There is a temptation for current generations, with their additional perspective, to feel morally superior to prior ones.
For example in June of this year, Cornell University removed a bust of Abraham Lincoln and a plague of the Gettysburg Address from the University library “when someone complained.” Cornell even holds one of the five original copies of the Address in Lincoln’s own writing.
It is true that continual efforts are necessary for achieving America’s aspirational goals of greater equity and freedom for all its citizens.
However previous generations had timeless insights about America’s political experiment that are still vital today.
As the January 6th House Committee holds another hearing this afternoon, I want to share an analysis that is profoundly prescient of the actions of President Trump.
He warned of the dangers of a tyrant taking over the US political system from within. This excerpt could easily define what happened on January 6th, 2021.
It is to deny what the history of the world tells us is true, to suppose that men of ambition and talents will not continue to spring up amongst us. And when they do, they will as naturally seek the gratification of their ruling passion as others have done before them.
The question then is, can that gratification be found in supporting and maintaining an edifice that has been erected by others? Most certainly it cannot. Many great and good men, sufficiently qualified for any task they should undertake, may ever be found whose ambition would aspire to nothing beyond a seat in Congress, a gubernatorial or a presidential chair; but such belong not to the family of the lion or the tribe of the eagle.
What! think you these places would satisfy an Alexander, a Caesar, or a Napoleon? Never! Towering genius disdains a beaten path. It seeks regions hitherto unexplored. It sees no distinction in adding story to story upon the monuments of fame erected to the memory of others. It denies that it is glory enough to serve under any chief. It scorns to tread in the footsteps of any predecessor, however illustrious. It thirsts and burns for distinction; and if possible, it will have it, whether at the expense of emancipating slaves or enslaving freemen.
Is it unreasonable, then, to expect that some man possessed of the loftiest genius, coupled with ambition sufficient to push it to its utmost stretch, will at some time spring up among us? And when such a one does, it will require the people to be united with each other, attached to the government and laws, and generally intelligent, to successfully frustrate his designs.
Distinction will be his paramount object, and although he would as willingly, perhaps more so, acquire it by doing good as harm, yet, that opportunity being past, and nothing left to be done in the way of building up, he would set boldly to the task of pulling down.
To counter this internal threat, Lincoln concluded that there was a need to cultivate a “political religion” that emphasizes “reverence for the laws” and puts reliance on “reason—cold, calculating, unimpassioned reason.”
This is how the House Committee’s hearings on the January 6th insurrection is fulfilling Lincoln’s call to action 184 years earlier.