One of Abraham Lincoln’s first major speeches, the Lyceum Address, was a warning to America that rings truer yet today.
Americans are blessed to have inherited so much from the Founders including guarantees of liberty more “than any of which the history of former times tells us,” Lincoln said in 1838.
Americans’ obligation, he said, was to show, “gratitude to our fathers, justice to ourselves, duty to posterity, and love for our species in general.” That would be the formula for a young nation to thrive.
In 2020, we find ourselves asking: What are the greatest dangers we face? How do we recognize them? How do we overcome them?
Our 16th president, a visionary, saw the threat not from external forces but from within.
“If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher,” he said.
The greatest threat to United States is lawlessness and mob rule, he said. “I mean the increasing disregard for law which pervades the country; the growing disposition to substitute the wild and furious passions, in lieu of the sober judgment of courts; and the worse than savage mobs, for the executive ministers of justice.”
Lincoln cited examples of lawlessness permeating the country and cautioned of dire consequences to “perpetuation of our political institutions.”
Danger to the country increased, he warned, as, “the innocent, those who have set their faces against the violations of law in every shape, alike with the guilty, fall victims to the ravages of mob law, and thus it goes on, step by step, till all the walls erected for the defense of the persons and property of individuals are trodden down, and disregarded.”
If government did not step in to regain order, he further warned, “(B)y such examples, by instances of the perpetrators of such acts going unpunished, the lawless in spirit, are encouraged to become lawless in practice; and having been used to no restraint, but dread of punishment, they thus become, absolutely unrestrained. Having ever regarded government as their deadliest bane, they make a jubilee of the suspension of its operation; and pray for nothing so much, as its total annihilation.”
And what of good people trying to do the right thing?
“While, on the other hand, good men, men who love tranquility, who desire to abide by the laws, and enjoy their benefits, who would gladly spill their blood in the defense of their country; seeing their property destroyed; their families insulted, and their lives endangered; their persons injured; and seeing nothing in prospect that forebodes a change for the better; become tired of, and disgusted with, a Government that offers them no protection; and are not much averse to a change in which they imagine they have nothing to lose.
“Thus, then, by the operation of this mobocractic spirit, which all must admit, is now abroad in the land, the strongest bulwark of any Government, and particularly of those constituted like ours, may effectually be broken down and destroyed–I mean the attachment of the People.”
Who could do a better job of describing the United States in the Fall of 2020?
Good people today doubt government’s resolve in protecting life and property, maintaining law and order, and performing proper duties. It is easy to see how the bonds between citizens and government are frayed.
Our 16th president explained:
“Whenever this effect shall be produced among us; whenever the vicious portion of population shall be permitted to gather in bands of hundreds and thousands, and burn churches, ravage and rob provision-stores, throw printing presses into rivers, shoot editors, and hang and burn obnoxious persons at pleasure, and with impunity; depend on it, this Government cannot last.
By such things, the feelings of the best citizens will become more or less alienated from it; and thus it will be left without friends, or with too few, and those few too weak, to make their friendship effectual.”
One hundred and eighty-two years haven’t changed a thing. There you have it.
Lincoln warned us of the consequences of not enforcing the law; we are seeing it play out in our time.
Unless we see a quick reversal and swift prosecution of those who destroy and intimidate, we are in for a quick decline.
Let’s heed Lincoln’s warning before it’s too late, demanding law and order, prosecuting law breakers, and holding accountable those who promotes false, divisive ,and destructive narratives.
Law and order is the only way to bring stability, prosperity, and peace.
Lincoln reminds us we find our liberty, and our preservation, in the rule of law.