A nation may be said to consist of its territory, its people, and its laws. The territory is the only part which is of certain durability. “One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh, but the earth abideth forever.” It is of the first importance to duly consider, and estimate, this ever-enduring part.
Abraham Lincoln, Annual Message to Congress, December 1, 1862
This is certainly taken out of context, but admitting that, I still like where it leads.
It is as much the duty of government to render prompt justice against itself, in favor of citizens, as it is to administer the same, between private individuals.
Abraham Lincoln, Annual Message to Congress, December 3, 1861
My declarations upon this subject of negro slavery may be misrepresented, but can not be misunderstood. I have said that I do not understand the Declaration to mean that all men were created equal in all respects. They are not our equal in color; but I suppose that it does mean to declare that all men are equal in some respects; they are equal in their rights to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Certainly the negro is not our equal in color - perhaps not in may other respects; still, in the right to put into his mouth the bread that his own hands have earned, he is the equal of every other man, white or black. In pointing out that more has been given you, you can not be justified in taking away the little which has been given him.
Abraham Lincoln, speech at Springfield, Illinois, July 17, 1858
At this point, Lincoln did not think the Federal government had any authority to simply declare an end to slavery in states where it existed. By the Emancipation Proclamation he probably thought the Civil War had changed things. But if he had declared a belief in blacks being the social equals of whites, he might have lost too many voted to be elected.
It has been said that one bad general is better than two good ones; and the saying is true, if taken to mean no more than that an army is better directed by a single mind, though inferior, than by two superior ones, at variance, and cross-purposes with each other.
Abraham Lincoln, Annual Message to Congress, December 3, 1861
I did understand however, that my oath to preserve the constitution to the best of my ability, imposed upon me the duty of preserving, by every indispensable means, that government - that nation - of which that constitution was the organic law. Was it possible to lose the nation, and yet preserve the constitution? By general law life and limb must be protected; yet often a limb must be amputated to save a life; but a life is never wisely given to save a limb. I felt that measures, otherwise unconstitutional, might become lawful, by becoming indispensable to the preservation of the constitution, through the preservation of the nation. Right or wrong, I assumed this ground, and now avow it.
Abraham Lincoln, letter to Albert G. Hodges, April 4, 1864
It’s easy to make fun of the reasoning - violate the constitution in order to preserve it - but I’m not the one living in that time.
Our government rests in public opinion. Whoever can change public opinion, can change the government, practically just so much.
Abraham Lincoln, speech at Republican banquet in Chicago, December 10, 1856
We have just carried an election on principles fairly stated to the people. Now we are told in advance, the government shall be broken up, unless we surrender to those we have beaten, before we take the offices. In this they are either attempting to play upon us, or they are in dead earnest. Either way, if we surrender, it is the end of us, and of the government. They will repeat the experiment upon us ad libitum. A year will not pass, till we shall have to take Cuba as a condition upon which they will stay in the Union. They now have the Constitution, under which we have lived over seventy years, and acts of Congress of their own framing, with no prospect of their being changed; and they can never have a more shallow pretext for breaking up the government, or extorting a compromise than now.
Abraham Lincoln, letter to James Hale, January 11, 1861
Sounds a bit familiar. “We lost, now do what we wanted.”
We all declare for liberty, but in using the same word we do not all mean the same thing. With some the word liberty may mean for each man to do as he pleases with himself, and the product of his labor; while with others the same word may mean for some men to do as they please with other men, and the product of other men’s labor. Here are two, not only different, but incompatable things, called by the same name - liberty. And it follows that each of the things is, by the respective parties, called by two different and incompatable names - liberty and tyranny.
The shepherd drives the wolf from the sheep’s throat, for which the sheep thanks the shepherd as a liberator, while the wolf denounces him for the same act as the destroyer of liberty, especially as the sheep was a black one. Plainly the sheep and the wolf are not agreed upon a definition of the word liberty; and precisely the same difference prevails to-day among us human creatures, even in the North, and all professing to love liberty. Hence we behold the processes by which thousands are daily passing from under the yoke of bondage, hailed by some as the advance of liberty, and bewailed by others as the destruction of all liberty.
Abraham Lincoln, Address at Sanitary Fair, Baltimore, Maryland, April 18, 1864
Lincoln was talking about slavery, of course. But the analogy can be applied to other things. How about bosses who think they should be able to do whatever they fraking want, as opposed to workers having some rights? That isn’t the end of the possibilities.
The warfare heretofore waged against the demon of Intemperance, has, some how or other, been erroneous. Either the champions engaged, or the tactics they adopted, have not been the most proper. These champions for the most part, have been Preachers, Lawyers, and hired agents. Between these and the mass of mankind, there is a want of approachability, if the term be admissible, partially at least, fatal to their success. They are supposed to have no sympathy of feeling or interest, with those very persons whom it is their object to convince and persuade.
And again, it is so easy and so common to ascribe motives to men of these classes, other than those they profess to act upon. The preacher, it is said, advocates temperance because he is a fanatic, and desires a union of Church and State; the lawyer, from his pride and vanity of hearing himself speak; and the hired agent for his salary.
Abraham Lincoln, Address to the Washington Temperance Society of Springfield, Illinois, February 22, 1842
I especially noticed the preacher wanting a union of church and state. This seems to assume not only that they are separate, but that the people knew it perfectly well. The one who wished otherwise, well, he was a fanatic. (Are you listening, Rick Perry?)
It might seem, at first thought, to be of little difference whether the present movement at the South be called “secession” or “rebellion.” The movers, however, well understood the difference. At the beginning, they knew well they could never raise their treason to any respectable magnitude, by any name which implies violation of law. They knew their people possessed as much of moral sense, as much of devotion to law and order, and as much pride in, and reverence for, the history, and government, of their common country, as any other civilized, and patriotic people. They knew they could make no advancement directly in the teeth of these strong and noble sentiments. Accordingly they commenced by an insidious debauching of the public mind. They invented an ingenious sophism, which, if conceded, was followed by perfectly logical steps, through all the incidents, to the complete destruction of the Union. The sophism itself is, that any state of the Union may, consistently with the national Constitution, and therefore lawfully and peacefully, withdraw from the Union, without the consent of the Union, or of any other state. The little disguise that the supposed right is to be exercised only for just cause, themselves to be the sole judge of its justice, is too thin to merit any notice. ……..
This sophism derives much - perhaps the whole - of its currency, from the assumption, that there is some omnipotent, and sacred supremacy, pertaining to a State - to each State of our Federal Union. Our States have neither more, nor less power, than that reserved to them, in the Union, by the Constitution - no one of them ever having been a State out of the Union. The original ones passed into the Union even before they cast off their British colonial dependence; and the new ones each came into the Union directly from a condition of dependence, excepting Texas. And even Texas, in its temporary independence, was never designated a State. ………
What is a “sovereignty,” in the political sense of the term? Would it be far wrong to define it “A political community, without a political superior”? Tested by this, no one of our States, except Texas, ever was a sovereignty. And even Texas gave up the character on coming into the Union; by which act, she acknowledged the Constitution of the United States, and the laws and treaties of the United States made in pursuance of the Constitution, to be, for her, the supreme law of the land. The States have their status IN the Union, and they have no other legal status.
Abraham Lincoln, Message to Congress in Special Session, July 4, 1861