Jefferson vs Lincoln: America Must Choose

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Over the course
of American history, there has been no greater conflict of visions
than that between Thomas Jefferson’s voluntary republic, founded
on the natural right of peaceful secession, and Abraham Lincoln’s
permanent empire, founded on the violent denial of that same right.

That these
two men somehow shared a common commitment to liberty is a lie so
monstrous and so absurd that its pervasiveness in popular culture
utterly defies logic.

After all,
Jefferson stated unequivocally in the Declaration of Independence
that, at any point, it may become

for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected
them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth,
the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and
of Nature’s God entitle them…

And, having
done so, he said, it is the people’s right

to institute
new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing
its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to
effect their Safety and Happiness.

Contrast that
clear articulation of natural law with Abraham Lincoln’s first
inaugural address, where he flatly rejected the notion that governments
derive their just powers from the consent of the governed.

Instead, Lincoln
claimed that, despite the clear wording of the Tenth Amendment,

no State
upon its own mere motion can lawfully get out of the Union; [and]
resolves and ordinances [such as the Declaration of Independence]
to that effect are legally void…

King George
III agreed.

Lincoln claimed the right of a king to collect his federal tribute,
by violence if necessary. Without even bothering to pretend such
authority existed in the Constitution, Lincoln offered (and eventually
carried out) a thinly veiled threat that

beyond what
may be necessary for [collecting taxes], there will be no invasion,
no using of force against or among the people anywhere.

In the words
of Tony Soprano, pay up and nobody gets hurt.

But perhaps,
as some have said, Jefferson intended his Declaration merely as
a political tool to justify American independence from Britain.
He surely would never have acknowledged or defended an individual
state’s right to secede from the very union he helped to found.
Except that he did, in his own first inaugural.

Upon assuming
the presidency in 1801, amidst severe political and sectional turmoil,
Jefferson said

If there
be any among us who wish to dissolve the Union or to change its
republican form, let them stand undisturbed, as monuments of the
safety with which error of opinion may be tolerated where reason
is left free to combat it.

In light of
these facts, no serious student of history or politics could believe
that Jefferson and Lincoln possessed similar visions for America.
Or that Jefferson would have condoned the violent subjugation of
a single sovereign state (let alone 11 of them), or thought Lincoln’s
disregard for the Constitution in any way legal or justified.

Rather, he
would have known at once that what Lincoln spawned through his belligerence
was a government capable of violating its own fundamental law at
will; of using illegal force to prevent the governed from withdrawing
voluntary consent (regardless of their motivation), and thereby
destroying consent altogether.

Such a government
is incapable of liberty, and antithetical to the very existence
of Jefferson’s America.

For that reason,
it is not possible to truly understand, and yet still admire, the
words and deeds of both men. Despite his occasional use of the Declaration’s
language, Lincoln himself despised
; demonstrating by his policies that they occupied
polar opposite ends of the ideological spectrum, as do their political
descendants today.

But, after
decades spent trying to ignore or deny the irreconcilable disconnect
between these two figures, the political class has succeeded only
in perpetuating the contradictory and inherently dishonest character
of modern American government. Though our system is ostensibly rooted
in the rule of law and the ideals of liberty, its current nature
is really embodied much more accurately by the lawless despotism
of our 16th president.

We cannot continue
to have it both ways. The preposterous dichotomy between America’s
founding principles and the actions of her government, from the
War Between the States to the War on Drugs, has predictably eroded
that government’s moral standing at home, and its credibility
around the world.

As a society,
we cannot both revere a man whose fierce dedication to the right
of political self-determination formed the philosophical foundations
of our republic, and at the same time worship a dictator whose arrogant
and bloody denial of that right transformed our republic into an

It is time
to choose. If Americans truly are heirs to the Jeffersonian legacy,
than it has always been and must always be, not only our right,
but our duty as citizens to withdraw consent from any government
that becomes destructive of life, liberty, or the pursuit of happiness.

If, however,
We the People believe ourselves incompetent to judge when that line
has been crossed, then we will continue to find no shortage of political
masters eager to carry on Lincoln’s legacy of contempt for
our Constitution, and violent suppression of self-government.

Either way,
one thing is certain: America will never regain the principles of
her founding until her people muster the courage and clarity to
finally separate liberty’s friends from its foes.

This is
reprinted from the Tenth
Amendment Center

1, 2010

Eboch is a proud “tenther,” freelance writer, and activist
originally from the Washington, D.C. area. He is the State Chapter
Coordinator for the Virginia
Tenth Amendment Center

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