On February 27, 1860, Abraham Lincoln gave his famed Cooper Union speech that launched his presidential bid. While the speech dealt primarily with the issue of slavery in the territories, it also dealt with the issue of divisiveness in the government. Much of what Lincoln had to say is eerily reminiscent of our situation today with the positions of both parties on the government shutdown. Consider, for example, these two passages from Lincoln’s Cooper Union speech.
In addressing the Southerners directly, Lincoln said,
Your purpose, then, plainly stated, is that you will destroy the Government, unless you be allowed to construe and enforce the Constitution as you please, on all points in dispute between you and us. You will rule or ruin in all events.
Under all these circumstances, do you really feel yourselves justified to break up this Government unless such a court decision as yours is, shall be at once submitted to as a conclusive and final rule of political action? But you will not abide the election of a Republican president! In that supposed event, you say, you will destroy the Union; and then, you say, the great crime of having destroyed it will be upon us! That is cool. A highwayman holds a pistol to my ear, and mutters through his teeth, "Stand and deliver, or I shall kill you, and then you will be a murderer!"
To be sure, what the robber demanded of me—my money—was my own; and I had a clear right to keep it; but it was no more my own than my vote is my own; and the threat of death to me, to extort my money, and the threat of destruction to the Union, to extort my vote, can scarcely be distinguished in principle.
And, in addressing his colleagues in the Republican Party, Lincoln said,
A few words now to Republicans. It is exceedingly desirable that all parts of this great Confederacy shall be at peace, and in harmony, one with another. Let us Republicans do our part to have it so. Even though much provoked, let us do nothing through passion and ill temper. Even though the southern people will not so much as listen to us, let us calmly consider their demands, and yield to them if, in our deliberate view of our duty, we possibly can. Judging by all they say and do, and by the subject and nature of their controversy with us, let us determine, if we can, what will satisfy them.
Obviously, the issues today are different (it’s not slavery in the territories, but Obama Care) and the roles are different (substitute Democrats for Republicans, which in itself is interesting), but the sentiment certainly applies and the parallels are striking. Let’s just hope it doesn’t take another civil war to resolve this impasse.