A. Lincoln: Concerning the Greater Good
Dear President Bush:
At the behest of my late friend and fellow Hoosier (yes we also claim him) Abraham Lincoln -- I believe you would know him as a former occupant of your current residence, The White House -- I am sitting before this keyboard to offer his reflections on your historic unpopularity.
However, with the recent election of former constitutional law professor and current Senator from Illinois Barack Obama, Mr. Lincoln is greatly encouraged and has expressed his hope for the future of our beleaguered nation.
And so Mr. Lincoln and I have determined that the time is right for the drafting of this humble letter. It is our shared and earnest hope that you will soon desist - at least for the remainder of your administration - from any further breaches of the public trust.
Mr. Lincoln has assured me that he is quite familiar with unpopularity, as it is experienced by one in your position. He has suggested that displeasure over 'this action' or 'that word' is quite common when serving a nation of often competing interests with conflicting passions and needs.
However he wishes to advise -- if you would but hear him out -- that there are some truths, some ideological lines that must never be crossed. A president must uphold his oath to serve and protect the Constitution of the United States.
Mr. Lincoln finds your determination to cross -- no, to completely obliterate these lines -- reprehensible. He also finds your shocking disrespect for that "goddamned piece of paper," which We The People revere as our beloved Constitution, to be unworthy of your office.
And so Mr. Lincoln is requesting but a few minutes of your time to make the case that your disregard for our Constitution, and your deliberate flouting of our nation's Rule Of Law are the rank and stinking rot that fester at the heart of your abysmal approval rating among the citizens of this nation.
My words are only an introduction; I will let Mr. Lincoln take it from here (his words will be notated in blockquotes.)
My great concern is not whether you have failed, but whether you are content with your failure.
There are no accidents in my philosophy. Every effect must have its cause. The past is the cause of the present, and the present will be the cause of the future. All these are links in the endless chain stretching from the finite to the infinite.
I have borne a laborious, and, in some respects to myself, a painful part in the contest [the war between the States.] Through all, I have neither assailed, nor wrestled with any part of the Constitution.
I freely acknowledge myself the servant of the people, according to the bond of service -- the United States Constitution; and that, as such, I am responsible to them.
I have never understood that the Presidency conferred upon me an unrestricted right to act.
It was in the oath I took that I would, to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States. I could not take the office without taking the oath. Nor was it my view that I might take an oath to get power, and break the oath in using the power.
We find ourselves under the government of a system of political institutions, conducing more essentially to the ends of civil and religious liberty, than any of which the history of former times tells us. We, when mounting the stage of existence, found ourselves the legal inheritors of these fundamental blessings.
We toiled not in the acquirement or establishment of them---they are a legacy bequeathed us, by a once hardy, brave, and patriotic, but now lamented and departed race of ancestors. Their's was the task (and nobly they performed it) to possess themselves, and through themselves, us, of this goodly land; and to uprear upon its hills and its valleys, a political edifice of liberty and equal rights; 'tis ours only, to transmit these, the former, unprofaned by the foot of an invader; the latter, undecayed by the lapse of time, and untorn by usurpation---to the latest generation that fate shall permit the world to know. This task of gratitude to our fathers, justice to ourselves, duty to posterity, and love for our species in general, all imperatively require us faithfully to perform.
How, then, shall we perform it? At what point shall we expect the approach of danger? By what means shall we fortify against it? Shall we expect some transatlantic military giant, to step the Ocean, and crush us at a blow? Never! All the armies of Europe, Asia and Africa combined, with all the treasure of the earth (our own excepted) in their military chest; with a Buonaparte for a commander, could not by force, take a drink from the Ohio, or make a track on the Blue Ridge, in a trial of a thousand years.
At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer, if it ever reach us, it must spring up amongst us. It cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide.
Let me first state what I understand to be your position. It is, that if it shall become necessary, to repel invasion, the President may, without violation of the Constitution, cross the line, and invade the teritory of another country; and that whether such necessity exists in any given case, the President is to be the sole judge.
Before going further, consider well whether this is, or is not your position.
Allow the President to invade a neighboring nation, whenever he shall deem it necessary to repel an invasion, and you allow him to do so, whenever he may choose to say he deems it necessary for such purpose---and you allow him to make war at pleasure.
Study to see if you can fix any limit to his power in this respect, after you have given him so much as you propose. If, to-day, he should choose to say he thinks it necessary to invade Canada, to prevent the British from invading us, how could you stop him? You may say to him, "I see no probability of the British invading us'' but he will say to you "be silent; I see it, if you don't."
The provision of the Constitution giving the war-making power to Congress, was dictated, as I understand it, by the following reasons. Kings had always been involving and impoverishing their people in wars, pretending generally, if not always, that the good of the people was the object.
This, our Convention understood to be the most oppressive of all Kingly oppressions; and they resolved to so frame the Constitution that no one man should hold the power of bringing this oppression upon us. But your view destroys the whole matter, and places our President where kings have always stood.
Has it [popular sovereignty] not got down as thin as the homeopathic soup that was made by boiling the shadow of a pigeon that had starved to death?
The question of Revenue we will now briefly consider.
For several years past, the revenues of the Government have been unequal to its expenditures, and consequently, loan after loan, sometimes directly, and sometimes indirectly in form, have been resorted to. By this means a new National debt, has been created, and is still growing on us with a rapidity fearful to contemplate---a rapidity only reasonably to be expected in time of war.
This state of things has been produced by a prevailing unwillingness, either to increase the tariff, or resort to direct taxation. But the one or the other must come. Coming expenditures must be met, and the present debt must be paid; and money cannot always be borrowed for these objects.
The system of loans is but temporary in its nature, and must soon explode. It is a system, not only ruinous while it lasts, but one that must soon fail and leave us destitute. As an individual who undertakes to live by borrowing, soon finds his original means devoured by interest, and next no one left to borrow from---so must it be with a government.
What constitutes the bulwark of our own liberty and independence? It is not our frowning battlements, our bristling sea coasts, the guns of our war steamers, or the strength of our gallant and disciplined army. These are not our reliance against a resumption of tyranny in our fair land. All of them may be turned against our liberties, without making us stronger or weaker for the struggle.
Our reliance is in the love of liberty which God has planted in our bosoms. Our defense is in the preservation of the spirit which prizes liberty as the heritage of all men, in all lands, every where. Destroy this spirit, and you have planted the seeds of despotism around your own doors.
Familiarize yourselves with the chains of bondage, and you are preparing your own limbs to wear them. Accustomed to trample on the rights of those around you, you have lost the genius of your own independence, and become the fit subjects of the first cunning tyrant who rises.
I know the American People are much attached to their Government;---I know they would suffer much for its sake;---I know they would endure evils long and patiently, before they would ever think of exchanging it for another.
Yet, notwithstanding all this, if the laws be continually despised and disregarded, if their rights to be secure in their persons and property, are held by no better tenure than the caprice of a mob, the alienation of their affections from the Government is the natural consequence; and to that, sooner or later, it must come. .
Let us then turn this government back into the channel in which the framers of the Constitution originally placed it.
There is a spirit in the people, sometimes slumbering, but never extinct, which, when thoroughly aroused by usurpation or tyranny, will overwhelm the usurper and his devices in an undistinguished ruin; nor can they long escape this generous indignation, who prostitute the power bestowed by the people to unworthy ends or selfish purposes.
I believe you do not mean to be unjust, or ungenerous; and I, therefore am slow to believe that you will not yet think better and think differently of this matter.
(Cross-posted on Daily Kos)