A Reminder from Lincoln at Cooper Union

Scott has already posted notices about Lincoln’s birthday today, but I want to add one more that has direct contemporary relevance, drawn from his Cooper Union address from February 1860—the speech that had much to do with his winning the Republican presidential nomination months later, as it showed he had the most profound understanding of the slavery crisis.

Lincoln noted toward the very end of the speech that the pro-slavery faction in the South wasn’t content with Republicans allowing slavery to exist in the South: it was necessary that everyone change their mind and express publicly their positive support for slavery. In other words, the pro-slavery forces demanded that everyone else submit to their opinion. Sounds like the left today on every social issue in sight, no?

Here’s the key language from the end of the Cooper Union address about the demand for uniformity of opinion:

The question recurs, what will satisfy them? Simply this: We must not only let them alone, but we must, somehow, convince them that we do let them alone. This, we know by experience, is no easy task. We have been so trying to convince them from the very beginning of our organization, but with no success. In all our platforms and speeches we have constantly protested our purpose to let them alone; but this has had no tendency to convince them. Alike unavailing to convince them, is the fact that they have never detected a man of us in any attempt to disturb them.

These natural, and apparently adequate means all failing, what will convince them? This, and this only: cease to call slavery wrong, and join them in calling it right. And this must be done thoroughly–done in acts as well as in words. Silence will not be tolerated–we must place ourselves avowedly with them. Senator Douglas’s new sedition law must be enacted and enforced, suppressing all declarations that slavery is wrong, whether made in politics, in presses, in pulpits, or in private. We must arrest and return their fugitive slaves with greedy pleasure. We must pull down our Free State constitutions. The whole atmosphere must be disinfected from all taint of opposition to slavery, before they will cease to believe that all their troubles proceed from us.

In other words, when it comes to the impulse for thought control, there’s nothing new under the sun. So go bake the cake, bigot. And all you nuns out there—start passing out contraceptives.


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