In our ongoing study of Lincoln’s words to the Young Men’s Lyceum in Springfield, IL on 27 January 1838, we have briefly examined some of the amazing blessings of America. These include her geography, her resources, her development, and her political institutions. Most people throughout history have been crushed by the boot of tyranny, from Argentina to Japan to Zimbabwe. Even today in China, Russia, Turkey, and many other nations, the light of liberty is flickering, or has gone out. The American people, working through brilliantly conceived and enduring political institutions, have lived in freedom, limited primarily by their own industry and imagination.
We have also discussed the men and women who made the United States the amazing country that it is. As heirs to their wisdom and to their labors, we must be grateful. As heirs to their folly and mistakes, we must be humble, because it is not clear that we are any wiser, or any more industrious, than they were. Looking at the United States today, one wonders if we are not greater fools and greater sluggards. Those who cast aside the Greek democracy and the Roman Republic thought they were building better societies.
Today we must explore Lincoln’s next passage, asking where the danger to America would come.
“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.”
Lincoln’s logic is impenetrable. As a nation of the people, by the people, and for the people, the people decide if that nation will endure. Our political leaders are not space aliens who flew in from a distant planet, they are our neighbors, our co-workers, and our fellow citizens. Money and fame notwithstanding, it is ultimately we who put them in office. Does power corrupt most people? Of course. Do humans get proud? Absolutely, as almost everyone has in all of history. But unless angels rule us, and most of us wouldn’t want an angelic society because we all enjoy our personal vices, we are stuck with people to lead us in government. We can curse them, and make them worse than they are, or bless them, and make them better than they are. The choice, and the consequences, are ours.
If as Lincoln said the danger to America is not in foreign invasion, where is it? It is in national suicide. How can we kill ourselves?
1. By killing ourselves, the literal destruction of the American people by other Americans. Since 1973, over 60 million American babies have died by our own hands.
2. By killing our souls, forgetting the God who created us, sustains us, and guides us.
3. By killing our character, the loss of the values that made us great. In America, each person is created equal in value and responsibility before God; equally free to pursue their own lives and equally accountable for the consequences of their choices. Courage, industry, honesty, compassion, and a whole host of other virtues follow from this fundamental idea.
4. By killing our minds, turning us into media-dominated automatons too afraid and too confused to think, speak, and act for ourselves. By exchanging reality for fantasy, whether through the Internet, television, video games, or something else, and by preferring virtual relationships to real ones, we become less human.
5. By killing our dignity, promising income without work and vice without consequences.
6. By killing our bodies, using alcohol, marijuana, and other drugs until we waste away.
7. By killing our families, using “personal fulfillment” to separate us from those who should be our greatest support, as we are their greatest support.
8. By killing our communities, writing laws, regulations, and procedures to kill jobs, paralyze initiative, dehumanize interpersonal interactions, brainwash children, and make honest men into criminals.
The list could be much longer, and the examples legion, but this is enough for now. Americans who love their country, who abjure our ongoing national suicide, would do well to look at what a young country lawyer said to a group of other young men a long time ago…Lincoln at Lyceum.