“Lincoln’s Justification”

During the Civil War, Lincoln said he, “…never had a feeling politically that did not spring from the sentiment embodied in the Declaration of Independence”. Lincoln saw the Declaration of Independence, or more appropriate the Declaration of Liberty, as the underlying basis of American government. The value of liberty inadvertently convened on every principle contrived by the delegates that came to Philadelphia that hot day in May. Lincoln made this statement in direct response to southern succession. He was justifying forcibly returning the Southern states back to the union.

To understand one must establish a conceptual frame of reference. The Declaration of Independence is derived primarily on the social contract theory. The English philosopher, John Locke, believed that people have natural, God-given rights that are inalienable. He then formulated that there is a relationship between the people and the established ruler. The relationship entails that the people agree to be ruled and in return, the ruler provides protection of the peoples’ God-given rights; however, when these rights are violated, the people then have a right to resist or remove rulers who violate this contract. This was the foundation of the Declaration of Independence. England, with its denial of the colonist God-given rights, was in direct violation of this American adopted principle; consequently, England gave justification for the American rebellion that directly followed the Declaration’s approval.

For Lincoln, the Constitution than the social contract between the people and ruler written down and enumerated. From this standpoint, the Constitution then becomes a definition of what God-given rights referred to in the Declaration of Independence are; furthermore, it expresses the limits of the governing body to prevent such violations. Lincoln, basing his political thought on the Declaration of Independence, believed in upholding his part of the social contract, protecting the God-given rights of the people. And it is because of his beliefs in the firm beliefs in the Declaration; Lincoln would never perform an action that violated the Declaration’s principles.

The South was unhappy at their current situation in the union and accordingly seceded from the union. Ironically, the principle that proposed to divide the nation stemmed from the very one that had caused its union. The civil war, similar to that of the revolution, was nothing more than a fight for independence. Because Lincoln formulated every political thought from the Declaration of Independence, the South could not justify secession. It could not secede because there were no liberties or God-given rights being violated by the government like had caused the Revolutionary War. Therefore, Lincoln was justified in his use of force to return the seceded states back to the union.

The Constitution is a written social contract between the government and the people. Accordingly, Lincoln viewed the South’s fight for Southern independence as unconstitutional and unjustified. The ruling body that springs beliefs from the social contract in every decision cannot be in violation of God-given rights. In Lincoln statement, he was doing nothing more than reiterating justification in forcibly returning the Southern states to the Union.

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