Letters

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Lincoln's Log
It was flattering indeed that Steven Hayward judged Lincoln on Democracy, the volume Gov. Mario M. Cuomo edited with the help of 49 Lincoln scholars in 1990, worthy of attention in the ongoing debate over the true meaning of the Lincoln legacy ("The Children of Abraham," May). But Mr. Hayward was unfair to suggest that the book was an attempt by a Democrat to seize the mantle of Lincoln from the Republicans.

In fact, the governor's "Lincoln on Democracy Project" was initiated not by the Democratic governor but at the request of Polish teachers who visited him in 1989 and asked him to recommend books on American democracy for their rapidly democratizing country. When he suggested Lincoln, they replied sadly that his writings had been long banned there. The governor promised to help produce a new collection, and we are proud to report that 1,500 copies of the Polish translation, Lincoln O. Demokracji, arrived at the Education Ministry earlier this year.

The ministry plans to print 30,000 more copies. Even more heartening have been the unsolicited letters from Polish educators. The headmaster of the Liceum Ogolinoksztalcace wrote: "I think this book will help us in the knowing of democracy and will become one of the very important books in our library."

And its creation was a wholly nonpartisan effort. Its eight contributing scholars and 41 consulting scholars came from the broadest range of historical thought and included one of the great writers cited in your article, Don E. Fehrenbacher.

As for the governor's supposed "moral indignation" over the idea of accumulating wealth, it is clear that Mr. Hayward knows little about his views on opportunity—even those that spring directly from Lincoln. In his 1989 speech at Gettysburg, which Mr. Hayward mentioned but did not quote, Gov. Cuomo made quite clear that he shares Lincoln's "vision for a country where every citizen would be guaranteed a fair opportunity. In Lincoln's earlier words," he added, this means providing "'an ever widening path,' where 'the weights should be lifted from the shoulders of all,' where all 'should have an equal chance.'" That, he said, was Lincoln's view of "the mission of democracy." And it is the governor's view as well.

It is exciting that Lincoln's words continue to provoke debate and discussion, but disheartening whenever clichéd preconceptions muddy the waters. Mario Cuomo no more favors "redistribution of the wealth" than Lincoln favored dictatorship, although both suggestions unfortunately found their way into Mr. Hayward's otherwise engaging article.

One area where Mr. Hayward and Gov. Cuomo appear to differ on purely philosophical grounds is the question of how actively Lincoln would be prepared to fight for "small-d" democracy in a 20th-century context. Mr. Hayward seems to think that the aspiration for equality and the concept of "limited government" were compatible to Lincoln, and possible for us. The governor maintains that neither is the case. As Lincoln himself put it, in another passage Gov. Cuomo repeated at Gettysburg in 1989, the question is not whether we can all "imagine better" but "can we all do better." Lincoln thought we could, and so does Mario Cuomo.

Harold Holzer
Coeditor, The Lincoln On Democracy Project
New York, NY

The Declaration of Independence asserts "that whenever any form of Government becomes destructive…it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it." That's whenever, not "unless a majority of their great-grandfathers voted for it." Lincoln's war can only be seen as repudiating the Declaration.

Hayward brings up "the crucial distinction that the Baltic states never consented to join the Soviet Union in the first place." This is a distinction? States are not people. The people living in South Carolina on December 20,1860, were not the people who voted to join the Union on May 23,1788.

The power to form the Union implies the right to dissolve it. When the experience of three generations convinced Southerners that the Union was not a good idea after all, why should their judgment be overruled by that of their dead ancestors who had no experience with the Union? If the people of South Carolina are not competent to judge whether the Union is "destructive of these Ends," who is? Congress?

Hayward asks, "What would defenders of secession say if, today, even a supermajority of states wanted to secede from California…?" As a California secessionist, I would naturally say hurrah. The question is emotional, not rational. There is no difference between the two events (secession by California from the United States and secession by the United States from California). I'd be disappointed if my boss fired me, but I will not buy from him the right to do so if the price is my right to quit.

Anton Sherwood
San Francisco, CA

If we ever even hope to understand the predicaments facing statesmen of the Lincoln-Douglas generation, we may as well acknowledge that only two of the many contending positions in the slavery/free-soil controversy of that era made any sense or possessed any logical coherence at all.

On one hand, if one assumes that a human being can be property, can be bought, sold, and owned, then the positions of all the most ardent Southern fire-eaters follow with perfect consistency. If a slave is as much property as is a horse, then any interference in the possession of that property is an arbitrary deprivation of property rights. This includes a limitation of the right to take one's horse to the western territories, or on one's right to take the horse northward and still to own the horse on one's return, or any federal or "free-horse state" interference in efforts to recover a runaway stallion.

Any of these incursions upon property rights of an equine sort would be instances of tyranny, and enough such instances would justify a Lockean revolution on the model of that of 1776. Likewise, if and only if a slave is owned in the same way as is a horse, all the analogous acts both of Congress and of free-state legislatures were tyrannical and justified revolution.

The other consistent possibility begins with the proposition that "all men are created equal" in the very simple sense that no one man can own another. If no such ownership is legitimate, then the federal government ought to do nothing consistent with the pretense that it is. If there is no property in human beings, then the Fugitive Slave Act is an abomination. Further, the federal government ought to seek to undermine the "peculiar institution" that rests upon the pretense of such ownership. It ought to undermine that institution without any sort of compensation for the (purported) masters—because no one should be compensated for the loss of that which they had themselves never possessed!

If slavery is but the pretense of ownership, and if a government supports that pretense, then again Lockean theory supports revolution. The pertinent revolutionaries, on this theory, are Nat Turner and John Brown, not John Calhoun and Jefferson Davis.

Somebody was entitled to rebel, then, under either possible analysis of the situation. Consequently, both Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas, at the time of their famous 1858 debates, held to logically untenable conclusions, awkwardly in between the two stools I have described.

Douglas maintained that slaves were property if and only if a state or territorial majority said so. I think it safe to say that he would have been shocked to hear anyone enunciate the same doctrine with respect to horses or white laborers. Lincoln argued, against Douglas, that slaves were property only where, by tradition, they long had been so, and that they could not be property farther north or farther west. Yet since the Fugitive Slave Law allowed for the pursuit of slaves across such lines, and Lincoln in his campaign for the Senate supported that law, one must note that he did not even adhere to his inconsistent position with consistency.

In their famous debates, Lincoln and Douglas each tried to prove that the position of the other man was nonsensical. Each succeeded. This is why the debates proved to be such good theater, and so memorable.

Christopher C. Faille
Enfield, CT

Mr. Hayward replies: As Mr. Holzer's letter is self-refuting in its final paragraph, it scarcely requires comment, except to reiterate the obvious fact that Gov. Cuomo has consistently favored higher taxes on upper incomes to pay for various frothy government social programs.

Mr. Sherwood employs the old trick of using ellipses to distort the meaning of the Declaration of Independence. The full sentence he cites is quite important: "That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends [i.e., securing the unalienable or natural rights of individuals referred to in the immediately preceding section of the Declaration], it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it.…" The question of breaking the fundamental compact of union cannot be disconnected from the substantive question of the just ends of the present or prospective government. The Southern constitutions failed this test.

I welcome Mr. Faille's thoughtful letter, with which I largely agree. The logical weaknesses of both sides was preordained by the fateful constitutional compromise of 1787, which recognized chattel slavery within a regime of liberty. This was bound to lead to theoretical problems. The inconsistency Mr. Faille points out arises from the essential moderation of both Lincoln and Douglas; their desire to find a moderate solution required that they sometimes look the other way on the margins of their arguments. I think this can be regarded as responsible statesmanship, although the criticism is accurate. Unlike Mr. Faille, I do not consider Lincoln as inconsistent as Douglas. Lincoln's support of the Fugitive Slave Law, for instance, arose from his view that the Constitution should be upheld because constitutional principle would help generate the solution to the slavery problem over time.

Hill Street Bruise
While I am appalled and outraged over the police brutality incident in Los Angeles, I am even more appalled and outraged that Rick Henderson has engaged in character assassination and slander of Llewellyn H. Rockwell, president of the Ludwig von Mises Institute ("L.A., Lawless," May).

I read Mr. Rockwell's article. I could not find any endorsement of police brutality. He simply explained that our criminal justice system has favored criminals at the expense of crime victims. The legislatures and the courts have sold out to criminals at the expense of private citizens and law enforcement. No wonder that police brutality is the last resort law enforcement officers have to fight increasing cases of crime. That is the point which Mr. Rockwell tried to get across.

Yet Mr. Henderson quoted Mr. Rockwell out of context to make it sound as if he endorsed police brutality; he did not. Frankly, I think Mr. Henderson owes Mr. Rockwell an apology.

R. Craig Culver
Houston, TX

Not every libertarian takes the Al Sharpton-ACLU line on Rodney King. A career criminal juiced on marijuana and 40 ounces of malt liquor; speeding for five miles through the red lights and stop signs of a residential neighborhood; wildly punching the cops who finally blocked his car; making crude sexual advances to policewomen; refusing to be handcuffed; dancing and laughing maniacally; and fresh from suspected participation in yet another armed robbery, King did indeed get a two-minute what-for.

Mv sister used to live in a small Italian neighborhood surrounded by high-crime slums. She could walk to the corner store at night and live to tell about it because baseball-bat justice was administered to any criminal caught in the area. As a result, there was virtually no crime. You would condemn this, and Bernie Goetz too, but I remember that he made the subways safer for months.

But all this is low-tech. Why not, in light of your paean to cryonics, persuade King to freeze his head? We could tell him he's coming back as Robocrook.

Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr.
President, Ludwig von Mises Institute
Auburn, AL

Mr. Henderson replies: Mr. Culver can't find where Llewellyn Rockwell defends police brutality. I quote the Rockwell column: "As recently as the 1950s—when street crime was not rampant in America—the police always operated on this principle: No matter the vagaries of the court system, a mugger or rapist knew he faced a trouncing—proportionate to the offense and the offender—in the back of the paddy wagon, and maybe even a repeat performance at the station house. As a result, criminals were terrified of the cops, and our streets were safe." But the "mugger or rapist" Mr. Rockwell wants roughed up hasn't been convicted—or even arraigned; he's merely a suspect.

Is this out of context? Read Mr. Rockwell's response above and decide for yourself.

In the Rodney King case, the police had no way of knowing how intoxicated Mr. King was at the time of the beating. And the Highway Patrol's on-site report affirmed that while Mr. King acted erratically, he was hardly threatening.

But these are merely debating points for Mr. Rockwell. My editorial asked, What amount of force should two dozen policemen use to apprehend one unarmed suspect? And even if Mr. King is guilty of a crime, who metes out justice: the LAPD, or a jury? Mr. Rockwell may prefer state-imposed order (as in Saudi Arabia or Beijing) to individual liberty and the rule of law; but he shouldn't call himself a libertarian if he does.

A Few More Rounds
Jacob Sullum ("Gun-Shy Judges," May) missed a good opportunity to discuss the pivotal issue in gun control: How do you define arms? When the Second Amendment was passed, arms consisted of single-shot muskets. Does "original intent" justify machine guns and semiautomatics? Or do we define arms as being any gunpowder and projectile weapon, thus including most heavy artillery and cannons? You scholarly types at REASON should discuss this; the NRA certainly won't.

Daniel J. Ryan
Economics Department
Temple University
Philadelphia, PA

Although I disagree with Jacob Sullum that the Second Amendment is the black sheep of the amendments (I happen to feel that description better fits the Ninth Amendment), I very much enjoyed his article.

As Mr. Sullum pointed out, the current rhetoric tends to obscure the fact that the first clash in the Revolutionary War, which took place at Concord on April 19, 1775, came about because the British heard that the Colonials were in possession of cannon.

The Americans fought back to preserve their right to bear arms. We can only hope that ultimately the current push for gun control will meet the same fate as the British.

Greg Raven
Los Angeles, CA

Jacob Sullum correctly identifies the ACLU's unprincipled policy on gun control and Ira Glasser's waffling on the issue. More to the point is the way in which the ACLU justifies its official policy on the subject: It says that the Second Amendment does not guarantee the right of individuals to own a gun by citing "the setting" in which the amendment was proposed and adopted. How convenient. Leaving aside the fact that, as Sullum pointed out, another school of thought cites British common law as "the setting" upon which arguments in favor of individual gun ownership can be made, there is the interesting anomaly in the ACLU's approach to constitutional law. Why does the ACLU feel it legitimate to invoke "the setting" in which the Second Amendment was written when it is all too willing to dismiss "the setting" in which the First Amendment was written? Perhaps more inexplicable is the ACLU's characterization of gun control not as a civil-liberties issue but as a matter of social policy. Yet comparable worth, which has nothing to do with constitutional rights and everything to do with social policy, is nonetheless defended by the ACLU as a civil liberty. Apparently the ACLU's capacity for redefining the Bill of Rights is limitless.

William A. Donohue
Chair, Dept. of Sociology
LaRoche College
Pittsburgh, PA

Housing Project
I applaud Sister Connie Driscoll's program ("House of Hope," May). It's a classic example of what happens when you treat the root cause of a problem as opposed to treating the symptoms.

Ronnie Palmer
Alexandria, LA

Bryan Miller's story about Sister Connie Driscoll left out some important information: Is she accepting donations and at what address?

John Taylor
Cowlesville, NY

Donations may be sent to: St. Martin de Porres House of Hope, 6454 South Woodlawn Avenue, Chicago, IL 60637. —Eds.