by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
In his 1838 Lyceum Address in Springfield, Illinois, a 28-year-old Abraham Lincoln spoke on “the perpetuation of our political institutions.” The speech was eerily prescient, coming 23 years as it did before then-President Lincoln presided over a nation tragically brought into a grisly Civil War — the ultimate test of that “perpetuation” — by the assault on Fort Sumter.
But Lincoln’s Lyceum Address was not merely prescient insofar as Fort Sumter was concerned. Indeed, much of the speech, with its emphasis on the perils of mobocracy, reads as if it could have been delivered yesterday. As Democratic activists today, much like their 19th-century predecessors, yet again resort to thuggish appeals to mob force, it is incumbent upon the GOP — the “Party of Lincoln” — to heed and utilize its spiritual founder’s lasting wisdom.
In Springfield, Lincoln warned that “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.” Then, carefully connecting rule by mob with declining civic efficacy and democracy itself, Lincoln added: “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.”
Finally, toward the end of his speech, after establishing the dangers of mobocracy, Lincoln made his appeal: “There is no grievance that is a fit object of redress by mob law. In any case that arises, as for instance, the promulgation of abolitionism, one of two positions is necessarily true; that is, the thing is right within itself, and therefore deserves the protection of all law and all good citizens; or, it is wrong, and therefore proper to be prohibited by legal enactments; and in neither case, is the interposition of mob law, either necessary, justifiable, or excusable.”