Abraham Lincoln was a smart guy. The problem smart guys have is that they say a lot of memorable things, but for whatever reason people latch on to their most famous lines while allowing the rest to fall by the wayside. With Lincoln, there’s The Gettysburg Address, his “House Divided” speech, The Emancipation Proclamation, and then his Inaugural addresses to pull from. While they are all important, I think his Lecture on Liberty at the Sanitary Fair in Baltimore should be added to the list of “do not forget” speeches.
Lincoln understood in 1864 what so many liberty-loving Americans do not: the definition of the word ‘liberty’ for many Americans is incompatible with the country’s founding.
The world has never had a good definition of the word liberty, and the American people, just now, are much in want of one. We all declare for liberty; but in using the same word we do not all mean the same thing. With some the word liberty may mean for each man to do as he pleases with himself, and the product of his labor; while with others the same word may mean for some men to do as they please with other men, and the product of other men’s labor. Here are two, not only different, but incompatible things, called by the same name — liberty. And it follows that each of the things is, by the respective parties, called by two different and incompatible names — liberty and tyranny.
The shepherd drives the wolf from the sheep’s throat, for which the sheep thanks the shepherd as a liberator, while the wolf denounces him for the same act, as the destroyer of liberty, especially as the sheep was a black one. Plainly the sheep and the wolf are not agreed upon a definition of the word liberty; and precisely the same difference prevails today among us human creatures … all professing to love liberty.” — Abraham Lincoln, April 18, 1864. Lecture on Liberty at the Sanitary Fair in Baltimore.
Are you the shepherd or the wolf? There are hundreds of wolves populating the halls of Congress, and all of them are trying to convince you they are a shepherd.
Editor’s note for regular readers: This passage will also play a role in the book I am writing.
Once upon a time, Americans listened to men like Benjamin Franklin. Today, they get unhealthy doses of Sen. Harry Reid. Given that, I thought I’d share a few excerpts from ‘The Completed Autobiography by Benjamin Franklin,’ which was compiled and edited by Mark Skousen, Ph.D.
I like Archer just as much as the next guy, but Archer is not Ben Franklin. If I had one piece of advice to give to young people it would to turn off the television for a year or two and read the works of the men who helped shape America’s identity at its inception. Learn from the wisdom preserved for us by the best and brightest minds ever turned out by Western Civilization. Once you do that, you will realize who it is within the political class and the entertainment community that wants you to wander through life like a zombie. You will be able to discern who is telling you what you want to hear and who is telling you what you need to hear. You will be able to tell the difference between the man who is snake oil salesman from the man who is like the rattlesnake.
The rattlesnake as a symbol of America: ‘Don’t tread on me’
“I observed on one of the drums belonging to the Marines being raised that there was painted a rattlesnake, with this modest motto under it, “Don’t tread on me.” It occurred to me that the rattlesnake, being found in no other quarter of the world besides America, might therefore be chose to represent her. Having frequently seen the rattlesnake, I ran over in my mind every property by which she was distinguished.
I recollect that her eye excelled in brightness, that of any other animal, and that she has no eye-lids. She may therefore be esteemed an emblem of vigilance. She never begins an attack, not, when once engaged, ever surrenders; she is therefore an emblem of magnanimity and true courage.
As if anxious to prevent all pretensions of quarreling with her, the weapons with which nature has furnished her she conceals in the roof of her mouth, so that, to those who are unacquainted with her, she appears to be a most defenseless animal, and even when those weapons are shown and extended for their defense, they appear weak and contemptible; but their wounds however small, are decisive and fatal. Conscious of this, she never wounds till she has generously given notice, even to her enemy, and cautioned him against the danger of treading on her.
I confess I was wholly at a loss what to make of the rattles until I went back and counted them and found them just thirteen, exactly the number of the colonies united in America; and I recollected too that this was the only part of the snake that increased in numbers; perhaps it might be only fancy, but, I conceited the painter had shown a half formed additional rattle, which, I suppose, might have been intended to represent the province of Canada.
‘Tis curious and amazing to observe how distinct and independent of each other the rattles of this animal are, and yet how firmly they are united together, so as never to be separated but by breaking them to pieces. One of those rattles singly is incapable of producing sound, but the ringing of thirteen together is sufficient to alarm the boldest man living.
The rattlesnake is solitary and associated with her kind only when it is necessary for their preservation. In winter, the warmth of a number together will preserve their lives, while singly they would probably perish.
The power of fascination attributed to her, by a generous construction, may be understood to mean that those who consider the liberty and blessing which America affords, and once come over to her, never afterwards leave her, but spend their lives with her. She strongly resembles America in this, that she is beautiful in youth and her beauty increases with age, “her tongue also is blue and forked as the lightning, and her abode is among impenetrable rocks.”
I communicated my sentiments to a neighbor of mine, who had a surprising readiness at guessing everything which related to public affairs. He instantly declared it as his sentiments that the Congress meant to allude to Lord North’s declaration in the House of Commons that he never would relax his measure until he had brought America to his feet, and to intimate to his Lordship that were she brought to his feet, it would be dangerous treading on her.” — The Completed Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, compiled and edited by Mark Skousen, Ph.D. Pages 112-114.
Rebellion to Tyrants is obedience to God
“Only July 4 I had been appointed to a committee, along with Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, to design the great seal of the United States. I urged the following to be adopted: Moses standing on the shore, and extending his hand over the sea, thereby causing the same to overwhelm Pharaoh who is sitting in an open chariot, a crown on his head and a sword in his hand. Rays from a pillar of fire in the clouds reach to Moses to express that he acts by command of the Deity. Motto: Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God.” — The Completed Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, compiled and edited by Mark Skousen, Ph.D. Page 124.
Take a few moments to really think about America’s founding and what it meant to have men like Franklin at the helm when the fate of the nation hung in the balance. And then, when you’re done…if you really must, go back to the cartoons.
Venezuela has number of problems on its hands lately, one of which had been toilet paper shortages predictably caused by its awesomely awesome socialist revolution. This is fitting, because its economy has been spinning down the drain. Now, Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro has a bright idea for preventing the flush from completing — spin faster!
“I want a Sony plasma television for the house,” said Amanda Lisboa, 34, who waited seven hours outside a Caracas Daka store, USA Today reported. “It’s going to be so cheap!”
“This is for the good of the nation,” Mr. Maduro said in the report. “Leave nothing on the shelves, nothing in the warehouses. … Let nothing remain in stock!”
“This is more like government-sanctioned looting,” said Caracas-based engineer Carlos Rivero, 42, USA Today reported. “What stops them going into pharmacies, supermarkets and shopping malls?”
Looting, indeed. When you go after private property owners — at gunpoint — call them “bourgeois parasites,” and tell the people it’s all being done in the name of “fairness,” lawlessness ultimately will rule the day.
While the country is immersed in Obamacare headlines and a congressional tussle over delays and mandates, the Obama administration is stealthily moving toward unprecedented control over private property under a massive expansion of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Water Act authority.
The proposed rule, obtained by the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee in advance of EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy’s testimony at a Thursday oversight hearing, widely broadens the definition of waterways over which the federal government has jurisdiction to as little as a water ditch in a backyard.
The Clean Water Act redefinition of “waters of the United States” would include all ponds, lakes, wetlands and natural or manmade streams that have any effect on downstream navigable waters — whether on public lands or private property.
The U.S. is going down the same drain, but the difference is that we have people who are trying to slow the process down. It’s just sad that advocates of administrative state are trying to create a bureaucratic vortex of centrifugal force to keep us in the toilet. “Got a ditch in your back yard, kid? Yeah, well, that means it’s the federal government’s yard, now. We’ve been spying on you for quite some time and, quite frankly, we don’t like what you’re up to. So now, you’re up to nothing.”
We know how statists feel about the Founding Fathers—and it’s not warm and fuzzy. In order to hide their animosity towards the Founding Fathers and the magnificent document they produced, they refer to the Constitution as “a living document” (i.e., it means whatever it is they want it to mean.) Only by viewing the Constitution in that light can the statists work around what has been an impediment—and a source of frustration—to their central planning for ages. In order for them to succeed, they need power. In a country of 400 million people—each with their own thoughts and dreams and desires—it requires incredible power to get everyone “in line.” The Constitution stops them in their tracks, which is why its defenders must be labeled “unhinged.”
To see how this works, one needs to look no further than the early roll out of Obamacare. Already, politicians are blaming the insurance industry for the economic fallout of their own policies. Individuals who understand basic economics predicted millions of people would lose their plans, that prices would go up, and that the Affordable Care Act would in fact not lower the underlying costs of the health care industry. Now that the writing is on the wall, even Diane “I think you might be a terrorist some day” Feinstein is trying to find a way to avoid the political fallout.
The world was always complex, but as technology advances the world’s perpetual busybodies will become increasingly frustrated. There are too many moving parts. Billions upon billions of voluntary transactions take place ever day between complex spiritual beings with free will. One camp seeks to control the uncontrollable — which has a historical track record of ending in tyranny — and the other believes that the free market (another imperfect system in an imperfect world) is still the best system ever devised for allowing man to obtain his full potential while pulling countless others out of poverty.
Americans should watch what is happening in Venezuela, because in many ways it is giving us a glimpse into the future if we refuse to change course.
Eric Hoffer’s ‘True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements’ was published in 1951, but its wisdom is more relevant now than ever. Hoffer, the “longshoreman philosopher,” was an intellectual giant; his observations on human nature are essential reading for all Americans. In recent years, the split between the defenders of individual liberty and those who yearn to be lost in the collective has widened. The United States of America is united in name only, and the seeds of sinister things to come have shifted the cultural dirt with germination.
While I will always be grateful for the education I received at the University of Southern California, the bulk of my intellectual growth during my early twenties occurred because I was willing to seek out books my college professors never included on their recommended reading’ lists. I learned a lot by listening to my professors, but I knew that my greatest expansion would happen when I figured out what they didn’t want me to hear.
Eric Hoffer was kept from me by the “intellectuals” who were paid (handsomely) to introduce me to the best and brightest minds of human history. Don’t let his work be kept from you:
People whose lives are barren and insecure seem to show a greater willingness to obey than people who are self sufficient and self-confident. To the frustrated, freedom from responsibility is more attractive than freedom from restraint. They are eager to barter their independence for relief from the burdens of willing, deciding and being responsible for inevitable failure. They willingly abdicate the directing of their lives to those who want to plan, command and shoulder all responsibility. Moreover, submission by all to a supreme leader is an approach to their ideal of equality. …
The frustrated are also likely to be the most steadfast followers. It is remarkable, that, in a co-operative effort, the least self-reliant are the least likely to be discouraged by defeat. For they join others in a common undertaking not so much to ensure the success of a cherished project as to avoid an individual shouldering of blame in case of failure. When the common undertaking fails, they are still spared the one thing they fear most, namely, the showing up of their individual shortcomings. Their faith remains unimpaired and they are eager to follow in a new attempt.
The frustrated follow a leader less because of their faith that he is leading them to a promised land than because of their immediate feeling that he is leading them away from their unwanted selves. Surrender to a leader is not a means to an end but a fulfillment. Whither they are led is of secondary importance. (Eric Hoffer, The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements. 118-119.)
Sounds familiar? If not, you haven’t been paying attention to the American political landscape since 2008. The election (and re-election) of the Marshall Applewhite of modern American politics — and the blithe acceptance of policies anathema to the long-term health of a free nation — have been harbingers of things to come.
Don’t believe me? Ask yourself how it’s possible for a modern Paul Revere like Mark Dice was able to get Californians to willingly sign a petition to support an “Orwellian police state” with “Nazi Germany” as its model. Any way you slice it, the “Orwellian Police State” video is a sad commentary on the state of union. A certain percentage of the population will always be clueless, but there are some encounters that should receive near-universal revulsion. A request to sign up for a “police state” is one of them.
The stage is set for America to change drastically overnight. The room is filled with the fumes of tyranny, and all that is required for destruction and pain on an unprecedented scale is a spark. Perhaps an economic crash somewhere around the $25 trillion debt mark? Iran officially going nuclear? A large-scale terror attack on American soil? Take your pick.
Perhaps the final piece of the puzzle will fall into place when Americans, now content to bludgeon each other with violent rhetoric, tire of blaming political rivals and turn their attention to external boogeymen.
The Americans are poor haters in international affairs because of their innate feeling of superiority over all foreigners. An American’s hatred for a fellow American … is far more virulent than any antipathy he can work up against foreigners. … Should Americans begin to hate foreigners whole-heartedly, it will be an indication that they have lost confidence in their own way of life.” (Eric Hoffer, The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements. 96)
If you are concerned about the nation, I suggest reading ‘True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements.’ While most institutions of higher learning these days are not interested in introducing you to men like Eric Hoffer, plenty of bloggers are happy to do so. Search them out, read their work, and together we might be able to pass on a freer society to future generations of Americans.