Posted by: Harold Knight | 02/12/2012

ABRAHAM LINCOLN. Not simply one of the crowd on “Presidents’ Day.”

From the pen of the first Republican President, worth taking the time to read (emphases mine):

“Government is a combination of the people of a country to effect certain objects by joint effort. The best framed and best administered governments are necessarily expensive; while by errors in frame and administration most of them are more onerous than they need be, and some of the very oppressive. Why, then, should we have government? Why not each individual take to himself the whole fruit of his labor, without having any of it taxed away in services, corn, or money? Why not take just as much land as he can cultivate with his own hands, without buying it of any one?

The legitimate object of government is “to do for the people what needs to be done, but which they can not, by individual effort, do at all, or do so well, for themselves.” There are many such things–some of them exist independently of the injustice in the world. Making and maintaining roads, bridges, and the like; PROVIDING FOR THE HELPLESS YOUNG AND AFFLICTED; COMMON SCHOOLS; and disposing of deceased men’s property, are instances.

But a far larger class of objects springs from the injustice of men. If one people will make war upon another, it is a necessity with that other to unite and cooperate for defense. Hence, the military department. IF SOME MEN WILL kill, or beat, or constrain others, OR DESPOIL [OTHERS] OF PROPERTY BY FORCE, FRAUD, OR NONCOMPLIANCE WITH CONTRACTS, it is a common object with peaceful and just men to prevent it. Hence the criminal and civil departments.”

Lincoln, Abraham. “Fragment on Government,” 1854. Lincoln, Speeches and Writings, 1832-1858. Ed. Don E. Fehrenbacher. New York: The Library of America, 1989.

 

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