The Constitution must be our ‘political religion’: Remembering Lincoln’s wordsRoundup
tags: Constitution, Abraham Lincoln, political history
Eli Merritt is a San Francisco-based writer and historian as well as a visiting scholar in the Department of History and the Center for Biomedical Ethics and Society at Vanderbilt University. He is completing a history of the American Revolution, "Disunion Among Ourselves."
On Monday, the House Judiciary Committee announced a new wave of inquiries into alleged illegal acts by President Donald Trump, his associates, and members of his administration. Together with the coming Mueller report and mounting congressional as well as federal court challenges to Trump’s declaration of a national emergency, this development portends the approach of political crisis in the United States unlike anything we have seen since Watergate.
At a moment like this, it is worth remembering the wise counsel of the most outstanding political leaders in our history. One such is Abraham Lincoln, who at age 28 gave a speech in Springfield, Illinois, that compares to the Gettysburg Address in its poetic distillation of exactly what the United States is and what we stand for.
Lincoln delivered the address, which he titled “The Perpetuation of our Political Institutions,” to the Young Men’s Lyceum in January 1838. His theme was the sanctity of the U.S. Constitution and the rule of law, which he proclaimed to be “the political religion of our nation.”
That year Lincoln feared the rise of what he called a “mobocratic spirit” in the United States. He gave as examples numerous high-profile cases of vigilante bands of self-declared good citizens from Missouri to Louisiana taking the law into their own hands and lynching blacks and whites alike for allegations of crimes they, the mobs, not the courts, ruled to warrant the death penalty.
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