Jaffa claims that Joe Sobran has misused Lincoln’s statements during
the 1850s about Negroes. Was it not essential for Lincoln, if
he hoped to gain electoral success, to distance himself from the
abolitionists, who did not wish to observe the restraints that the
constitution imposes? But what has the quotation that Mr. Jaffa
cites to do with constitutional restraints or the abolitionists?
In it, Lincoln declared his opposition to political and social equality
of Negroes with whites. Few even of the abolitionists supported
this. For all Mr.Jaffa has argued to the contrary, Lincoln here
meant exactly what he said.
in error is the claim that secession meant that the Southern states
refused to accept the results of a democratic election. Precisely
the opposite is the case. Just because they did accept those results,
they wished to withdraw from the union. They did not deny that Lincoln
was the president.
Jaffa, astonishingly, uses the legal principle that one cannot unilaterally
repudiate the terms of a contract as a stick with which to beat
the secessionists. In doing so, he begs the question: to what exactly
did the states commit themselves when they ratified the constitution?
If, as they contended, the terms of the constitution left them free
to withdraw, they did not unilaterally renounce their obligations.
did they in this particular read the constitution correctly? Joe
Sobran has pointed to a strong indication that they did: three of
the states in their declarations of ratification explicitly reserved
the right to secede. How then can they be held to have agreed to
an arrangement in which they could not secede?
this Mr. Jaffa says that these states only meant to refer to the
right of revolution, not a right legally to depart. But why would
a reminder of an extra-legal power have been inserted in a legal
document? Both Jaffa and his antagonist Sobran are close students
of Shakespeare, who has the perfect phrase for Jaffa’s construal:
it is very midsummer madness.
Gordon [send him mail] is
a senior fellow at the Ludwig von
Mises Institute and editor of The