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Over at The American Conservative, Daniel McCarthy Sides with Roger B. Taney Against Abraham Lincoln

Daniel McCarthy:

How Not to Read the Declaration [of Independence]: John Tsesis… get[s] the relationship between the Declaration and the Constitution very wrong: [Jack Rakove writes:]

Tsesis gives Jefferson’s concise statements an extraordinarily authoritative sweep. The Declaration’s “message of universal freedoms,” he asserts early on, remains “the national manifesto of representative democracy and fundamental rights.”… The Constitution, in this view, remains a partial and less-than-perfect instrument for achieving the ends of the Declaration.… These are powerful moral claims, but as statements of history they are highly problematic…

Rakove himself is torn: the Declaration does not establish the ends of the Constitution, as the likes of “Harry Jaffa, high priest emeritus of the Claremont Straussians” would have it. But Lincoln did expand the Declaration’s rhetoric into a national mission…. Historical honesty requires one narrative, while understanding Lincoln’s mythopoesis, which planted equality at the center of the American tradition, may require another…. Lincoln’s “vision of the Declaration” is so engaging for many Americans — particularly for dreamers and con men in the press, academy, and politics — that it threatens to blot out the Constitution…. Replacing the carefully considered and debated Constitution, in all its modesty, with the passionate idealism of wartime rhetoric is a prescription for crusading in place of governing.

Roger B. Taney would agree with Daniel McCarthy--that was, indeed, the point of his Dred Scott decision.

Abraham Lincoln would disagree--that is, indeed, one of the points of the Civil War.

The Constitution is a mechanism for implementing the principles of the Declaration of Independence as well as they can be implemented in this Sewer of Romulus--a mechanism to "form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity". But McCarthy's and Taney's proposed reading transforms the document signed in Philadelphia in 1789 into the source and parent of all the other atrocities--a covenant with death, and an agreement with hell..

Me? I'm with Harry Jaffa on this one, myself. The pre-Civil War Constitution may indeed have been a dead black-letter document. But Abraham Lincoln raised it up from the tomb…

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