefferson Davis, invited him to come down to Mississippi to make that speech, promising to see that he was hanged from the highest tree in the forest. The Senator from New Hampshire invited the Senator from Mississippi to come to New Hampshire where he would be given a respectful hearing in every township in that State.
The South was a Closed Society
- When people speak about the results of the 1860 Presidential election, it’s usually given out that Lincoln had, I think, 39 percent of the popular vote in that election. But, of course, there were 10 states in the South who formed part of the ten or the eleven states of the Confederacy, in which no Republican electors were on the ballots. And since we know that at least 100,000 men from those states came north to join the Union Army, there were at least 100,000 votes that weren't counted.
- But the South became a closed society on the eve of the Civil War, and it became a closed society after the end of Reconstruction. The Intercollegiate Studies Institute for some time circulated a book edited by my late friend Mel Bradford, The Essays of Andrew Litell ; was one of the Southerners who took their stand in 1931, I think it was. And one of those essays, written in 1934, praised lynching as a legitimate exercise of the reserve powers of the states when the government didn't fulfill its duty to take care of racist agitators. So the South was a closed society on the subject of race right up until World War II.
- And Lincoln in his Cooper Union speech, which he gave in February of 1860, raised the question, 'What can we do to satisfy our Southern brethren? No assurances that we give them that we will have no intention of interfering with the institution of slavery where it exists will satisfy them. We must get rid of all anti-slavery sentiments from our state constitutions'.
- There were eight of them that had laws trying to protect black people who were free from being kidnapped as slaves, because under the law of 1850, the Fugitive Slave Act. If a Southerner came across from Virginia to Pennsylvania and saw a black man that he thought he would like to have as a slave, he had to say, 'Well, that’s my runaway slave', and this runaway slave would then be arrested and confined, and then there would be a hearing before a federal commissioner. And the would-be slave owner could summon witnesses—as many as he wanted. The man accused of being a slave could summon no witnesses, had no counsel. And if the federal commissioner decided he was a slave, he was paid $10, and if he decided he was a free man, he was paid $5. It’s hard to imagine any law passed in either Nazi Germany or Stalin's Russia that was more inconsistent with the principles of civil liberty than the Fugitive Slave Act.
- Lincoln, as we know, supported that Act as part of the Compromise of 1850. But in his inaugural address he mentioned several respects in which that law should be modified so that it would be consistent, at least, with the principles of civil liberty. But that was the temper of the country.
- DiLorenzo thinks that slavery was not the real issue in the Civil War, that it was the Whig economic program. Banks, tariffs, internal improvements, and what he calls corporate welfare. And he thinks that the slavery question was really only a sham that was not the real question; it was not the real issue. That's very strange for anybody reading the Lincoln-Douglas debates, since the subject of tariffs was never mentioned. The only time the word is used, I think, is when Douglas says that the tariff was one of the questions that the two parties used to discuss. But the only subject discussed in the Lincoln-Douglas debates was slavery in the territories.
- And it’s important to understand the sequence of events, and the ideas that accompanied that sequence of events that led up to the Civil War. The subtitle of my new book is Abraham Lincoln and the Coming of the Civil War, and I believe I’ve discussed the question of the nature of secession and the role of secession in that crisis, I believe, more thoroughly than I think it’s ever been discussed before.
The Right of Secession Is Not the Right of Revolution
- DiLorenzo in his book thinks that the right of secession and the right of revolution—that that's a semantic difference. Well, it was not a semantic difference, it was a fundamental difference. The right of revolution is referred to in the Declaration of Independence when it says, “Whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, the people have a right to alter or abolish it, and to institute new government as to them shall seem most likely to affect their safety and happiness.” That is what has been referred to ever since as the right of revolution. It’s the right to resist intolerable oppression. It's the right to prevent anyone from being reduced under absolute despotism, which is what the Declaration of Independence says. And this Declaration gives a long catalog of the abuses, of usurpations of power practiced by the King and Parliament of Great Britain, which justified the colonies in their rebellion.
- Colonists did not, at this point, claim any privileges under the law of Great Britain. They were breaking from the law of Great Britain. They were appealing instead to the laws of nature and of nature’s God. And it was under those laws that they had the right to resist oppression.
- In 1860, the South did not appeal to the right of revolution. They appealed to a right of secession, which they claim to be a Constitutional right under the Constitution itself. In 1776, the colonists did not claim that in breaking with Great Britain they were exercising a right granted by the British Constitution. They had conducted their struggle until that moment by appealing it through the British constitution. But when they decided on independence, they appealed instead to the laws of nature and of nature’s God.
- Now, there were many reasons why the south did not appeal to the right of revolution. One reason was that there were no abuses that they had been subject to, comparable to the ones enumerated in the Declaration of Independence. Lincoln, in his inaugural address, said that there was not a single constitutional right which anybody could point to, to say that that had been violated. They were exercising this right as something that was to their pleasure, for their own purposes, but that had nothing to do with the Constitution, and yet they were claiming it as a Constitutional right to withdraw from the Union.
- Now, the issue of the Civil War as Lincoln presented it, in both his inaugural address on March 4th, and in the message to Congress in Special Session on July 4th, four months later, was in essence this. In ratifying the Constitution, each state had committed itself to accepting the results of elections conducted under the rules of the Constitution. The election of 1860 had been conducted under the rules of the Constitution. If there were any violations of those rules, it was by the Southern states in refusing to allow Republican electors on the ballot. But there was nothing that the Republican Party had done. There was nothing in the electoral procedures of the free states, or, for that matter, of the slave states with this exception which justified anyone in saying that the results of this election were not Constitutional results.
- If a minority, losing an election, can break up the government rather than accept the results of the election, free government is impossible. If the only alternatives to rule by a Constitutional majority, I say, Constitutional majority, a majority formed under the rules of the Constitution with minority rights secured. There were no examples of the Republicans doing anything to prevent the opposition from having freedom of speech, freedom of press, freedom of association. There was a great deal of interference with those rights in the Southern states. But they lost the election according to their own rights. And Lincoln said that if people can break up the government rather than accept the results of a fairly conducted election, then the only alternatives are anarchy or tyranny. What is to prevent, he said, anyone of the states seceding from any future union?
- So that was the basic issue. Once the ballots had been decided, Lincoln said the only recourse must be through future elections in which the minority can try to become the majority; but there can be no right to reject the results of an election conducted under the rules of the Constitution.
- Now let me trace for a moment the sequence of events that led up to the secession crisis. Prelude to Southern Secession. I'll begin by saying that the decisive act of secession—the secession which caused all future secessions—was not what happened after Lincoln’s election. It was the secession of the seven states of the Deep South from the Democratic convention in Charleston of 1860. As far as I know, Mr. DiLorenzo doesn’t even know anything about this. He can still comment on that when he wants to.
- But what happened then? The majority of the delegates to that convention wanted to nominate Stephen A. Douglas as the Democratic candidate for the presidency. The Democratic Party had the two-thirds rule, which they continued to have until 1936, as a matter of fact. I think only in '36 did they change it to a simple majority; Franklin D. Roosevelt’s first nomination had to be two-thirds.
- The seven states of the Deep South, the same seven states that seceded after Lincoln's election and before his inauguration, demanded as a plank in the Democratic platform, without which they would not support Douglas, a slave code for the territories.
- Now there's a little story to that. Chief Justice Taney, in the Dred Scott decision—which said that the Missouri Compromise restriction of slavery in 1820 and any other one, was unconstitutional—said that there was no power in the Congress to forbid slavery in the territories. And he added as a kind of obiter dictum that the only power of Congress over slavery in the territories was the power coupled with the duty of protecting the owner and his rights. Now the seven states of the Deep South interpreted that to mean that the police power of the federal government had to guarantee the integrity of the property of any slave owner going into any United States territory.
- This, by the way, was a demand for the greatest increase of federal power prior to the New Deal, maybe even since the New Deal. The greatest demand for an increase in federal power was made by the Southern states in 1860. And the majority in the convention refused to adopt this, and they refused to adopt it because nobody could be elected dogcatcher in a free state who supported a federal police power over slavery in the territories.
- But bear this in mind: if this demand had been acceded to, that meant that every territory in the United States which would become a state—and remember, there were then 33 states and there would be 50 states eventually—but every other state would become a slave state. Because if one slave owner went to North Dakota with his slave, the federal police power would follow him to make sure that he could hold that slave securely in that place.
- Now this was a demand for the indefinite extension of slavery, so the choice facing the country was whether slavery will be restricted or whether it will be extended indefinitely with the whole power of the federal government behind the extension of slavery.
- And what this could mean, as illustrated by what happened in 1854, the first real test of the Fugitive Slave Act? There was a slave named Anthony Burns in Virginia who stowed away on board a coastal vessel that then sailed to Boston. And Anthony Burns, who was apparently quite literate but not very smart, wrote a letter to his brother back in Virginia telling him where he was. Well, before Anthony Burns was returned to the State of Virginia, the President, Franklin Pierce, had sent an artillery regiment of marines to Boston. He had federalized the National Guard of Boston. He had 3,000 soldiers surrounding them, making sure that nobody could break the jail and let Anthony Burns out. This was an example of the way in which the federal police power would be used to make sure that slaves were returned to their masters or that slaves couldn’t escape from their masters. So this is the real issue.
- Now, what was Douglas' position? Douglas was the man who in 1854, in drafting and sponsoring the Kansas-Nebraska Act, had moved for the repeal of the Missouri Compromise restriction on slavery. And that meant that after Missouri was admitted to the Union in 1820 or ’21, that Congress resolved that in all the remaining territory north of 36°30’—which was a southern boundary of Missouri—all the remaining territory would be forever free. That meant that the states of Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, and parts of Colorado and Wyoming—slavery was excluded from them.
- So the repeal of the Missouri Compromise opened that whole territory to the ingress of slavery. That sparked the greatest political revolution in American History. In the spring of 1854, when the Kansas-Nebraska Act was passed, there was no Republican Party; there were no Republican congressmen. In the four elections of 1854, 100 Republican Congressmen were returned to the Congress. At that moment, Stephen A. Douglas was looked upon as the antichrist from the point of view of the anti-slavery movement.
- Three years later in the contest for Kansas, the administration headed by James Buchanan tried to railroad through a constitution called the Lecompton Constitution, which would have made Kansas a slave state, but on the basis of a phony vote. Douglas stuck to his popular-sovereignty doctrine, which meant that the people of the territory, in a fair vote, would decide for or against slavery. That was the way in which he replaced the Missouri Compromise restriction. It opened slavery, but it said that the decision in each territory would be made by the people in that territory on the basis of their preferences.
- Well, Douglas became the leader of the Republicans in the struggle in Congress to defeat the Lecompton Constitution, and he succeeded. And from becoming the antichrist of the anti-slavery movement, he became the savior. And many people in the Republican Party wanted Lincoln and the Republicans in Illinois to support Douglas for reelection.
- That was a decisive moment in Lincoln’s career, and that’s the situation he faced when he got up to give his “House Divided” speech on June 16th of 1858. It was a crisis of his own career. It was also, in my opinion, the gravest crisis this country has ever faced, because the greatest danger to the future of the country came not, I think, from the pro-slavery argument, but from the morally neutral argument of Douglas. And that’s a long story and you’ll find it all spelled out in great detail in my book, which I hope you will read with great care.
The Lincoln-Douglas Debates
- In the Lincoln-Douglas debates, Lincoln accomplished something almost miraculous. That is to say, what he had to do was to fight off the challenge of Douglas from the Republican side and at the same time drive a wedge between Douglas and the Southern Democrats. I compared his achievement in that to Stonewall Jackson’s Valley Campaign, where Jackson fought two federal armies, beat them both and kept them close to Washington while he joined Lee before Richmond for the final battle of the seven days. It was a case of technical and strategic cleverness and profundity that is, I think, perhaps almost unrivaled in world history.
- Douglas accepted Dred Scott, and in Dred Scott, the Chief Justice had said that the right to own slaves is expressly affirmed in the Constitution. And Lincoln said in the debates that it was implied but not expressly affirmed. The argument against any restriction on slavery was that any right expressly affirmed in the Constitution takes precedent over any law or regulation in any jurisdiction whatever. (Remember, the supremacy clause in Article VI of the Constitution says that this Constitution, and the laws and treaties made in pursuance thereof, are the supreme law of land—anything in any law or a constitution of any state to the contrary not withstanding.)
- And Lincoln pointed out that this argument—which the Court applied to the territories—could also equally well be applied to the states, so that the prospect of slavery becoming national, not only through the spread into the new territories but in the spread to the states, was very great. This was Lincoln’s argument.
- Now, Lincoln said to Douglas, if you accept that Taney’s opinion that slavery is expressly affirmed in the Constitution is true, then you are under an obligation to give the slave owners the implementation of this right.
- A parallel case was the Fugitive Slave Act. Article IV of the Constitution says that any person held to the service or laborer in any state escaping to another state shall not be discharged from such service or labor, but shall be returned to the one to whom the service or labor is due. This is the Fugitive Slave Clause of the Constitution.
- Now the Constitution doesn’t say how this right is to be enforced, but it says it shall be done. And from 1793 to 1850 it depended upon the states honoring the Act. Well, that was not working, and so this federal law was substituted which provided enforcement procedures under the auspices of the federal government.
- And Lincoln said that if you believe in the Fugitive Slave Act being required by Article IV, you must also believe that the protection of the slave owner and the territories deserves federal protection; the two arguments were perfectly parallel. Douglas said it didn’t matter how the Supreme Court in the abstract decided the question of slavery in the territories; if the slave owner went to the territory, he had to get local regulations to protect his property.
- And Lincoln said that by your own argument, if the local regulations are not forthcoming, you must support the federal enforcement; if you don’t, you’re taking the same position as the abolitionists, who denied any obligation to enforce the Fugitive Slave Law.
- Well, it’s not clear how persuasive this argument was in Illinois, but it was persuasive in Mississippi and Alabama and Florida and South Carolina, which said, 'Well, Lincoln’s right. This man Douglas is denying us our Constitutional rights'. And as a result of that, it was Lincoln’s cleverness in the debates which split the Democratic convention in 1860, and this is what in fact elected Abraham Lincoln. But it was the rebellion against Douglas, not against Lincoln, which precipitated the whole secessionist movement.
- It’s been well said—and by many people in many circumstances—that whom the Gods would destroy, they first make mad. These people in the Deep South were mad because they could have elected Douglas, and Douglas would have given them everything they wanted—everything that they wanted that was consistent with his election in the free states.
- Douglas was a radical expansionist. Both parts of the Democratic Party in 1860 called for the annexation of Cuba. And there were 100,000 slaves in Cuba, and Cuba was the place that slaves were still being brought from Africa and then resold in the United States. So under a Douglas presidency, we would have taken over the rest of Mexico and Central America whenever we had the resources and the appetite to take to do so. You can be sure that most of the Mexicans would have either been reduced to peonage or to slavery. In the Mexican War itself, in case you don’t know it, we appropriated 60 percent of the land area of Mexico as it was then defined through the Spanish Conquest. So we increased the size of the United States by 40 percent and reduced Mexico by 60 percent.
- The possibilities for slavery expansion were almost endless. Douglas would have done these things, but he couldn't subscribe to the slave code. And on that basis, they seceded, and that split the Democratic Party, and that elected Abraham Lincoln.
- Now, Lincoln' position was consistent throughout the debates. A great deal is said—Dr. DiLorenzo says it, but it's been said countless times before—that Lincoln used racist language in the debates. That’s not true. Now what Lincoln argued for in the debates was the recognition of the natural rights of black people, when Douglas said that if the people of Nebraska are good enough to govern themselves, they certainly are good enough to govern a few miserable Negroes. And Lincoln replied by saying, "I doubt not that the people of Nebraska are as good as the average of people elsewhere, what I say is that no man is good enough to govern another without his consent."
- That was the line he took, and he did not try to settle the matter of what would be done if universal emancipation came. No intelligent politician tries to raise questions that will divide his followers. He tries to take positions that will unite his followers. And Lincoln did the best that anybody could have possibly done to unite his followers on the questions of principle, which applied directly to the great issue of public policy, which at that time was slavery in the territories. And I think my time is up.
- On the question of the tariff, it may come as news to Professor DiLorenzo that the protective tariffs were first instituted by Jefferson and Madison, not by the Hamiltonian party. Hamilton tried to get the tariffs, but he was not successful. And the reason why, the protective tariffs first entered our system in the wake of Jefferson’s embargo, which put the New England shipping interests out of business. And so the first protective tariffs were put in, I think, under Madison’s administration, and supported by John C. Calhoun, who agreed that at that time it was owed to the New England people to give their infant industries protection because they had been put out of business by the embargo, and later by the War of 1812, conducted under Madison’s administration.
- Madison, by the way, had opposed both the bank and tariffs when Hamilton was Secretary of Treasury. He signed into law the Second Bank of the United States, and endorsed the tariff, said that it has been ratified by the people in subsequent elections, so he reversed his position on that.
- What happened in 1828 is also a very curious fact. 1828 was a crucial moment in the history of the tariff, because the national debt was just being paid off, and so the income from the tariff would produce a surplus in the treasury. And at that time, there was a great fear that a surplus in the federal treasury might be used to buy the freedom of slaves.
- So the slave issue really under-laid the tariff issue. But it also happened that in the committee which was scheduling the tariffs, the people in South Carolina, and I think other Southerners, moved to raise the tariffs to this abominable level on the assumption that they would be voted down on the floor of the House. And they got fooled by that. Instead of being voted down, it was voted in. They were hoist by their own petard. But in 1833 a compromise was reached. The tariffs were reduced. Jackson’s Force Bill was repealed, and so there was a peaceful resolution of that.
- I myself believe in free trade and would be glad it could be implemented whenever possible. But in the actual conflict that led to the Civil War, we had two obstacles to free trade, and I ask you to think which one of them was the greater obstacle. One was the tariff, and the other was slavery.
- Don't we hear nowadays objections on the part of the labor unions to importing goods from China, which are made with slave labor? Is the existence of slave labor not a reflection upon the idea of a free commercial society?
- Now it's absolutely true, and I agree with Professor DiLorenzo, that the Republican Party could never have been successful without the support of the tariff interests involved. The Free Soil Party and the Liberty Party were anti-slavery parties, which were, you might say, pure in their principles, but they had no chance of being successful on a national basis. It was the addition of the tariff interests that gave the Republicans the ability to carry their anti-slavery program into action. And it’s in that light, I think, that you have to look at the whole question of the tariffs.
- As far as Hamilton, the banks and internal improvements, contrary to Professor DiLorenzo, I think, and several other people have thought, that Hamilton was the greatest Secretary of the Treasury we ever had. The assumption of the debts of the states, and the funding of the debt through the bank produced an enormous prosperity in the country, and this was all done under Washington’s administration. And if you want to speak of Federalists and people supporting the Federalist economic agenda, the first one of them was George Washington.
- Now there’s document on a subject of states' rights and states' sovereignty which is very seldom cited but which is absolutely fundamental to understanding the status of sovereignty under the Constitution: the letter that George Washington wrote transmitting the new Constitution to the Congress on September 17, 1787. And among the ironies of this letter is the fact that John C. Calhoun in his Discourse on the Constitution and Government of the United States, the sequel to his Disquisition on Government, cites the words that Washington used to support his position that this was a federal government, and that “federal” meant one in which the constituent parts retains complete sovereignty. And he refers to the fact that Washington refers to “the federal government of these States.”
- Now, the truth of the matter is that the idea of the meaning of the word 'federal' underwent a change from the Articles of Confederation to the Constitution. Under the Constitution, the states gave up their sovereignty in the Calhounian sense. And if you have any doubt about that, let me just read a sentence from George Washington. 'It is obviously impracticable in the federal government of these states to secure all rights of independent sovereignty to each, and yet provide for the interest and safety of all'. So all the rights of independent sovereignty, or some of those rights, have been surrendered.
- With this, we are introduced to a unique American contribution to political science: dual federalism and dual sovereignty. The states are sovereign within the spheres of the powers that are reserved to them by the Constitution. They are not sovereign in those things that are delegated to the United States as a whole.
- And if you look at the things that are denied to the states in the Constitution, for example, they are denied the right to coin money. Now, throughout history, the right to coin money has been a symbol of sovereignty. If states do not have the right to coin money, they are not sovereign in the sense that would justify secession as a state right.
- DiLorenzo thinks that it is a reflection on Lincoln's anti-slavery character that he supported the Fugitive Slave Act. But the Fugitive Slave Clause is in the Constitution, and Lincoln thought that any refusal to implement the right clearly defined in the Constitution would justify secession. You can't pick and choose which parts of the Constitution you like. Once you do that, then the Constitution is simply, as Jefferson said once, "a blank sheet of paper." Jefferson said that when he was contemplating purchasing Louisiana. And having said that by purchasing it he would make the Constitution a blank sheet of paper, he went ahead and purchased Louisiana.
- Yeah, I’d like to comment. In the first place, the idea that the federal government in 1860 should have offered to buy the slaves is a political absurdity. Any claim by Lincoln or his party of any jurisdiction over slavery in the states would have been regarded, and justly regarded, as completely unconstitutional, and advocating the overthrow of the Constitution.
- Now, during the Civil War, Lincoln did endorse a program of compensated emancipation. In his 1862 message to Congress, he proposed a series of Constitutional amendments that would have authorized the Federal government to reimburse states that adopted programs of compensated emancipation. He was very anxious. This was before the Emancipation Proclamation, the final one, was issued on January 1, 1863.
- But he did want to see to it that loyal slave owners were not expropriated by his emancipation policy. But he couldn't get the Congress to adopt it. He couldn't get any Representatives, and people from Kentucky, or Missouri, or the border states to vote for it, and so he failed. This is the message to Congress which ended with those wonderful words, “Gentlemen of the Congress, we cannot escape history. The fiery trial through which we pass will light us down in honor or dishonor to the latest generation. We shall nobly save or meanly lose the last, best hope of Earth.” Well, it failed.
- And comparing what happened in England—after all, in England the Parliament in Westminster was making laws for the West Indies. The West Indians didn't have any representation in the Parliament. The laws were made for them, and they had to go along with it. There was no such power within the Federal government to interfere with slavery, except by limiting the expansion of slavery. And it was Lincoln’s belief—and I think the best economic analysis that we have of the American economy in the antebellum United States indicates—that if the expansion of slavery had been ended, and if it was no longer possible for surplus slaves to be sold from the old states to new territories, that the pressure within the states to adopt programs of emancipation would become great enough to do that.
- In other words, Lincoln's belief was that slavery could be ended peacefully through the action of the states themselves. It couldn't be done through direct intervention by the Federal government, but it could be done within the states themselves. And after all of the states north of the Mason-Dixon line had adopted plans for emancipation—slavery was lawful in every one of the 13 colonies, and the 13 states which declared their independence.
- DiLorenzo is absolutely wrong in saying that the 13 states were recognized as independent separate sovereignties. They were not. In 1826, Madison and Jefferson together, in making rules for the University of Virginia, resolved that the first of the documents that should be studied by the law faculty of the University of Virginia, was the Declaration of Independence as the Act of Union of the States. The Declaration was a declaration of separation from Great Britain and union with each other. And the state legislatures, or state revolutionary colonial legislatures on the road to independence—almost all of them passed resolutions calling for independence and for union.
- But all those same resolutions said that, in the Declaration of the Union, the internal police of each colony should be recognized as binding. In other words, the origins of American dual federalism are to be found in the resolutions of the revolutionary assemblies authorizing the Continental Congress to declare independence. They declared independence and union together, and there was never any time in which any state acted on the international sphere, having diplomatic relations—and the Constitution itself forbids each state to have any diplomatic action. They could not act independently of the other states in the international arena.
- We have these inalienable rights, and in the exercise of these same inalienable rights, we agree with each other to form civil governments. And Madison has an essay on sovereignty, which is a sort of simplified repetition of John Locke’s argument in the second chapter of the Second Treatise.
- If the people in this room were not citizens of the United States, if they were not citizens of any state, or of any sovereign government, and if we decided that we needed to, for our own protection, first beginning with safety—September 11th told us why we need each other for the sake of safety—form a government, we have to recognize, each one of us, that this government shall protect the right to life, and to liberty, and property of each one of us. No one of us can say that he deserves protection for the government to be formed, but not somebody else, or that somebody is entitled to more protection than anybody else. Anybody who demands more protection from the government than his fellow citizens won’t be accepted as a fellow citizen.
- But once we have reached this agreement and we then elect a government and that government functions—and the election for that government is one in which there’s freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of association, so that it is a legitimate government—then that government commands our obedience. We have no right to reject our duty to obey because we don’t like the result of the election—provided the election is conducted fairly and Constitutional rights are observed.
- You can not have free government if you can not bind the people who participate in the government to accept the results of the election. It is the exercise of our inalienable right to life that enables us, and justifies us, in forming legitimate governments. When those governments are formed, we cannot reject them because we don’t like the results.
- The 43rd Federalist deals definitively with this question. There was no question but that the Constitutional Convention, simply as a convention, had no authority of any kind. It did not form a government. But it said that the ratification of nine states shall then bring this new government into existence. The Congress of the Confederation transmitted the results to the country, the ratifications took place, and the government came into existence.
- Well, in the first place, I deny that Lincoln acted unconstitutionally at any time during the Civil War. It was a civil war. There were traitors in the midst of all of the free states. The possibility of recruiting soldiers and keeping them from deserting. There was lots of desertion on both sides of the Civil War, and it just happens that there were more Confederate soldiers executed for desertion than there were Union soldiers. But there were plenty of executions on both sides.
- It was a terrible war. The idea that the cost of the war is due to Lincoln is simply absurd. It was a terrible war because the country was deeply divided, and the question of the future of the nation, whether or not it would be based upon principles recognized as principles of individual liberty, or whether the idea of one race dominating another race would be accepted as a means for governance. Let me just read one short statement here that might interest you. "Since the Civil War, in which the Southern States were conquered, against all historical logic and sound sense, the American people have been in a condition of political and popular decay. ... The beginnings of a great new social order based on the principle of slavery and inequality were destroyed by that war, and with them also the embryo of a future truly great America." That has been the position of defenders of the Confederacy from Alexander Stephens through Thomas DiLorenzo. Do you know the man who said that was Adolf Hitler?
- Well, Lincoln, in his July 4th Special Message to the Congress, 1861, said that the people of the South were a law-abiding people, and they would not have undertaken to do what they were now doing if it hadn't been for the invention of an ingenious sophism, according to which a state could secede from the Union without the permission of the Union or of any other state.
- The ratification of the Constitution was an action undertaken by all of the states which joined the union and adopted the Constitution, and that was a contract between them and among them—that they would abide by the results of the elections conducted under the rules of the Constitution, and that they could not act independently of the other states with which they had jointly and severally agreed and contracted to be governed by.
- No, on the contrary, the Constitution exists to protect that right. The important point is that the Constitution exists to protect individual liberty and individual property. In fact, the most important of all of the rights, really the foundation of all rights, are the rights to private property. But the right to private property is a right for each individual human being to own himself.
- And so, the idea of slave property contradicts the idea of private property, and the Southerners taking their stand on their property rights and their slaves were, in fact, taking their stand on a principle which was incompatible with the idea of constitutional government.
- It was recognized as a necessary evil at the time, and the justification for the ratification of the Constitution with slavery is that any alternative arrangement would have been more favorable to slavery than the Constitution itself. The Constitution created a government strong enough to deal with the question of slavery when it became what it did become in 1860.
- And the war was a terrible war, but it was a war for human freedom, and if the South had succeeded and if slavery had been extended, the United States, or part of it, might very well have been on the side of Hitler in the Second World War. We would not have been the bastion of freedom we have been in the twentieth century.
Is Diversity Good? (2003)
- Full text of "Is Diversity Good?" (17 January 2003), by Harry V. Jaffa, Claremont Institute.
- The motto of the United States is "e pluribus unum", or "from many, one." Originally, this referred to the one union formed from the many states. It became the motto of the country because we had to fight a great civil war to prevent the manyness of the states from destroying the oneness of the union. What led manyness nearly to destroy oneness was the presence of slavery in many of the states. The diversity that tolerated the difference between slavery and freedom had become intolerable. A crisis had been reached in which, according to the greatest American, the house divided had to cease being divided. It had to become either all free or all slave.
- Diversity in the service of freedom might be a very good thing. Diversity in the service of slavery might be a very bad thing.
- To allow slavery to be introduced into free territories, where it had not hitherto existed, was, Abraham Lincoln held, a very bad thing. His opponent, Stephen A. Douglas, held that it was a sacred right, belonging to the people of each territory, to decide for themselves whether or not to have slavery among their domestic institutions. According to Douglas, Lincoln wanted to destroy the diversity upon which the union had subsisted, by insisting that all the states ought to be free. But for Douglas himself, the principle of 'popular sovereignty' did not admit of exceptions. There was to be no diversity, no deviation from the right of the people to decide. For Lincoln the wrongness of slavery meant that no one, and no people, had the right to decide in its favor. For Lincoln, the principle of human equality, "that all men are created equal", did not admit exceptions.
- Ask yourself, if you or a loved one is to undergo brain or heart surgery, does it matter whether the surgeons who will operate had been selected for medical school for any other reason than their aptitude for medicine and surgery? Even if there were no quotas, should race have been "taken into consideration" in their selection? Consider the hairline life and death decisions that surgeons make all the time. Does not every consideration, however slight, apart from aptitude, dilute the qualifications of surgeons for surgery? The next time you are crossing a great bridge, do you not rely upon the qualifications of the engineers and builders to ensure your safety? What does the skin color of the classmates of doctors or engineers have to do with their medicine or their engineering? Is it not their professional qualification that matters, and not either the sameness or the differences from which they came? Is not the same true if we are seeking mathematicians, physicists, economists, or generals? In each case, what is apt for the end in view may be regarded as good, what is inapt may be regarded as bad.
- "Diversity" as an abstraction has no meaning. Today, however, it means racial preference and nothing else. A commitment to diversity, apart from the ends it may serve, is absurd.
Before In History (2004)
- Full text of "Never Before In History" (2 July 2004), Writings, The Claremont Institute.
- Every human good we enjoy today is, directly or indirectly, a legacy from what the Founders wrought, and Lincoln preserved. That legacy was formed by what the American Founders called an experiment in free government, at the heart of which is a simple, yet radical idea; that under the laws of nature and of nature's God, all men are created equal. From this idea, and this idea alone, flow all the precepts of free government. If all men are created equal, it is unjust for one man to rule another without his consent. If men possess rights by nature, the purpose of government is to protect our natural liberty. As we know the purpose of government we know also of its limitations, and so we limit the power of government by writing a constitution, and requiring the government as well as citizens to live under the rule of law- laws which must be consented to by the citizens in order to be legitimate.
- Relativism, positivism, and nihilism — modern doctrines which mock wisdom and scorn virtue — have at the dawn of the twenty-first century come to dominate.
The Logic of the Colorblind Constitution (2004)
- Full text of "The Logic of the Colorblind Constitution" (6 December 2004), by Harry V. Jaffa, The Claremont Institute
- In 1896, in Plessy v. Ferguson, the Court decided that 'separate but equal' did not violate the equal protection clause, and the South and not only the South relied upon this decision in building their systems of racially segregated public schools. The Court's 1896 decision can be explained in part by reason of the fact that the country—and the Western World generally—was then nearly submerged by the 'evolutionary' enlightenment. This movement, which dominated the intellectual elites in the universities, the law schools, and the media, denied the story of Creation in the Bible, and rejected the hitherto received idea that "God hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth." It entertained instead the idea that the races of mankind did not all emerge at the same time from the subhumanity which preceded their humanity. Evolutionary doctrine encouraged the idea that there was a fundamental inequality among the aforesaid races, and this idea virtually relegated to the "dustbin of history" the contrary idea, enshrined in the Declaration of Independence and the Gettysburg Address, "that all men are created equal."
- Harlan's dissenting opinion in Plessy, that the Constitution was colorblind, and that it did not countenance different and unequal classes of citizens, was based upon a belief in the truth of the principle of equality in which the founders and Lincoln had so profoundly believed. But this belief had been buried by progressivism, and has not been resurrected, except by the intellectual heirs of Leo Strauss. On intellectual grounds, it has never been refuted, and ought never to have been abandoned. There is not now, and never has been any such difference between one human being and another human being, or whatever race or color, such that one is by nature the ruler of the other, as any human being is by nature the ruler of any dog or any horse. For this reason, legitimate political authority can arise only by the consent of the governed, and consent can never be given for any reason other than the equal protection of the rights of the governed. Hence equal protection is the foundation of all constitutionalism, even apart from its specific inclusion in the Constitution itself. For more reasons than one, Justice Harlan's dissenting opinion ought to have been the opinion of the Court in 1896; even more ought it to have been the opinion of the Court in 1954. As Professor Edward J. Erler has demonstrated in the pages of the Claremont Review of Books, the principle of equal protection has never become the opinion of the Supreme Court of the United States, nor has it been favored in the writings of conservative jurists.
- The original intent of the 14th Amendment, and of the Congress and the American people who ratified it, can best be understood in the light of the change it effected in antecedent constitutional law. Taney's opinion in Dred Scott was still in effect as the Civil War came to an end. By it Negroes, whether free or slave, could not be citizens of the United States. Although the 13th Amendment abolished slavery, it did not settle the question of Negro citizenship. This was however decided by the opening sentence of the 14th Amendment. "All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside." The intent of this sentence could however be frustrated if it were possible to make distinctions within citizenship, by which some citizens would have more rights, and others less. It was to prevent this that the Amendment went on to declare that "No State shall... deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."
- The 14th Amendment was intended to drive a stake through the heart of Dred Scott. The heart of that opinion consisted in the assertion that Negroes were so far inferior that they had no rights which white men were bound to respect. This meant that as far as the Constitution was concerned, the distance between whites and blacks was no less than the distance between whites and any other inferior species. A white man had the same right to rule a Negro as he had to rule dog or a horse. Hence according to Taney blacks were not and could not have been included in the proposition "that all men are created equal." Whether or not they were intended to be so included was among the questions most fiercely debated by Lincoln and Douglas.
- No result of the Civil War was more fundamental than the authoritative assertion of the inclusion of human beings of any color and any ethnicity in the proposition of human equality. A consensus in favor of the colorblind Constitution is provided by the logic of reality and the logic of history.
The Central Idea (2006)
- Full text of "The Central Idea" (19 February 2006), by Harry V. Jaffa, Writings, The Claremont Institute
- According to Abraham Lincoln, public opinion always has a central idea from which all its minor thoughts radiate. The central idea of the American Founding—and indeed of constitutional government and the rule of law—was the equality of mankind. This thought is central to all of Lincoln's speeches and writings, from 1854 until his election as president in 1860. It is immortalized in the Gettysburg Address.
- The equality of mankind is best understood in light of a two-fold inequality. The first is the inequality of mankind and of the subhuman classes of living beings that comprise the order of nature. Dogs and horses, for example, are naturally subservient to human beings. But no human being is naturally subservient to another human being. No human being has a right to rule another without the other's consent. The second is the inequality of man and God. As God's creatures, we owe unconditional obedience to His will. By that very fact however we do not owe such obedience to anyone else. Legitimate political authority—the right of one human being to require obedience of another human being—arises only from consent. The fundamental act of consent is, as the 1780 Massachusetts Bill of Rights states, "a social compact by which the whole people covenants with each citizen and each citizen with the whole people that all shall be governed by certain laws for the common good." The "certain laws for the common good" have no other purpose but to preserve and protect the rights that each citizen possesses prior to government, rights with which he or she has been "endowed by their Creator." The rights that governments exist to secure are not the gift of government. They originate in God.
- The great difficulty in forming legitimate governments is in persuading those forming the governments that those who are to be their fellow citizens are equal to them in the rights, which their common government is to protect. Catholics and Protestants in sixteenth-century Europe looked upon each other as less than human, and slaughtered each other without pity and without compunction. It was impossible for there to be a common citizenship of those who did not look upon each other as possessing the same right of conscience. How one ought to worship God cannot be settled by majority rule. A majority of one faith cannot ask a minority of another faith to submit their differences to a vote. George Washington, in 1793, said that our governments were not formed in the gloomy ages of ignorance and superstition, but at a time when the rights of man were better understood than in any previous age. Washington was right, in that such rights were, in the latter part of the eighteenth century, in America, better understood. But they were not perfectly understood, as the continued existence of chattel slavery attests. A difference concerning the equal rights of persons of color made the continued existence of a common government of all Americans impossible. A great civil war had to be fought, ending the existence of slavery, reuniting the nation and rededicating it to the proposition that all men are created equal.
- The United States is engaged today in a great mission to spread democracy to the Middle East, beginning with Afghanistan, and continuing with Iraq. The inhabitants of Iraq are divided into many groups and factions that hate and distrust each other. The attitude of Sunni and Shia Muslims toward each other resembles that of Catholic and Protestant Christians in the sixteenth century, which persist today in northern Ireland, each regarding the other as heretics. Under the tyranny of Saddam Hussein, the minority of Sunnis persecuted the majority Shias. It is understandable that the minority Sunnis are today resisting majority rule, while the majority Shia favor it. The Sunnis clearly believe that majority rule by Shia will be used as a means of retribution and revenge. The Sunnis look upon majority rule by the Shia the way the South looked upon the election of Lincoln in 1860. It is inconceivable to the Sunnis that the rule of the Shia majority will be anything other than tyranny. Indeed, it is inconceivable to them that any political power, whether of a minority or a majority, would be non-tyrannical. The idea of non-tyrannical government is alien to their history and their experience. They regard our assertions of Jeffersonian or Lincolnian principles as mere hypocrisy, as they see no other form of rule other than that of force. Our government assumes that the people of the Middle East, like people elsewhere, seek freedom for others no less than for themselves. But that is an assumption that has not yet been confirmed by experience.
- Our difficulty in pursuing a rational foreign policy in the Middle East—or anywhere else—is compounded by the fact that we ourselves, as a nation, seem to be as confused as the Iraqis concerning the possibility of non-tyrannical majority rule. We continue to enjoy the practical benefits of political institutions founded upon the convictions of our Founding Fathers and Lincoln, but there is little belief in God-given natural rights, which are antecedent to government, and which define and limit the purpose of government. Virtually no one prominent today, in the academy, in law, or on government, subscribes to such beliefs. Indeed, the climate of opinion of our intellectual elites is one of violent hostility to any notion of a rational foundation for political morality. We, in short, engaged in telling others to accept the forms of our own political institutions, without any reference to the principles or convictions that give rise to those institutions.
- According to many of our political and intellectual elites, both liberal and conservative, the minority in a democracy enjoys only such rights as the majority chooses to bestow upon them. The Bill of Rights in the American Constitution—and similar bills in state Constitutions—are regarded as gifts from the majority to the minority. But the American Constitution, and the state constitutions subordinate to it have, at one time or another, sanctioned both slavery and Jim Crow, by which the bills of rights applied to white Americans were denied to black Americans. But according to the elites, it is not undemocratic for the minority to lose. From this perspective, both slavery and Jim Crow were exercises of democratic majority rule. This is precisely the view of democracy by the Sunnis in Iraq, and is the reason they are fighting the United States.
- Unless we as a political community can by reasoned discourse re-establish in our own minds the authority of the constitutionalism of the Founding Fathers and of Lincoln, of government devoted to securing the God-given equal rights of every individual human being, we will remain ill equipped to bring the fruits of freedom to others.
God Bless America (2008)
- Full text of "God Bless America" (18 April 2008), by Harry V. Jaffa, Writings, The Claremont Institute.
- The principles upon which this nation was founded are those upon which its survival, no less than its prosperity, depend. These are the principles upon which we believe our freedom and prosperity as individuals, and that of our children depend. These principles are simple and familiar enough for anyone to understand who wishes to understand. Selfish motives, miseducation, or ideological blindness may lead some to deny or disparage them. But nothing can obscure their shining truth... Lincoln at Gettysburg said that the nation, at its birth, had been dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Earlier, Lincoln had said that the proposition of equality was the 'central idea' of the founding, from which all its minor thoughts emanated.
The American Proposition
- What exactly did these words, of both the Declaration of Independence and the Gettysburg Address, mean? They meant that there was no difference, between one human being, and another human being, that made one the master and the other the servant. As Jefferson once put it, some men are not born with saddles on their backs, nor are others born booted and spurred to ride them. That a man or woman rides a horse corresponds with the difference in their natures. No injustice is done to the horse! That an ox should pull a plow, while a man walks behind, is according to nature. In these cases, servitude follows from the laws of nature. But these same laws of nature tell us that when a human being is subjected to other human beings as if he were a horse or an ox, the laws of nature are violated. All human beings are accordingly equal in their right not to be enslaved, and in their right to be in secure possession of their lives, liberties, and property. To this end they have a right to be governed only by laws to which they have consented.
- That all men are created equal does not mean that human beings are the same, or equal, in size, strength, beauty, virtue, or intelligence. There are obviously great differences in individual aptitudes and talents in sports, music, mathematics, speaking, and writing. They are also unequal in the virtues, among them courage, temperance, and justice. But as Jefferson once said, the fact that Sir Isaac Newton may be the most intelligent of living human beings does not give him any right whatever to my person or my property.
Slavery and the Human Story
- But one may ask, how is it that slavery, or any other form of invidious discrimination, has played so great a role in American history? How could a nation, dedicated at its birth to the proposition that all men are created equal, have tolerated slavery and its effects so long? If we look to the long history of mankind, however, we will ask a different question. Slavery was lawful in every one of the original thirteen states. There was accordingly nothing remarkable in the fact that slavery was not abolished immediately on independence. What is remarkable is that a slave-owning nation would declare that all men are created equal, and thereby make the abolition of slavery a moral and political necessity. To accomplish that task would not be easy. We need to see the dimensions of that task to appreciate its difficulty.
- Let us contemplate two epochal events in the long human story. One is the annunciation of the unity of God at Mt. Sinai. That same God was said to have made man, alone among living beings, in His image. Implicit in the unity of God was the corresponding unity of the human race. But it was only after more than three thousand years, that the Declaration of this unity was made in Philadelphia. One need not believe in direct divine intervention to think that it has been the peculiar mission of the American people to testify to the unity on earth of God, and of man. Such testimony could take no more evident form than in the denunciation of chattel slavery in the founding itself. That denunciation is prominent beyond doubt or denial, in the documents of the founding. Men of reason can agree with men of faith, that neither God nor man could have devised a more dramatic event than our founding to demonstrate to the world the meaning inherent in this unity.
- Slavery in the British colonies of North America was more than a century-and-a-half old before independence. It was roundly condemned, at one time or another, by nearly all the important political personages of the Revolution. I know of no instance in which any of these personages contradicted the doctrine of the Declaration, or maintained that slavery was a positive good. We must recognize, however, that slavery next to the family was perhaps the oldest institution of civilized mankind. Its origin in the ancient world came with the discovery that it was more profitable to enslave an enemy defeated in war than to kill him. The ancient law of the ancient city may be seen in the Bible. When the Israelites conquered Jericho, they put to the sword everyone in the city—men and women, young and old, sheep, oxen, and asses. Only Rahab the harlot and her family were spared, since they had given shelter to the Israelite spies. Later, in the custom of ancient warfare, the males of a defeated people would all be killed, but the women and children would be carried into slavery. Eventually the entire population of a defeated people would be enslaved. Such are the steps in the human story. That defeat in war meant slavery was the rule for many thousands of years.
- Slavery came to the English colonies in North America in the 17th century because the colonists found themselves in possession of a vast continent, needing only cultivation to make it the homes of millions of free, prosperous, God-fearing human beings. Those who came from Europe would be refugees from the tyranny and oppression of feudalism, divine right monarchy, and religious intolerance. But converting this vast wilderness into cultivated lands required labor. It was nearly inevitable that someone would turn to tribal Africa for some, at least, of this labor. It is paradoxical but true that a large measure of the labor that turned America into a sanctuary for freedom came from slavery. The slave trade that developed between North America and the west coast of Africa is one of the great horror stories of western civilization. It resulted also from the unlimited greed of the African chiefs who enslaved their brother Africans, and then sold them to white slave traders. They in turn sold them, for vast profits, into the new world.
- The events of this story are morally indefensible. But the greed that motivated the human actors—excluding of course the slaves themselves—was so overwhelming as to be irresistible. It is impossible for us today who condemn the slave trade to imagine any effective opposition to it in the 17th century. A parallel in our time would be the unstoppable trade in narcotics. We can't stop the supply because we can't stop the demand. To the limitless demand for labor in the new world the slave trade was a limitless response. Like drugs today, laws against it were powerless, because the profits were so great. Opposition to the slave trade did come in time, in the principles of the American Revolution, but not before slavery had formed deep roots in the economy and polity of the United States. The foreign slave trade was outlawed by the United States in 1808, and it was made a capital crime in 1820, but the trade continued right up until the Civil War. It is good however to remind ourselves that no black slave was sold to a white slave trader, on the west coast of Africa, who had not already been enslaved by a black African. Slavery was an equal opportunity employer!
Slavery and the American Cause
- The Declaration of the causes and Necessity of Taking up Arms, on July 6, 1775, was the very first occasion for the American people to speak to the world with a single voice. In its first sentence, the Second Continental Congress affirmed without equivocation that the idea of the ownership of some human beings by other human beings was an utter absurdity, and that to think otherwise was incompatible with reason or revelation. Thus from the outset—a year before the Declaration of Independence—the American people were committed to the antislavery cause, and to the inseparability of personal freedom and free government. The American people knew from the outset that the cause of their own freedom and that of the slaves was inseparable. This would become the message that Abraham Lincoln would bring to the American people, and to the world, for all time.
- In the decade from the Declaration to the Constitution every state north of the Mason Dixon line, and north of the Ohio River, either abolished slavery or adopted measures leading to abolition. But in 1793 the cotton gin was invented, shortly after the power loom in England. This was the onset of the industrial revolution. Almost overnight, a new industry or rather a series of new industries, proliferating worldwide, was born. It began with the growing of cotton but was followed by its manufacture into a wide variety of products, especially cotton cloth and cotton clothing. Suddenly, slave labor became vastly more profitable. In the decade before the Civil War, the value of slaves doubled. Once again, greed overwhelmed all other motives. From being regarded as a temporary evil, as it was at the founding, slavery came to be regarded as a positive—and permanent—good.
- This changed attitude toward slavery was, however, part of a changed attitude toward morality in general that was sweeping over Western civilization. This change was marked by the apotheosis of "change" itself. What had heretofore been regarded as moral absolutes came to be regarded as merely relative to a particular time and place—to History or Progress—with no enduring claim upon our consciences. Lincoln praised Jefferson for embodying in the Declaration "an abstract truth applicable to all men and all times." But the idea of such truth, and of the correlation of such truth with justice, was increasingly repudiated by the most educated and influential minds in the Western world. Representative of this triumph of historicism and moral relativism was historian Carl Becker's assertion in a landmark 20th-century work that "To ask whether the natural rights philosophy of the Declaration of Independence is true or false is essentially a meaningless question."
- To ask whether what the American people in the Declaration of Independence had affirmed as truth was in fact truth, was now said to be meaningless. But if History or Progress or 'change' is to be our guide, if the truth of relativism is to replace the truth of the Declaration, then the cause for which the nation fought at its birth, and in the Civil War, was meaningless, too. White power, black power, the Nazis, the Ku Klux Klan, Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, are as justifiable as Jefferson, Lincoln, or the doctrine of the equal natural rights of all human beings. We may understand how the Rev. Jeremiah Wright could so awfully misunderstand the American political tradition, inasmuch as it has been so very misunderstood for so long in circles from whom a better understanding could be expected. But this misunderstanding is a cancer which can in the end prove fatal, not only to a political campaign but to our country.
- If we are to have a foundation upon which to continue to build a more perfect union, we must return unequivocally, as Lincoln returned, to the source of our greatness in the American Founding.
The Speech That Changed the World (2009)
- Full text of "The Speech That Changed the World" (6 February 2009), by Harry V. Jaffa, Writings, The Claremont Institute
- The South knew that it would never in future possess the same power relative to the North that it did in 1861. From that perspective, it was now for never or Southern independence, if slavery was to be preserved.
- He didn't care whether slavery was voted up or down, he cared only for the sacred right of the people to make that decision. Why the right of the people should have been sacred, if the results of the exercise of that right were indifferent, Douglas never undertook to say.
Interview with Peter Robinson (2009)
- Interview with Peter Robinson (July 2009), Forbes
- The issue between Lincoln and Douglas was identical to the issue between Socrates and Thrasymachus in the first book of Plato's Republic. Not similar to it. Identical. It is a question of whether the people make the moral order or the moral order makes the people.
- Lincoln thought slavery was wrong and he did not think a vote of the people could make it right.
- The Secretary of State, the President, they all talk about "values". A "value" is a subjective desire, not an objective truth. George Washington said: "The foundations of our national policy will be laid in the pure and immutable principles of private morality." If you had said, "Oh, Mr. Washington, you mean in our 'values?'" Washington would have replied, "What the hell are you talking about?"
- Marx saw morality as the great enemy of human well-being and now the society of the future is one in which moral distinctions based upon the Judeo-Christian and Greek tradition will dissolve. Without even knowing it, we are moving into a Communist world. Without a revolution, we are moving into the world that Marx wanted.
- The "pursuit of happiness" in the Declaration of Independence didn't mean radical individualism. It meant the pursuit of virtue.
- We have to return to the political thought of the American founders and Abraham Lincoln. Nothing is at stake but the salvation of Western civilization.
Interview with Eric Benson (2012)
- Interview with Eric Benson (October 2012), New York
- The art of politics is judging what circumstances permit and what they forbid. Look at the reputation of, say, John Brown and the abolitionists before the Civil War. Lincoln had very harsh things to say about John Brown in 1859. The Civil War vindicated John Brown.
- Remember, the ultimate object of Marxist Communism is to return to the Garden of Eden with no forbidden fruit. That’s the goal of libertarianism as well. And we’re marching rapidly in that direction. Morality is disintegrating in front of our eyes.
- I think if Obama is reelected, then that'll be a disaster of immeasurable proportions. If the government takes over large segments of the economy, we will become a socialist state. The salvation of the Republican Party, and of the country and of the world, will be changing the conservative moment to reflect the principles of Abraham Lincoln. The platform on which Lincoln was elected in 1860 quoted part of the Declaration of Independence. Government is based on the consent of the governed.
Interview with Charles Kesler (2014)
- Karl Marx; the great enemy of human freedom.
- As quoted in "What Would Lincoln Think?" (20 February 2014), by Charles Kesler, The Claremont Institute
Quotes about Jaffa
- When I was about 12 years old, my father observed to me that, if he knew he was going to die tomorrow, and there was no one in the family to care for his children, he would rather pick someone at random by sticking a pin into the Columbus, Ohio telephone book than choose a member of a college faculty.
- Philip B. Jaffa, email@example.com
- Jaffa, one of Claremont McKenna's most distinguished professors, wrote an article twelve year ago about the election of 1996. In an election where several states will be voting on whether or not the Constitution's 14th amendment means what it says and where one party under John McCain has come out against racial discrimination, while the other votes for its candidate, Barack Obama, who pretty much is the affirmative action candidate, Jaffa's remarks twelve years ago in The Wall Street Journal are all the more important today. It's a long slog until we realize the dream Lincoln saw for us, but it won't be for lack of trying, as we inch, little to little, to the land where all men are created equal.
- Charles Johnson, "Jaffa's Thoughts on the GOP, Twelve Years Later" (September 2008), The Claremont Conservative
- Jaffa was perhaps best known for his contributions to our understanding of Abraham Lincoln’s political thought.
- Yuval Levin, "Harry Jaffa, R.I.P." (11 January 2015), The Corner, The National Review Online
- We owe a debt of immeasurable gratitude to Harry Jaffa for recovering for us the true Lincoln and for helping us remember our sacred heritage, our nation's founding devotion to the truth of human equality and liberty, a truth applicable to all men at all times.