With American government having grown far beyond anything the Founders imagined, the whistleblower can be a safety valve for freedom—but Julian Assange wasn’t that, argues contributor Ellen Short.
When Abraham Lincoln, born 201 years ago today, delivered his immortal Gettysburg Address, he called for a "new birth of freedom." He had issued the Emancipation Proclamation more than a year before, which gave a wartime justification that he knew would ultimately be a peacetime bounty: the end of slavery in America. This "new birth" entailed shedding the remnants of old world conditions in the new by removing the massive contradiction between a free, republican constitution and the bondage of millions of human beings. No one understood more than Lincoln how revolutionary was this massive change in American life, but it took a man of his conservative thought and disposition to foresee its possibility long before and patiently await its consummation in the right circumstances. In his Lyceum speech given a quarter century before the enforcement of the Proclamation, Lincoln warned of a man of towering genius whose fame would eclipse the founders’ by either emancipating slaves, or enslaving freemen. Men of the highest political ambition are not satisfied with serving in a regime of someone else’s making. But this was also an implicit warning that the nation’s unresolved dilemma could not forever be ignored.
Some of Lincoln’s critics, whether among the die-hard confederate sympathizers or liberal debunkers, saw in this early speech signs of a Caesarist temper. But Lincoln proved by his years in Whig politics that he was not an abolitionist and not thirsting for unmerited glory. Indeed, by constantly harking back to the founding fathers and their political principles, particularly in the crisis spawned by the Democratic party’s continual efforts to expand the territory of slavery, he reminded the nation that those principles are a rebuke to domestic slavery that are not to be forever ignored.
As to why the founders did not themselves abolish slavery, it had long been understood that its massive presence in half of the original states had rendered that eminently desirable object impossible. But Lincoln turned attention back to the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, which prohibited slavery in the future states of Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin; not to mention the Missouri Compromise of 1819, which prohibited slavery in most of the Louisiana Territory–at least until the Kansas-Nebraska Act opened it up to that evil in 1854.
It is also a fact that northern states all prohibited slavery by the time of the Constitution’s completion in 1787. Lincoln’s explanation was as simple as it was profound: the "central idea" of the Declaration of Independence was "the standard maxim for free society." While it did not result in the complete prohibition or elimination of slavery, it was "constantly labored for," however imperfectly, as "circumstances would well admit." Those principles of equality and liberty are eternally right, but require the consent of the governed for their full implementation.
The right circumstances came in the midst of the Civil War, a conflict in which Lincoln, in his second inaugural address, identified slavery as its cause. Not only the survival of the Union but the future of liberty was at stake in that war, which dragged on far longer than anyone had foreseen or desired, and had forced a choice on the commander-in-chief. Defeating the rebels required that they be deprived of a powerful asset, namely, the continued labor of their slaves while the masters and their sons fought the war’s battles. Sustaining support for the war in the North required that the sacrifices of thousands of its men not result in maintaining an institution that shamed the nation in the eyes of the world. Thus did the "ancient faith" of the American people impose their authority decades after its utterance in their founding documents.
As Union soldiers overran rebel strongholds and ultimately forced their surrender, slavery was doomed. The ratification of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution which prohibited domestic slavery or involuntary servitude was at war’s end a foregone conclusion, thereby fulfilling Lincoln’s lifelong but long-delayed hope. But the imperatives of equality and liberty did not cease with the end of fighting. There were civil rights and voting rights to be guaranteed, in order that the gift of freedom for millions of Americans not be devoid of promise. But in fact that promise was long delayed, until agitation for equal protection of the laws a century later culminated in the passage of comprehensive civil rights laws.
Given the oppression that slavery and racial segregation uniquely imposed on persons of African descent, it is not surprising that lovers of liberty should continue, for good or for ill, to dedicate themselves to improving the lot of the race so afflicted. Yet it is well to remember that America’s crisis developed precisely because a growing number of its leaders–primarily but not entirely in the South–came to believe that freedom was for white people only. The "domestic" character of slavery, as well as its confinement south of the Mason-Dixon line, tended to place it out of sight and out of mind, enabling Americans outside the South to ignore it. Such, dear readers of this piece, is the plight of unborn children, who are not only primarily a "domestic" matter but completely invisible in their mother’s wombs–however visible their impact on their mother’s bodies.
That the issues of the Civil War should be revisited in our time will surprise–or disturb–only those who believe that they concerned only the place of blacks in American society. But the principles are universal and only incidentally concern race, which is, after all, only an accidental and not an essential attribute of our human nature. It can hardly be doubted that everyone generated by the union of a male and female human being is a human being from the moment of conception. And while the founders (or Lincoln) could not be said to have had the unborn specifically in mind when they dedicated their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor to winning independence from a despotic regime, their principles are no respecter of persons. No member or class of the human race can claim a monopoly on liberty and equal rights.
The language of the Declaration of Independence is clear: "All men are created equal." Children are not created at the moment of their birth, but rather nine months prior. However unequipped to exercise or understand their rights (and what child is before his or her majority?) , unborn children are at the very least entitled to equal treatment and freedom from oppression or death at the hands of those nurturing them. With ultrasound technology, we no longer have the excuse of not knowing that children are developing before birth and we see bodily features and movements which settle the question of their humanity.
From the moment the United States Supreme Court issued its infamous decisions in Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton in 1973, the nation has not been wanting in conscientious citizens who argued for the humanity of unborn children, and thus their entitlement to the law’s protection; and in due course the parallel they saw with the plight of blacks held in slavery. More to the point, an earlier Court, in an equally infamous decision in 1857, Dred Scott v. Sanford, declared that black men had no rights which white men were bound to respect. It galls today’s cast of sensible and not-so-sensible civil rights leaders for anyone to make the comparison between Negroes and unborn children, partly because they fear that it distracts attention from a more compelling issue and partly because they have adopted the feminists’ claim that women’s rights entail the right to an abortion at any time during the entire nine months of pregnancy.
But the founders’ principles and Lincoln’s recurrence to them continue to work out their consequences in the hearts and minds of Americans. Just as the premises "All men are created equal" and "all blacks are men," lead to the conclusion that "all blacks are created equal," so too do the premises, "All men are created equal," and "all unborn children are men," lead to the conclusion that "all unborn children are created equal." We must not be tempted, as the nation was tempted in the mid-nineteenth century, to abandon the faith of our founding fathers. And perhaps we will be spared from paying the heavy price it paid for that apostasy.
As Christmas comes, reactions abound. Since the fourth century AD, when Roman Emperor Constantine embraced Christianity, church service attendance in Western Civilization is greatest at Christmas and Easter. Prior to Constantine, Christianity was illegal and thus did not attract people who were not deeply committed. Ironically during this period of intense persecution the number of Christians grew at a phenomenal rate, with an organic underground-style network of small home-based churches (much like China has been experiencing since the rule of Mao Zedong). That amazing growth, before Constantine, laid the foundation for Christianity’s widespread acceptance leading to a more organized Christianity.
Yet in many ways organizing Christianity stifled the life-transforming power that grew the earlier organic Church. And in more recent decades the spike in attendance at services for Christmas and Easter has decreased, while critical reactions toward or around these two special Christian days has increased in both number and intensity.
The name CHRISTmas forces most people to consider at some level: Who was Christ and why should his living two-thousand years ago make any difference to us today in our hectic modern life where we are bombarded with ideas trying to answer life’s most basic questions?
Many find this season warm and joyous. Yet others respond from indifference to an outright repulsive reaction to Jesus Christ’s claim to be God, the creator, sustainer and restorer of humanity and the world.
Some reject Biblical moral boundaries, while other rejections are connected to horrific acts done in the name of Christianity, or at least by self-identified Christians. While it is important to acknowledge such acts as horrific, it is just as important to ascertain if such acts are condoned or condemned by Biblical teaching, lest we throw baby Jesus out with the filthy and corrupt bath water.
As Americans, does the Christmas story have anything to do with: our freedom to think and express ideas; our freedom of religion; the equality of people; or even ideas like the size and reach of government?
Clearly the individual rights and freedoms that have long-defined America are not because of where America sits on the globe, but rather they fall directly from a worldview that sees humanity as unique and special and worthy of protection. And Christianity, which teaches that people are created in the image of God and that God came in human form and gave his life to provide a means for every person to have a restored and harmonious relationship with their Creator, puts a value on human life that is arguably much higher than that of any other set of ideas.
Cultures, which have embraced the Biblical value of humanity, have delivered the greatest level of individual liberty. While not all American founders embraced orthodox Christianity, they did embrace the Biblically-based view of human nature and that every person is created equal “with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”
The American experience, just like our own life experience, has had its struggles putting these profound ideas into practice. Yet had these ideas not sprung from a real foundation the American experiment in liberty would have been a futile effort, like every other culture that does not value humanity.
In recent decades some in America have been pushing America away from its foundation, with the result being increased chaos. Chaos has been answered by increasing the size and reach of government, leading to a decrease in personal liberty and making our personal and national future much less secure. We would be wise to look at the results of godless national experiments before we take the leap.
If atheism or any other set of ideas is true then by all means let us live life accordingly, but let us not take that jump without first investigating the idea which arguably has most radically and positively changed the lives of people and civilizations: Biblical Christianity.
Granted Biblical Christianity, unlike most other sets of ideas, does not align well with human logic, where might makes right, or utopia is achieved through personal effort. Does that not suggest that Biblical Christianity is not a human creation, but more likely revelation from our Creator? Even apart from the continual historical and archeological validations of Biblical history, Biblical teaching on human nature, the human condition, and the path to restoration, ring incredibly true with human experience.
Humanity is creative and desires to express that creativity. True faith cannot be forced upon someone. Vast power (control of resources) invites corruption, whether in business, politics, government, or religion. Left unbounded by inner moral guides or external militant guides, people and cultures self-destruct. Incredible transformation and healing does result when people bond with their Creator. Indeed these human experiences align with the Biblical presentation of humanity.
Ideas do have consequences. Ideas that ring true with life experience yield better results for us individually and for cultures. This Christmas, consider investigating genuine Biblical Christianity directly from its source document and resting your future in ideas that ring true and truly transform.
Mark Shepard writes from Vermont, where he formerly served as a state senator.
Americans from the major Christian faiths, seeing an imminent move by the civil power against God-given elements of a free and sustainable society, are putting their names to a resistance manifesto known as the Manhattan Declaration. Catholic, Orthodox, and Evangelical leaders developed the declaration in recent weeks and released it on Nov. 20. It spells out why the biblically faithful citizen cannot consent to laws and policies that destroy innocent human life, redefine marriage as something other than the union of one man and one woman, or trample religious liberty. And it envisions the potential need for civil disobedience to such laws.
The online signature page for adding one's name, as over 200,000 individuals have already done, is here. I signed in a gesture of wholehearted agreement and active support. Will you?
James Madison, the father of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, asked, "Who are the Best Keepers of the People's Liberties?" in a 1792 article in the National Gazette, a Republican newspaper critical of the ruling Federalist party. The question is always relevant. For nearly a century, so-called "progressives" have insisted that they are entitled to public confidence for all they have done to improve people’s lives. Equality of condition has been the guiding principle of policies that curbed the powers of the business class, reined in the armed forces, provided social services, promoted world peace, redistributed income and protected minorities.
But if we take seriously Madison’s choice of terms, we can see that he was not committed to changing anyone’s conditions so much as securing their right to change their condition for themselves. Liberty is the condition we should be protecting, not government’s power to rearrange people’s lives.
It is not surprising that we should believe or expect the government to be benevolent, despite the numerous checks and balances which the Framers of the Constitution wisely wove into the document. For we must in the final analysis be governed by virtuous human beings.
The question, again, always is, who are we to trust? The progressives’ claim appears quite strong, for who can quarrel with a desire to make things better for people? But, again, that depends on what actually makes us better.
There is an alternative the progressives’ claims, the sheepdog narrative, one that I had the pleasure of reading lately. According to this account, there are wolves and sheep in the world and the former are bound to make life miserable for the latter. But, there are also sheepdogs in the world who are as ferocious as the wolves but are dedicated to protecting the sheep. Because of many sheep’s defeatist attitude (and wolves’ guile), the situation appears hopeless.
Too often the sheep hope that the wolves can be persuaded to stop terrorizing them by appealing to their reason and decency. But as often as this appeasement policy has been tried it has failed, as the victims of German and Japanese aggression can attest.
Granted, government is a kind of gamble because the very qualities of the sheepdogs that are useful in protecting the sheep can be turned against them. But if care is taken to ensure the sheepdogs’ loyalty to the herd, this problem is not insoluble.
Most Americans have little or no difficulty appreciating the sacrifices made on their behalf by our warriors, and even believe that they genuinely possess the requisite moral virtue for this purpose. But our nation’s military defenders have their detractors, who resent both the warriors and the huge reservoir of goodwill they has earned from their fellow citizens.
Progressives spend an inordinate amount of time maligning the motives of those who they feel are a threat to millions of victims. They are right to believe that human psychology has more to do with politics and society than is generally believed. Their mistake consists in exempting themselves from the analysis.
People with an academic background, such as Barack Obama, deeply resent the fact that business men and women are a lot better at providing goods and services than they are. They feel no less resentful that warriors contribute more tangibly to national safety than they do. So it is not surprising that breaking the hold of entrepreneurs and soldiers on the public mind is foremost on their list of objectives.
Imposing onerous rules and taxes on business enterprises is a great way to show their owners who’s boss. And cutting back on defense spending and holding endless (and pointless) negotiations with hostile nations is equally useful for putting military personnel in their place.
Those with overweening ambitions will always seek ways to elevate themselves over others. Pretending to be the friend of the "common people" happens to be the favored strategy of those who are left behind in the marketplace competition or cannot win wars.
Among the signals that President Obama is sending with his dithering in Afghanistan is his manifest discomfort with having to turn to the armed forces to achieve his objectives. Placing his faith in the spoken and written word, as academics are inclined to do, he cannot abide men of action. For, Abraham Lincoln once said, "The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have hallowed it, far above our poor power to add or detract."
Of course, when Lincoln honored the soldiers’ sacrifice, he established himself as a true keeper of the people’s liberties.