The Democrats, Not the "Party of Lincoln," are the Best Hope to Protect Abe's LegacyRoundup
tags: Abraham Lincoln, political history, democracy, Democratic Party
Eli Merritt is a doctor and political historian who writes a newsletter on Substack called American Commonwealth.
This essay is the first in a series entitled “Lessons of Lincoln for Democrats Today” that tells the story of how Lincoln managed the violent constitutional crisis of the Union from February of 1861 until the end of the Civil War.
By all appearances, the Republican Party has sunk to a low of corruption that puts it beyond redemption for the foreseeable future. That means the Democratic Party alone is left to keep alive the flame of liberty that has endured in the United States since 1776.
It’s an awesome burden of responsibility that will require Democrats to sustain Americans’ faith in the Constitution, the rule of law, and ethical leadership through trials of lawlessness and violence not witnessed in the United States, quite possibly, since the Civil War.
I wonder where the party will find the strength. What are the principles that will guide Democrats as they embark upon this historic project to save the American experiment from collapsing into authoritarianism?
Ironically, one of the brightest places for Democrats to look for moral courage and strategy is February 11, 1861, the day Abraham Lincoln boarded a train headed for Washington, D.C., to be inaugurated as the first president representing the Republican Party. Lincoln, Republican exemplar of civic virtue and constitutionalism, has more to teach Democrats today about how to rescue the Union from Republican corruption and anarchy than any other historical figure I know of.
By that February, the president-elect had already committed himself heart and soul to standing by the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Missouri Compromise, opposing with vigor the Kansas-Nebraska Act that opened those two territories to the prospect of slavery. Four and a half years earlier, he had attended the first national convention of the Republican Party in Philadelphia, where he endorsed the bedrock principles of the new party’s platform. Thereafter, Lincoln never veered from them.
In the preamble of this first formal statement of Republican values, ratified on June 18, 1856, Lincoln and the other delegates declared to the world their opposition “to the extension of Slavery into Free Territory.” The expansion of slavery, they said, was grossly incompatible with the vision set out for the United States by the founders of the nation, who intended for the immoral institution to die a natural death in the trans-Appalachian West and beyond.
The convention adopted two resolutions in particular that speak to the ideals and values that Democrats should hold tight to today in order to find calm and confidence in the battles ahead between truth and lies.