In 1860, just as the presidency was being transferred from President Buchanan to a tall skinny guy named Abraham Lincoln, a band of Southern States had just sent notice of their secession from the Union. The new president was now faced with an arduous dilemma. He needed to decide if these acts violated “the authority of the United States”, and were they either “insurrectionary or revolutionary” in nature. (Lincoln’s words)
Because Lincoln believed the States retained the right of secession, if this were indeed a revolution, then the South would be exercising a legitimate Right. After all, the United States had been founded on the principle of secession and it was commonly agreed that, because States had voluntarily formed the Union, they could also voluntarily leave it. However, Lincoln believed that a People could legitimately overthrow their government only when that government had deprived its people of their inalienable rights, as stated in the Declaration of Independence.
If this were NOT a revolution, then these states would simply be committing insurrection against the government in order to break the law, so they could get their way and keep their slaves.
On one hand, civil war! On the other hand, a national vote to determine if slavery should be legalized. Heavy stuff, indeed.
Lincoln devised a beautiful logic to navigate his decision-making process. The South was seeking to setup their own country to establish the right to hold people as property. They were claiming that the government was denying them the inalienable right to hold people as property. But is slave owning really an inalienable right?
To answer this question, Lincoln looked to the Declaration of Independence, the founding document of this country and torchbearer of our core moral principles; namely that all men have an inalienable right to their own freedom. Lincoln reasoned that there could be no natural, moral right to hold another human being as property as this would violate the inalienable rights of the person being owned.
Once Lincoln realized this argument, he knew he had solved his dilemma, for it was at that point that he realized that the Constitution is a merely a process tool to manifest the utopia described in the Declaration. In other words, the Constitution merely describes a limited government whose sole purpose is to protect and defend individual liberty.
To avoid a war and diffuse tensions, some Northerners were advocating a national vote to decide the issue. But Lincoln could not permit any avenue to amend the Constitution to legalize slavery, because such a law would be in direct opposition to the moral principles of the Declaration.
This meant that war would most certainly ensue and people would most certainly die. But compared to what was at stake Lincoln was willing to push forward on principle.
With this realization, it became clear to Lincoln that the Southerners were seeking merely to change the US Constitution so that they could subvert the very principal on which this nation was founded: to protect individual liberty! Lincoln shuddered at the thought of a Constitutional Government created to defend Individual Liberties which would now have laws on the books depriving another person of their individual liberties!
The federal government can not take from one person and give to another! This would not stand! It meant war!
Imagine yourself a resident of a Northern state. You may have no particular opinion on slavery. Would you be willing to put your life, your family’s life, and everything you owned at risk in order to fight for the liberty of some slave that you don’t even know who lives in some far away land?
Well, that’s exactly what the people of the North did! They pledged their lives, fortunes and Sacred Honor to protect Liberty For All, and keep the Union.
Going to war is not a light decision!
On the other hand, consider how misguided you’d have to be to side for the Southern cause. After all, the Confederacy was fighting merely to retain the legal right to own other people.
That’s pretty lame if you ask me.
When we look back at this tumultuous episode in US history, I think most of us will agree that, even though this was a horrendous event, the Federal Government did the right thing. Good Moral Principles prevailed and this victory solidified the ideals espoused by our Founders in the Declaration of Independence as a permanent fixture in the code which governs the affairs of men.
In many ways, I think this country is in a similar situation now with Obamacare as it was in 1861. On one hand, we have half the country committed to individual freedom and a reasonable adherence to Constitutional law, while the other half of the country has turned its back on the Constitution, and seems content to tread on the individual liberties of some people in order to gain some security for other people. One half of the country seems to believe that individuals should take responsibility for themselves, while the other half thinks that the Federal Government should take care of them.
Who is right?
Sometimes I wonder, what would Abraham Lincoln do?
Frankly, I think he would begin by examining the healthcare market as a service provided by doctors. I think he would ask some questions: Does the collective have the right to force doctors into providing free service? Does the collective have the right to determine the quantity of doctors’ compensation? The answers seems to be that both assumptions infringe on the doctor’s individual liberties. Even so, let’s assume that the Federal Government somehow tackles that issue and finds a way to fairly employ the doctors… In that case, how is the government going to pay these doctors?
The government has no money of its own; it can only transfer wealth from one party to another (minus its own fees, of course!)
So now we have a situation whereby government determines the compensation provided to doctors AND obtains money to cover the liabilities of some citizens by seizing it from the assets of other citizens.
In the same way that Lincoln was able to label the Southerner’s claimed right to own slaves as a “false” right, we can also label “false” this claimed right to healthcare, for the basic fact is: it treads upon the real rights of the person whose assets are being forcibly seized to pay for another person’s medical bills, plus the government’s slice of the pie, of course.
As Abraham Lincoln asked, when is a right not a right? The answer, of course, is “when it treads upon another’s inalienable rights.”
How can access to healthcare be a right when, in order to provide it, the government must tread upon the rights of others? The answer is simple. Just as it is not a right to own a man because doing so would tread upon that man’s rights, it is also not a right to take a man’s wealth to pay for another man’s doctor.
Now, with everyone’s blood set a-boiling, let’s take a deep breath and walk away from that entire argument about civil rights for a moment.
There is also a completely separate issue that we should consider. By the way, can you step over here a little closer? I can barely see you around this giant elephant in the room. The issue I am joking about is precisely that the Federal Government was not granted any powers to govern a healthcare system! This dilemma becomes especially apparent when you consider that the United States government is a limited government. In other words, it has no powers outside the Constitution and it is specifically prohibited from granting itself any additional powers, per the 10th Amendment. Again, the Federal Government has NO POWERS outside what is specifically granted in the Constitution. All other functions of government are left to the States, or to the People themselves.
“The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite.”
“The Constitution is not an instrument for the government to restrain the people; it is an instrument for the people to restrain the government – lest it come to dominate our lives and interests.”
In our current Obamacare dilemma, half of the People believe that the Federal Government should establish by force a national health care system, even though such a system would trample on the civil liberties of the other half of the People. This contradicts the moral principles espoused by the Declaration of Independence and is in direct violation to the moral principles of the country.
Furthermore, these same people turn their back on the Constitution because a national health care system is outside the powers granted to the federal government in the Constitution. A national health care system would be a blatant violation of the Constitution and therefore illegal.
When Abraham Lincoln was faced with the dilemma to take this country to war over slavery, I’m sure he deliberated long and hard. However, once it appeared, the answer rang loud and clear as a bell: the answer to many civil rights issues is embedded in the Declaration of Independence.
“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”
– A. Lincoln, preamble of the Gettysburg Address.
Not only do we have a Constitution which places the Federal Government in a cage, but ALSO our Constitution is descended from a moral principal, namely that we are liberal society of free individuals, where an individual’s inalienable rights are paramount, and that Government is prohibited from trampling upon those Rights.
Strong guiding principles helped Abraham Lincoln make the RIGHT DECISION. Yet, when we permit violations of our Constitution to go unpunished, and we allow politicians to trash the moral, guiding principles espoused in the Declaration, and chip away at our individual liberties, we make it harder and harder for future Americans to make the RIGHT DECISION.
I have faith that, at some point, the great people of this country will wake up and realize what a gift we have been given, and I hope that, with that realization, there will come a desire to defend that gift.