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 Posted: Thu Jun 7th, 2007 01:02 pm
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susansweet
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 doncha hate it when you only get a little bit of bacon fat in your collared green, instead of a big ole slab ?
You do have a way with words JDC. 

 

Ole and JDC this is an interesting discussion.  Harry Jaffa has a book called A New Birth of Freedom:  Abraham Lincoln and the Coming of the Civil War .  This was the first book I read as a member of the Drum Barracks reading discusion group .  It took us two months to read it .  He presents Clays version and Lincolns version of the Constitution.  It's been way too long since I read it now to remember all the facts of the book.  Good place to get a start reading though. 

Found this review of the book



 
Robin Friedman (Washington, D.C. United States) - See all my reviews
      In 1958, Professor Jaffa published "Crisis of the House Divided" which remains the definitive study of the Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858. "A New Birth of Freedom", published more that 40 years later, is the promised sequel to the book, and in it Professor Jaffa explores with depth the philosophical and governmental ideas that he believes underlie Lincoln's Presidency, his approach to the issue of slavery, and the Civil War and preservation of the Union.

This book is much broader in scope than Professor Jaffa's earlier book and is more engaged in the philosophical analysis of ideas than with the presentation simply of historical fact. Professor Jaffa asks at the outset what, if anything, differentiates the Southern Secession following the election of Lincoln to the Presidency from the actions of the Colonists in declaring independence from Britain in 1776. In answering this question, Professor Jaffa offers a discussion of the Jefferson-Adams election of 1800, showing how for the first time in history how a democratic society could resolve severe disagreement through the use of ballots in an election rather than through the use of bullets.
Jaffa's history has, I think, these two themes: 1.The Declaration of Independence's statement that "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal" did, indeed, apply for Jefferson and his contemporaries to all people, including the then African-American slaves. 2. The Declaration of Independence itself created a perpetual union of what had been 13 separate colonies of Britian and made the United States one country rather than a confederation of separate states.
Underlying these historical claims is a broader philosophical argument that is even more at the core of the book: Jaffa wants to reject arguments of cultural relativism, historicism, skepticism or other philosophical positions that argue agains the existence of objective moral principles. He finds that Jefferson correctly viewed the language of his declaration "All men are created equal" as expressing a moral truth based upon "the law of Nature and of Nature's God." Jaffa argues for a position based upon Natural Law, in the sense that moral standards are somehow truths independent of human will or of historical circumstances. His Natural Law theory, as I find it, is drawn from an uneasy confluence of the thought of Locke, Aristotle, and the Bible.
The book is less of a chronological historical account than a textual analysis and commentary on the speeches and writings of thinkers and politicians in Civil War America. Professor Jaffa offers a paragraph-by-paragraph analysis of Lincoln's First Inauguaral Address and of his July 4, 1861 message to Congress following the outbreak of hostilites. His approach is less on the pragmatic conduct of the government (although that is discussed as well) than on Lincoln as a thinker expressing what Jaffa sees as a commitment to Natural Law and the the inalienable nature of the Union which Lincoln strove to preserve.
Lincoln's thought is compared and contrasted, in almost as great detail, with speeches by James Buchanan, Alexander Stephens, Jefferson Davis, Stephen Douglas and John Calhoun. These individuals are shown to reject the principles of Natural Law that Professor Jaffa finds articulated in the Declaration of Independence and by Lincoln. Their though is compared rather explicitly by Professor Jaffa to academic modernism and skepticism regarding the objective character of moral principle.
There are fascinating discussions of Shakespeare's histories, Aristotle, and, particularly the "Federalist" and the works of Thomas Jefferson. In contrast to many modern historians, Jaffa sees Lincoln in the Gettysburg address as reaffirming the position of Thomas Jefferson rather than as effecting a change in the nature of the American ideal.
This is a difficult, thoughtful,challenging book. It is more of value for its philosophical outlook and challenge than for any addition to the store of historical knowledge. For those who want to think about the philosophical bases for our institutions, this book is highly worthwhile. It is a different sort of successor, but a worthy successor, to Professor Jaffa's study of the Lincoln-Douglas debates.


 

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