Sunday, November 09, 2008

Mencken on Gettysburg

Freedom Watch has a great daily email that is loaded with insight. Consider this quote:

"The Gettysburg speech was at once the shortest and the most famous oration in American history...the highest emotion reduced to a few poetical phrases. Lincoln himself never even remotely approached it. It is genuinely stupendous. But let us not forget that it is poetry, not logic; beauty, not sense. Think of the argument in it. Put it into the cold words of everyday. The doctrine is simply this: that the Union soldiers who died at Gettysburg sacrificed their lives to the cause of self-determination - that government of the people, by the people, for the people, should not perish from the earth. It is difficult to imagine anything more untrue. The Union soldiers in the battle actually fought against self-determination; it was the Confederates who fought for the right of their people to govern themselves."

~ H. L. Mencken

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3 comments:

Anonymous said...

The Confederacy was battling for States' Rights and the North was battling for an increase in the power of the federal government. I do not agree with Mencken that only the South was battling for self-determination in governance. In those terms, both sides were battling for the right to self-govern, just at different levels.

By this time in the war, the battle was against slavery so it was a battle for the slaves' right to self-determination. It is commonly ignored in the discussion of North versus South that we had enslaved a whole race of people who had all their rights stripped from them and were treated like livestock.

Jim Fedako said...

3:54 --

This we agree: Slavery was an abomination against humanity.

But this makes no sense whatsoever: "I do not agree with Mencken that only the South was battling for self-determination in governance. In those terms, both sides were battling for the right to self-govern, just at different levels."

In essense, you are claiming the my right to self-determination includes my right to lord over you, should I choose to hold that right.

The South was fighting against (inter alia) the tariff imposed at their ports. The North was fighting to keep the tariff in its coffers.

Both sides played federal politics to their advantage, and disadvantage. But they both used the power of the federal government at times.

All that said, Lincoln only included the freeing of certain slaves (he did not outlaw slavery nor declare slavery illegal with the US) as a political manuever to gain support from foreign countries. He had stated throughout his political career that he never sought the ending of slavery.

Lincon was, from his political beginnings, in favor of a strong central government -- he sought a consolidation of power in DC.

Anonymous said...

That was my point. The South was not fighting for individual freedom, they were fighting for the power of their States against the power of the federal government. The North was fighting for the power of the federal government over the power of the State.

How it was sold and remembered is not typically a battle of government power but a battle to right the wrong of slavery. It seems we really like to say we are fighting the good fight for the rights of individuals but we really fight for the power of government.