Democratic Mobs, Then and Now

News item: Two GOP candidates assaulted in Minnesota.

News item: Antifa mob overruns Portland, and Democratic mayor stands aside. (And to think, I had dinner once with Ted Wheeler a few years ago, before he was elected mayor of Portland, and thought he was a sensible human being. Another case of misleading first impressions I guess.)

News item: Ricin sent to Sen. Susan Collins.

News item: Democrat assaults, critically injures Republican Senator in capitol.

Okay, so this last item is from 1856—the famous caning of Republican Senator Charles Sumner by southern Democrat Preston Brooks. But some things never change. And as Lincoln once said, “If we know where we are, and whither we are tending, we can better judge what to do, and how to do it.” And with the Democratic Party openly embracing mob tactics, we can make out a reversion to a very old pattern.

By coincidence, this week in my Berkeley class on political leadership I went through Lincoln’s first significant public speech, his “Lyceum Address” of 1838, when we was just 28 years old. (Yes, I use this class to sneak in history students today don’t know, and sure enough most students know next to nothing about Lincoln or the Civil War.) The formal theme of the speech is “The Perpetuation of Our Political Institutions,” but Lincoln spends a large portion of the speech decrying the rising mob violence of his time. After reviewing three examples of mob violence that had recently received national attention, Lincoln explained:

But you are, perhaps, ready to ask, “What has this to do with the perpetuation of our political institutions?” I answer, it has much to do with it. Its direct consequences are, comparatively speaking, but a small evil; and much of its danger consists, in the proneness of our minds, to regard its direct, as its only consequences. Abstractly considered, the hanging of the gamblers at Vicksburg, was of but little consequence. They constitute a portion of population, that is worse than useless in any community; and their death, if no pernicious example be set by it, is never matter of reasonable regret with any one. If they were annually swept, from the stage of existence, by the plague or small pox, honest men would, perhaps, be much profited, by the operation. Similar too, is the correct reasoning, in regard to the burning of the negro at St. Louis. He had forfeited his life, by the perpetration of an outrageous murder, upon one of the most worthy and respectable citizens of the city; and had he not died as he did, he must have died by the sentence of the law, in a very short time afterwards. As to him alone, it was as well the way it was, as it could otherwise have been. But the example in either case, was fearful. When men take it in their heads today, to hang gamblers, or burn murderers, they should recollect, that, in the confusion usually attending such transactions, they will be as likely to hang or burn some one, who is neither a gambler nor a murderer as one who is; and that, acting upon the example they set, the mob of tomorrow, may, and probably will, hang or burn some of them, by the very same mistake. And not only so; the innocent, those who have ever set their faces against 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 defence of the persons and property of individuals, are trodden down, and disregarded. But all this even, is not the full extent of the evil. By 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 operations; and pray for nothing so much, as its total annihilation. . .

Thus, then, by the operation of this mobocratic 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. 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.

Of course, even non-radical Democrats (your phone booth awaits you for your next meeting) openly detest the Constitution, so the prospect that “this Government cannot last” is probably more of a feature than a bug at this point. “Whither we are tending. . .”

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