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The Inaugural.

Our readers have of course read and formed their opinions of the Inaugural Address of President Lincoln, and we propose to say but few words upon one or two points.

The general tone, principles and suggestions of the message must meet the hearty commendation of every Republican, and every friend and well-wisher of the Federal Constitution. Extreme political men whose points converge to the South, and who adopt three-fourths of Daniel Webster's creed, and "know no North, no East, no West," while they reject the other fourth and do know of South: these men will be dissatisfied and find fault, complaining of inability to understand the address! smelling after some secret as a police officer looks for a secret hole in a thief's trunk ; and grumbling most of all because there is so little in the address, either in matter or spirit, which a decent man can find fault with; such men will find fault with it. They would if it had been written by an inspired prophet. It matters not with them what the address is: it is enough that it came from President Lincoln, and that he came from the republican party. They have been defeated; and hardly anything requires more philosophy or grace even, than for a whipped man to admit anything to be good which his whipper does. Patriotism may be strong, but human rancor is often its conqueror; and it would not be very uncharitable to suppose that there are some among our defeated politicians whose feelings of revenge for their defeat overpower their desire for the best welfare of their country and of the human race. Such men will find fault, pick flaws, suspect, intimate secret evil purposes, invent defamatory stories, oppose, embarrass, multiply obstacles; and do all they can to produce difficulty and confusion inextricable, that they may have the ecstatic joy of crying out--"There! I told you so."-- There are a few such, we suppose, scattered about, and they will make what ado they can; but the great body of the people, who are accustomed to look with a single eye in the public good, will approve every word of the address.

There is one point which is important, and yet has escaped general notice, in newspaper comments. It is that relating to the Supreme Court. He does not admit that court to be as authoritative as many persons claim it to be. Its decisions should be confined in their operation to the specific cases in which they are delivered, and not is expanded into universal law controlling Congress, the President, the Departments, and the country. Then, if one decision is wrong, a subsequent decision may be right; while, on the principle that every decision has the force of universal law, there can be no setting right a wrong decision. This is undoubtedly the true doctrine on this subject. It is true that there should if possible be some consistency in decisions of the courts; but if reverence for consistency is to be supreme, then the court will soon become a power too tyrannical to be borne, and will be a nuisance rather than a blessing. Even with the qualified restraint claimed by the President, there is room for gross abuse of power, as our own history manifests. For, in spite of the doctrine of "precedents," our court, while as stiff as bristles to adhere to every decision ever made in behalf of the slaveholding interests, has been as ductile and plastic as soft wax, in reference to these which have been adverse to that interest, and several important decisions of the court made years ago in favor of liberty, have of late years been overruled, and the dogmas of slavery have been substituted for the principles of freedom. However, there is hope for a change the other way now. If the people are true to themselves and to freedom, and will sustain a free court, and provide freedom-loving judges, the principle of our jurisprudence will soon be re-confirmed to those of constitutional liberty, and the three departments of government will move on harmoniously together in working out the problem of man's self-government--the problem whether it is better for men to govern themselves, or to be governed by others; in short, whether liberty is more conducive to human happiness, than despotism.

The good work of renovating the supreme court will begin sooner than could reasonably have been expected, as there are two vacancies now which will be filled by Mr. Lincoln. As the court is almost a unit on slavery pretentions, we must have a chance to do what is necessary for a full emancipation of that court from the disgraceful thraldom in which it has of late been held.

But the words of warning from the new President will have a bracing influence for freedom on that bench; and we doubt if, today, such a decision as that the Dred Scott case could be wrung from the court, if that decision had not been made. In fact, that decision would not have been made if Fremont had been elected. Judges are men, and moved as other men are. Four years ago if seemed safe to give slavery a seven-leagued boot and let it stride right through the constitution like an elephant through a garden plot, for the people had voted for the supremacy of slavery, and what should judges do but follow the people? We have a different result now, and the court will feel it, and but for the awkwardness of turning on their own decisions, would render much less offensive and insolent decisions than they did then. As fast as those in awkward positions now can be purged from the bench and others of other blood and other feelings can be substituted, it is to be hoped it will be done--- Meantime the present judges, feeling the tonic influence of northern air, will be less ready and anxious to crawl before the imperious power they have so servilely obeyed; and the manly tones of the Presidential voice on this subject, will have no small influence in infusing something of a more liberal sentiment and bearing upon, even the present wearers of the national ermine. Thanks to President Lincoln for not forgetting this important instrumentally in the cause of freedom if rightly used--or of oppression if abused.

(c) Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association, Deerfield MA. All rights reserved.
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The election of Abraham Lincoln as president set off a chain of events that would end badly. Almost immediately agitators in the south began speaking of secession and in December, 1860, South Carolina had voted to secede from the Union. By February seven southern states had left and on February 4, 1861 voted to form the Confederate States of America. But four crucial states - Virginia, Tennessee, Arkansas, and North Carolina - still had not left the union, along with the slaveholding states bordering the north, Maryland, Kentucky, and Missouri. Without them the new Confederate republic would not have been viable. Abraham Lincoln directed his First Inaugural Address to them in particular: "We must not be enemies," he said, the "passion" felt during the election "must not break our bonds of affection." Look, he appealed, to the "better angels of our nature" to resolve the crisis.
The question of the Supreme Court addressed here had to do with several rulings it made in the 1850s, particularly that on the Dred Scott Case (1857). In this ruling Chief Justice Roger Taney, a slaveholder from Maryland, argued that "Negroes of African descent," regardless of whether they were slaves or not, could not be citizens of the United States; further, they "had no rights the white man should respect." This ruling was widely ignored but its tone and argument turned northern public opinion against the court.

 

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"The Inaugural"

publisher   Greenfield Gazette and Courier
date   Mar 11, 1861
location   Greenfield, Massachusetts
width   2.5"
height   20.0"
process/materials   printed paper, ink with manuscript
item type   Periodicals/Newspaper
accession #   #L02.118


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See Also...

"Home Affairs"- 100 Gun Salute to Lincoln

"Visit to President Lincoln by the Massachusetts Delegation"

"Union and Liberty"

Doll "Joel Ellis"


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