President Obama Passes Over Lincoln and Cuccinelli

My good wife and I had the privilege of joining some three hundred participants in the Lincoln Inaugural Sesquicentennial Commemoration in the Capitol last weekend. Historian Harold Holzer set the stage. As a noted Lincoln scholar, and co-chairman of the Lincoln Bicentennial Commission, Dr. Holzer explained how dangerous Lincoln's first inauguration on March 4, 1861, truly was. Old Gen. Winfield Scott, that loyal Virginian, had to station sharpshooters on every rooftop along Pennsylvania Avenue. As outgoing President James Buchanan rode in an open carriage with the president-elect, U.S. Army cavalry outriders circled constantly around the black, horse-drawn vehicle, preventing well-wishers from getting a clear view of their new Chief Executive (and not incidentally obstructing the line-of-sight of any would-be assassins).

Actor Sam Waterston took center stage to read the entire Lincoln First Inaugural Address. It took thirty-two minutes for the experienced stage and screen performer to complete this task. The bitterly contested issues of 1861 have long been settled, so today's audience never once interrupted Mr. Waterston with spirited applause. To say today that "the Union is perpetual" evokes no surprise.  It did then.  Lincoln firmly rejected any suggestion that states could leave the Union individually or collectively, without consent of the entire Union.

Lincoln's argument was closely reasoned from the Constitution, the law, history, and logic.  The Union, he said, was older than the Constitution. The Union existed, Lincoln held, from the moment of the Continental Congress' Articles of Association in 1774. Lincoln cited the Declaration's highest principles in asserting that the Union was continued in 1776 in that foundational document. The Union government was reorganized but continued as a perpetual league under the 1778 Articles of Confederation. Finally, in the 1787 Constitution, Lincoln said, the Founders gave us a "more perfect Union." They never intended to give us a less perfect Union than the one protected by the Articles of Confederation's perpetuity.

In this, Lincoln surely knew the Founders' arguments well. James Madison, the studious young Virginian and Father of the Constitution, was asked by friends in New York in 1788 whether that critical state might ratify the proposed Constitution conditionally, and assert for themselves a right to leave the Union if the Bill of Rights they demanded was not forthcoming. No, said the great little Madison: "New York must ratify unconditionally and forever."

Sam Waterston concluded his excellent half-hour presentation with Lincoln's elegaic words. Then, Michael Krebs, a Lincoln interpreter and a man who looks eerily like Lincoln at age 51, re-enacted the taking of the Oath of Office. At the conclusion of that little performance, Lincoln's character kissed the Bible -- just as Lincoln did, just as George Washington had done before him.

It's worth re-reading Lincoln's closing words:

We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.

That's what makes Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli's interview in a recent issue of World Magazine so interesting. Lincoln's words were largely framed with a view to keeping the Old Dominion in the Union. Virginia in March, 1861, had not yet joined the seven seceding states that had formed the Confederacy.

Virginia's Ken Cuccinelli argued -- as Lincoln did -- from the Founders' intentions when he went into federal court to stop ObamaCare. Mr. Cuccinelli maintains:

"The king of Great Britain that we rebelled against acknowledged that he didn't have the authority to make the colonists buy British goods, [but] our president and the last Congress think they can. The power of the federal government after the American Revolution and the Constitution was less in all respects than the British Parliament. Otherwise, why rebel?"

By thus arguing, Ken Cuccinelli calls us back to our origins as a free people -- just as Abraham Lincoln so nobly did one hundred fifty years ago.

It is certainly a great pity that President Obama preferred to play golf last weekend, rather than dignify the Lincoln Inaugural Sesquicentennial Commemoration with his presence. The president might even have chuckled as the inexperienced gentlemen who played the part of old Chief Justice Roger B. Taney flubbed his lines in administering the Oath -- just as Chief Justice John Roberts memorably did with Obama.

Mr. Obama surely would have benefited from hearing Lincoln's eloquent words. His own speeches are unbearably drab. But attending the Lincoln event would have served today's president in another very practical way. It would have prepared him to answer Ken Cuccinelli's powerful Lincolnian arguments -- in court, where surely he will meet them again.

Robert Morrison is a Senior Fellow at the Family Research Council
My good wife and I had the privilege of joining some three hundred participants in the Lincoln Inaugural Sesquicentennial Commemoration in the Capitol last weekend. Historian Harold Holzer set the stage. As a noted Lincoln scholar, and co-chairman of the Lincoln Bicentennial Commission, Dr. Holzer explained how dangerous Lincoln's first inauguration on March 4, 1861, truly was. Old Gen. Winfield Scott, that loyal Virginian, had to station sharpshooters on every rooftop along Pennsylvania Avenue. As outgoing President James Buchanan rode in an open carriage with the president-elect, U.S. Army cavalry outriders circled constantly around the black, horse-drawn vehicle, preventing well-wishers from getting a clear view of their new Chief Executive (and not incidentally obstructing the line-of-sight of any would-be assassins).

Actor Sam Waterston took center stage to read the entire Lincoln First Inaugural Address. It took thirty-two minutes for the experienced stage and screen performer to complete this task. The bitterly contested issues of 1861 have long been settled, so today's audience never once interrupted Mr. Waterston with spirited applause. To say today that "the Union is perpetual" evokes no surprise.  It did then.  Lincoln firmly rejected any suggestion that states could leave the Union individually or collectively, without consent of the entire Union.

Lincoln's argument was closely reasoned from the Constitution, the law, history, and logic.  The Union, he said, was older than the Constitution. The Union existed, Lincoln held, from the moment of the Continental Congress' Articles of Association in 1774. Lincoln cited the Declaration's highest principles in asserting that the Union was continued in 1776 in that foundational document. The Union government was reorganized but continued as a perpetual league under the 1778 Articles of Confederation. Finally, in the 1787 Constitution, Lincoln said, the Founders gave us a "more perfect Union." They never intended to give us a less perfect Union than the one protected by the Articles of Confederation's perpetuity.

In this, Lincoln surely knew the Founders' arguments well. James Madison, the studious young Virginian and Father of the Constitution, was asked by friends in New York in 1788 whether that critical state might ratify the proposed Constitution conditionally, and assert for themselves a right to leave the Union if the Bill of Rights they demanded was not forthcoming. No, said the great little Madison: "New York must ratify unconditionally and forever."

Sam Waterston concluded his excellent half-hour presentation with Lincoln's elegaic words. Then, Michael Krebs, a Lincoln interpreter and a man who looks eerily like Lincoln at age 51, re-enacted the taking of the Oath of Office. At the conclusion of that little performance, Lincoln's character kissed the Bible -- just as Lincoln did, just as George Washington had done before him.

It's worth re-reading Lincoln's closing words:

We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.

That's what makes Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli's interview in a recent issue of World Magazine so interesting. Lincoln's words were largely framed with a view to keeping the Old Dominion in the Union. Virginia in March, 1861, had not yet joined the seven seceding states that had formed the Confederacy.

Virginia's Ken Cuccinelli argued -- as Lincoln did -- from the Founders' intentions when he went into federal court to stop ObamaCare. Mr. Cuccinelli maintains:

"The king of Great Britain that we rebelled against acknowledged that he didn't have the authority to make the colonists buy British goods, [but] our president and the last Congress think they can. The power of the federal government after the American Revolution and the Constitution was less in all respects than the British Parliament. Otherwise, why rebel?"

By thus arguing, Ken Cuccinelli calls us back to our origins as a free people -- just as Abraham Lincoln so nobly did one hundred fifty years ago.

It is certainly a great pity that President Obama preferred to play golf last weekend, rather than dignify the Lincoln Inaugural Sesquicentennial Commemoration with his presence. The president might even have chuckled as the inexperienced gentlemen who played the part of old Chief Justice Roger B. Taney flubbed his lines in administering the Oath -- just as Chief Justice John Roberts memorably did with Obama.

Mr. Obama surely would have benefited from hearing Lincoln's eloquent words. His own speeches are unbearably drab. But attending the Lincoln event would have served today's president in another very practical way. It would have prepared him to answer Ken Cuccinelli's powerful Lincolnian arguments -- in court, where surely he will meet them again.

Robert Morrison is a Senior Fellow at the Family Research Council

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