Written By: Herald Boas
Over the past year, Americans have watched the radical left increasingly seek to cancel our nation’s founders. As outrageous as it is, many Americans may be surprised to learn this is not the first time in our history that such a phenomenon has occurred. An old letter from Abraham Lincoln reminds us of surprisingly similar events just prior to the American Civil War.
Just as Americans were in the years before war broke out in 1860, all of us today are living through a period when the major political parties seem to be undergoing an identity crisis, discarding traditional stereotypes and adopting some of the patterns, policies, and viewpoints of the other party.
The effect of this realignment differs on Republicans and Democrats. Over the past five years, it seems to have expanded the Republican base as blacks, Hispanics and blue collar workers increasingly vote for GOP candidates who speak to the issues they care about. The impact on Democrats seems more ambiguous as many on the left take up political correctness and cancel culture, even to the point of abandoning the very founders of the Democratic Party. Local and state Democrats are “canceling” their traditional Jefferson-Jackson Day dinners and festivities across the nation. Schools in liberal enclaves from coast to coast are erasing the names of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson from their doors, and statues of our founders are being removed from town centers and city halls.
In an extraordinary 1859 letter (excerpted below), Abraham Lincoln–then a Springfield attorney–identifies and calls out an astonishing historical parallel in the mid-19th century, when pro-slavery Democrats also sought to distance themselves from Jefferson and erase the memory of the father of their own party.
Lincoln’s Letter to Henry L. Pierce and others [excerpted]:
Springfield, Ills, April 6, 1859
Messrs. Henry L. Pierce, & others
Your kind note inviting me to attend a Festival in Boston, on the 13th. Inst. in honor of the birthday of Thomas Jefferson, was duly received. My engagements are such that I can not attend.
Bearing in mind that about seventy years ago, two great political parties were first formed in this country, that Thomas Jefferson was the head of one of them, and Boston the head-quarters of the other, it is both curious and interesting that those supposed to descend politically from the party opposed to Jefferson should now be celebrating his birthday in their own original seat of empire, while those claiming political descent from him have nearly ceased to breathe his name everywhere.
I remember once being much amused at seeing two partially intoxicated men engage in a fight with their great-coats on, which fight, after a long, and rather harmless contest, ended in each having fought himself out of his own coat, and into that of the other. If the two leading parties of this day are really identical with the two in the days of Jefferson and Adams, they have performed the same feat as the two drunken men.
But soberly, it is now no child’s play to save the principles of Jefferson from total overthrow in this nation.
This is a world of compensations; and he who would be no slave, must consent to have no slave. Those who deny freedom to others, deserve it not for themselves; and, under a just God, can not long retain it.
All honor to Jefferson–to the man who, in the concrete pressure of a struggle for national independence by a single people, had the coolness, forecast, and capacity to introduce into a merely revolutionary document, an abstract truth, applicable to all men and all times, and so to embalm it there, that today, and in all coming days, it shall be a rebuke and a stumbling-block to the very harbingers of re-appearing tyranny and oppression.
Your obedient Servant A. Lincoln
It is perhaps instructive that while Democrats are busy canceling Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson (and other early figures in their party), Republicans continue to honor their founding figure Lincoln.
There are some on the left who would like to cancel Mr. Lincoln, too, claiming he wasn’t anti-slavery enough, or for some other controversial actions he took as president. As the letter above demonstrates (as does the body of his writing and speeches), Lincoln was always clearly anti-slavery, not to mention that he pushed for and signed the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863.
Lincoln had the wit to call out the Democrats in his own time when they abandoned their founding principle that “all men are created equal,” and instead took up with woke plutocrats of that troubled and tragic era. His letter reminds us that although we live in sometimes trying times, Americans have seen it all before, and the legacy and principles of Thomas Jefferson have triumphed and endured.
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