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  • Honest Abe and the Golden Apple

    February 12th marks the 201st birthday of Abraham Lincoln. There is much that we can learn today from this great champion of the Constitution and of the principles of the American founding.

    This is especially true today, when our founding principles are under relentless attack. Even in Lincoln’s time, these principles were “denied, and evaded, with no small show of success,” as Lincoln himself put it . Lincoln dedicated all of his public life to the preservation of these principles, and we should aspire to live up to his example.

    Lincoln knew that the eternal truths of the Declaration must be guarded by the carefully balanced republic of the Constitution. His beautiful analogy for the relationship between the Declaration and the Constitution, where he likened the former to a golden apple and the latter to a “picture of silver, framed around it,” is well worth quoting: “The picture was made, not to conceal, or destroy the apple; but to adorn, and preserve it. The picture was made for the apple-not the apple for the picture.”

    It fell upon Lincoln, as a matter of historical circumstance, to guide the nation through a bloody civil war to eradicate the evil of slavery and to forge the two divergent regions into “a more perfect Union.” It is easy to underestimate the gravity of the choices Lincoln had to make, treading carefully between the Scylla of letting the Union fall apart, and the Charybdis of maintaining it at the cost of the Constitutional Republic.

    Lincoln wanted freedom for the slaves, but he was no progressive. He was a prudent statesman, as Allen C. Guelzo points out in a First Principles essay, and in this prudence lies the essence of his conservatism. He recognized the inherent flaws and limitations of human nature. He did not want to somehow “supersede” or “go beyond” the Constitution, as progressives do. He instead wanted to see his beloved country live up to its founding principles, while upholding the Constitution.

    We are not alone in the fight to preserve the self-evident truths that are the foundations of this nation. Nor is our fight new, or unique. We are but the newest carriers of the torch of American liberty in the midst of the darkness of despotism. It is a sometimes daunting but always honorable duty, one in which we have Honest Abe as a most shining example. So let us act as he did, with the goal “that neither picture, or apple shall ever be blurred, or bruised or broken.”

    Posted in First Principles [slideshow_deploy]

    17 Responses to Honest Abe and the Golden Apple

    1. Barbara Frances Delo says:

      Beautiful!

      Beautiful!

      In the early 1800's, Francis Scott Key wrote the words that became part of our national anthem: "Oh say does that star spangled banner still wave o're the land of the free and the home of the brave."

      Now it is up to us…

    2. Lloyd Scallan - New says:

      It true "Honest Abe" wanted the slaves to be free. But what has been eraced from

      history is that Abe never intendered the slaves to become first class citizens.

      In fact he suggested they be shipped back to their homes in Africa. He was a lot smarter than we give him credit for.

    3. Ben C. Ann Arbor, MI says:

      The "rest of the story" is that Lincoln freed the slaves because it was the only way he could preserve the Union. The Constitution does not have a direct mechanism for dealing with States that wish to withdraw from the Union but protecting its citizens is clearly in its domain. The Civil War was really about the South becoming tired of supporting the Industrial Revolutuion in the North through endless taxation. The more things change the more they stay the same!

    4. Mark Trudeau says:

      I love Lincoln!. He was so correct to express the importance of the Declaration in relation to the Constitution. We have forgotten both, not because they no longer are important or necessary to the preservation of the Republic, but because "we the people" have allowed their removal from our classrooms and because our teachers no longer instruct the tenants that are central to the freedoms and responsibilities "we the people" have and must live up to! The day is quickly approaching when our Constitution will hang, as it were, by a thread! I fear that to weave again, the freedoms and liberties we have known, will require much sacrifice and blood by our children! Oh that Abe were with us now!

    5. RG Georgia says:

      Like many of you I was taught of the greatness of Linclon. Unlike many of you, I have had a change of heart. Please read "When In The Course of Human Events" by Charles Adams. An eye-opening tome.

      Lincoln ran roughshod over the Constitution. Suspending habeus-corpus; jailing critics,closing newspapers;seeking an arrest warrant for the Supreme Court Chief Justice.Jailing the Maryland legislature so they could not discuss seccession. Goading the South in to firing the "first shot".

      Slavery was not the issue until the third year of the war. Tarriffs and secession were the cause, but no one in the North was all that interested in "preserving the Union". Siezing on "freeing the slaves" as a "higher cause" enabled the war effort in the North to become a "noble endevor".

      Lincoln was a nation-builder and greatly expanded the scope and power of the federal government.

    6. Dennis Social Circle says:

      I am sincerely afraid that the Star Spangle Banner will be folded if the dems and obama continue their ways. The Constitution is just a peice of paper to them, freedom is just a saying to many, it is just fine that the dems and obama want to make decisions for us, we do not have to like them, just live with them. Our 'government" or the :guvernment" as many call it has moved from a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, to one of my way or noway. HAVE WE HAD ENOUGH OF THIS, AND ARE WE WILLING TO FIGHT FOR THE TYPE OF GOVERNMENT THAT MADE THIS COUNTRY GREAT????

    7. Arthur K., Boston, M says:

      I am extremely disappointed that Heritage.org is trumpeting this shoddy article on their front page today. My monthly donations will cease as of today. Mr. Lincoln was disdainful of the Constitution. It seems he liked parsing the language like a recent Democrat president. Like Daniel Webster, he claimed that the Union created the states. He seized on the "fact" that the Articles of Confederation explicitly mentioned the States' right to secede while the Constitution did not as "evidence" that this nifty document suddenly placed the States in a coercive pact where apostasy would be punishable by death. In fact, he liked to point out, the Constitution's purpose, apart from not mentioning the right of secession, was "to make a more perfect union." Although a fan of parts of the Declaration of Independence, he conveniently forgot that it referred to "the united States of America", small "u", and listed grievances that would just as easily justify Americans' duty to rebel against Lincoln as against George III. It refers to States that George III individually made peace with at the end of the War of Secession from Britain. He failed to explain that, if creatures of the Union, why the Constitution empowers any three quarters of the States to amend the Constitution at any time. Why does Lincoln's supposedly all-powerful central government not have this power in the Constitution? He is understandably revered by Mr. Obama because he is the father of big government and confiscatory taxation. He favored doubling the tariff, even though this burden would be borne disproportionately by the southern states, in to help out his corporate welfare friends in the north. In his inaugural address he shockingly advises that he will hold off on a military invasion of his peaceful fellow citizens in the south provided that they pay the taxes they owe. Does this not shock any Tea Party patriot members of Heritage.org? To claim that Lincoln launched the war to end slavery is made a mockery of by the fact that the Emancipation Declaration came eighteen months after his military invasion started. I am very disappointed in Heritage.org and will be canceling my membership as of today.

    8. Barry E Lerner, Rye, says:

      It is interesting to speculate on the origin of the golden apple and the silver frame reference. In ancient Jewish writings can be found the maxim, "A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver". Could Lincoln have had the time to study Jewish ethical commentary? Or is it just coincidence? One wonders.

    9. Damon S. McClure, Le says:

      Not once did this article state that our President Lincoln tried, to shift blame to anyone, that he inherited this mess, another President, Administration, or other political party. He just assumed responsibilty, and dealt with it. Thank God that this greatest nation has him and others, such as him to look to as comparason

    10. Bobbie Jay says:

      There's the intelligence mankind deserves. Honest. The kind that lacks today.

      Abe was a leader for mankind, not himself.

      As the president of this country insists Abe Lincoln being his favorite president, makes one wonder why the current president conducts himself in total opposition?

    11. HD in Georgia says:

      I very much agree with "RG Georgia" that Lincoln was not a Constitutionalist and at heart wanted to build up the power of the Federal Government rather than limit it. In fact he completely destroyed forever "States Rights" and any hope that the 10th amendment would ever be taken seriously again. The Union of the States was a voluntary agreement and most evidence suggests that the States fully expected to be able to leave the Union if they were unsatisfied. The Constitution does not give the Federal Government the power to force the States to stay united; therefore the 10th amendment would say that the States had the power to leave if they so choose. Lincoln abused the Constitution because of his vision of the States being united forever. He therefore had no reason to negotiate the political problems he faced with the southern states. Lincoln was the perfect example of "might makes right". Slavery was a dying institution anyway and had been solved in less violent ways all over the world.

    12. Pingback: President’s Day Thoughts « A Voice in the Wilderness

    13. Todd, Albany OR says:

      Barry,

      The maxim from ancient Jewish writings you quote is Proverbs 25:11. Abe only needed to study the Bible.

    14. Michael O. Powell says:

      Great article and very insightful.

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