Compromise, But Not on Human Rights, Not on the Constitution

A very interesting historical find, with urgent modern relevance:

On Dec. 11, 1860, with South Carolina’s secession looming, President-elect Abraham Lincoln wrote a letter to Illinois Rep. William Kellogg, a fellow Republican. Publicly, Lincoln was keeping silent on the emerging crisis. But his letter was designed to achieve one objective: to sabotage a sectional compromise to save the Union.

Marked “Private & confidential,” the letter instructed Kellogg to “entertain no proposition for a compromise in regard to the extension of slavery. The instant you do, they have us under again; all our labor is lost, and sooner or later must be done over. … Have none of it. The tug has to come & better now than later.”

A political cartoon from late 1860 depicts the Crittenden Compromise as a cure for Republican intransigence on slavery.Library of CongressA political cartoon from late 1860 depicts the Crittenden Compromise as a cure for Republican intransigence on slavery.

Lincoln was not speaking abstractly. The Capitol was buzzing with talk of a Union-saving deal. Indeed, on Dec. 18, Sen. John J. Crittenden of Kentucky proposed a plan to preserve the Union through a series of actions to protect the institution of slavery. In other words, at the precise moment that a compromise to rescue the country seemed at hand, the incoming president worked aggressively to block it. Lincoln, whom historians often portray as being more interested in saving the Union than opposing slavery, chose to do the opposite.

There are genuine and compelling arguments to be made about Taxes, School Uniforms, and Arts Funding, by which any number of happy and unhappy compromises can be made by honest people. When you start dealing in Execution by Executive Order, Warrantless Wiretapping, and State Censorship of News is when the Genuinely Principled stand up.


About dilaceratus

Encaustic Artist
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