“Blowing Out The Moral Lights”
Henry Clay once said of a class of men who would repress all tendencies to liberty and ultimate emancipation, that they must, if they would do this, go back to the era of our Independence, and muzzle the cannon which thunders its annual joyous return; they must blow out the moral lights around us; they must penetrate the human soul, and eradicate there the love of liberty; and then and not till then, could they perpetuate slavery in this country!
The Lincoln-Douglas Debates 1st Debate1
Lincoln went on to say of Douglas:
When he invites any people willing to have slavery, to establish it, he is blowing out the moral lights around us. When he says he “cares not whether slavery is voted down or voted up,”—that it is a sacred right of self government—he is in my judgment penetrating the human soul and eradicating the light of reason and the love of liberty in this American people.
I came back today to search for the above quote from the Lincoln-Douglas debates because I knew I had used it in an old post. I searched for it because of Herman Cain’s interview. I hadn’t intended to write a post here, but after seeing bc3b’s post and some of the comments, I wanted to bring back once more the moral clarity of Abraham Lincoln.
Lincoln has been on my mind because last week at a pastors’ blog I read, I saw a reference to an old article from The Atlantic written in 1975 by George McKenna. In Actually arguing the point! David and Tim Bayly write:
…Lincoln was able to legislate against slavery precisely because he first argued brilliantly against it.
This was also the pattern of Wilberforce’s successful decades-long fight against slavery in England…2
I was intrigued because the title of the McKenna’s article was, On Abortion: A Lincolnian Position. Here are some of McKenna’s words (emphasis added):
Only one other institution in this country has been treated so evasively, and that is the institution that was nurtured and protected by the government during the first eighty-seven years of our nation’s existence: the institution of slavery….
[Stephen] Douglas’s appeal was not to the fiery pro-slavery minorities in the South, who insisted that slavery was morally right, but to the vast majority in the North, who simply felt uncomfortable talking about the subject. He assured them that they didn’t have to—that they could avoid the subject altogether by leaving it to the democratic process. Let the people decide: if they “want slavery, they shall have it; if they prohibit slavery, it shall be prohibited.” But what about the rights of slaves? That, Douglas said, was one of those issues that should be left to moralists and theologians. It did not belong in the political or legal realm….
…Lincoln kept returning to the question of the humanity of slaves, the question that Douglas ruled out of bounds as essentially “religious.” Everywhere, Lincoln said, even in the South, people knew that slaves were human beings. If southerners really believed that slaves were not human, why did they join in banning the international slave trade, making it a capital offense? And if dealing in human flesh was no different from dealing in hogs or cattle, why was the slave-dealer regarded with revulsion throughout the South?3
Here’s the kicker from McKenna:
Lincoln’s depiction of slavery as a moral cancer became the central theme of his speeches during the rest of the 1850s. It was the warning he meant to convey in his “House Divided” speech, in his seven debates with Douglas in 1858, and in the series of speeches that culminated in the 1860 presidential campaign. In all these he continually reminded his audience that the theme of choice without reference to the object of choice was morally empty.3
When that human sperm fertilizes that human egg, a new human being is created. This is a fact of biology. Abortion kills a human being. Abortion is a moral decision—not a “sensitive” one and not a “social one”.
Having quoted a Republican, here is a Democrat:
…the moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; and those who are in the shadows of life—the sick, the needy, and the handicapped.
Hubert H. Humphrey
November 4, 1977.4
I remain convinced that Obama was elected because the moral lights are flickering in our nation. One of my pastors once said, “God has morally underwritten the universe.” Only a society callous to the issues of life and death could elect a man like Barack Obama. Only a society given over to self-interest could elect a Congress peopled with men and women given over to self-interests and party interests over the good interests of a nation. Only a society given over to doing whatever was right in their own eyes could foster rampant corruption and thirst for power within its relationships and structures. Only a society given over to seeking out and valuing ease and perfection could lose the meaning of the sacrifice of love and compassion. A society that fails to defend the unborn child is a society that is destroying itself.
And, of course, in one of my posts let me close with a quote from one of our Founding Fathers:
Statesmen my dear Sir, may plan and speculate for Liberty, but it is Religion and Morality alone, which can establish the Principles upon which Freedom can securely stand….The only foundation of a free Constitution, is pure Virtue, and if this cannot be inspired into our People, in a great Measure, than they have it now, They may change their Rulers, and the forms of Government, but they will not obtain a lasting Liberty.
1776 — letter to Zabdiel Adams5
Whomever you support, don’t deceive yourself. There are consequences not only to those who blow out the moral lights, but to those who stand in that wind.
1The Lincoln-Douglas Debates 1st Debate: Abraham Lincoln, Stephen A. Douglas; August 21, 1858; Ottawa, Illinois, TeachingAmericanHistory.org
2David and Tim Bayly, “Actually arguing the point!,” The Bayly Blog: Out of our minds too….
3George McKenna, “On Abortion: A Lincolnian Position,” The Atlantic, September 1975.
4Hubert H. Humphrey in his speech at the dedication of the Hubert H. Humphrey building in Washington, DC, on November 4, 1977, via Google Answers.
5John Adams, Founders Quote Database, The Patriot Post.