By: Jonathan Harris
Most Republicans like to trace their political heritage from Ronald Reagan through Theodore Roosevelt all the way back to Abraham Lincoln, sometimes tacking Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson (both Democrats) on as the first philosophical conservatives. However, an honest look at history will unveil mutually exclusive irreconcilable differences between all of these men, and I'm not referring to the way in which they ate a sandwich- I'm talking about fundamental governing beliefs. When we take into account the way in which each of these men actually governed we quickly find that on the right sit Thomas Jefferson and Ronald Reagan, with Andrew Jackson somewhere in the middle, and Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln sitting in the same section as Woodrow Wilson and FDR. Yes, you heard me right! Lincoln was really our first progressive president- a man before his time, but who ultimately paved the way for the progressive era. In fact, Woodrow Wilson, though he harbored strong feelings of support for the South (he was born in Virginia), absolutely adored Lincoln for his methods- the way in which he circumnavigated the constitution. Wilson effectively took Lincoln's philosophy and replicated it thereby tearing the constitution to shreds even more. We could spend all day talking about the connection between these two, and their attempts to undermine American Law but my purpose in this piece is to instead pit the two supposed "giants of conservatism," Reagan and Lincoln, against each other in order to see who the real proponent of limited government is.
First a pop quiz. Below are listed three quotes. One is the voice of Ronald Reagan, another the voice of Abraham Lincoln, and the third, a figure who shall remain nameless until you've decided which ones to attribute to Reagan and Lincoln. Let's begin.
- The states that make up the American Union are mostly in the nature of territories. . . formed for technical administrative purposes. These states did not and could not possess sovereign rights of their own. Because it was the Union that created most of these so-called states. -----------------------------------------------------------------
- The Union is older than the States and, in fact created them as States. The Union, and not themselves separately, procured their independence and their liberty. The Union threw off their old dependence for them and made them States, such as they are. -----------------------------------------------------------------
- All of us need to be reminded that the Federal Government did not create the States; the States created the Federal government.
Let's briefly examine the arguments for and against State Sovereignty. Lincoln's argument stems from the idea that the states weren't states themselves before they adopted the Constitution, and that all proceeding states to be adopted certainly had no standing in claiming any kind of "sovereignty." He stated, "The States have their status IN the Union, and they have no other legal status." Of course, states do have the constitutional right to separate from the Union if the Federal Government becomes to abusive- but let's consider the history behind the ratification of the Constitution. Was it not delegates from "States" who gathered together in Philadelphia? What entities ratified the Constitution? Was it not the States? Indeed, the Constitution itself reads, "We the people of the United States. . ." Those who want to advocate the demolition of state sovereignty emphasize the word "people," but most don't know that the word "people" was only inserted because the original draft which read, "We the people of the states of the States of New-Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode-Island and Providence Plantations, Connecticut, etc." was infeasible. The constitution had not been ratified by the states listed and therefore it would be insulting to keep such language. Instead the broader term "United States" was adopted, which proved beneficial since Rhode Island was a holdout.
The reason Lincoln supported the idea of a perpetual national government, was so he could undermine the state's ability to control its own proceedings. The tenth amendment was literally torn to bits as critical State officials in the North were jailed, suspicious local newspapers were disbanded, States were federally created (i.e. West Virginia) by the executive or taken over (i.e. Maryland, Tennessee, Missouri) through martial law, peaceful seceding states were conquered, and the list goes on. The more one looks at the issue the more Lincoln looks a lot like Hitler and Reagan becomes an entirely different figure altogether. So I ask you the question, "Are you a 'Reagan conservative,' or a 'Lincoln Republican'?"