Abraham Lincoln, as a young lawyer, gave public speeches to small groups as part of the political discourse of the day. These speeches were frequently reproduced the next day by local newspapers so a broader audience could read the speeches and talk with friends about the subject matter. Frequently the speeches referenced local events, but which were reflective of larger national issues.
In his Lyceum address in Springfield Illinois 27 January 1838, roughly 60 years after the revolution for independence, a mere 3 generations later, Lincoln touches on a subject we should reflect on today.
How shall we preserve this nation?
At that moment in American history there were no surviving members of the revolution against Great Britain. The so called “American Experiment” had survived more than 50 years and was politically stable, well established, and on its way to becoming the greatest economic power in history. Why voice any concern?
There had been an incident in a nearby town where a newpaper publisher had been murdered by an angry mob, his building burned and his press tossed in a nearby river. Lincoln’s observations were stimulated by the act of a mob and the fact that no law enforcement took place, there were no arrests of any perpetrators. This act of anarchy was viewed as threatening to the political order, since if it became permissible for an angry mob to take matters into their own hands and break laws at will, that such behavior could become more widespread if people thought the government would do nothing about it.
In this speech Lincoln observes that our political system “of liberty and equal rights” was delivered to us by the founding fathers and that it is ours “to transmit… undecayed by …time and untorn by usurpation” to following generations. Lincoln reasons that disregard for law is an “ill omen” for the country and flagrant disregard for the law could, over time, threaten the survival of the country.
He advises “Let every American, every lover of liberty, ever well wisher to his posterity swear …never to violate.. the laws of the country, and never to tolerate their violation by others”. May we take to heart Lincoln’s advice this 4th of July weekend and insist that our leaders do the same. “If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author…” “As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide.”
Let us consider how we go about preserving the greatness of the American “experiment” for future generations to enjoy.