Hooray, Hooray, the First of May

marx lincoln red deutschEditor’s Note: Ken Masugi, a veteran of this site, will be guest blogging here for the month of May.

As Friedrich Hayek dedicated The Road to Serfdom (1944) to “the socialists of all parties,” we might use May 1 to declare a counter-revolution of Marxist materialist science. For this purpose Hayek’s works are an invaluable resource. But an even more fitting response to international socialism was given by a figure Marx actually admired and wrote about—Abraham Lincoln.

Consider this internationalist sentiment by the author of the Gettysburg Address, “The strongest bond of human sympathy, outside of the family relation, should be one uniting all working people, of all nations, and tongues, and kindreds.” Does this prove Lincoln an arch-collectivist, as this writer for The Nation hopes?  Hardly. Note first Lincoln’s political purpose in addressing this labor group and then consider why he made an exception of the family.

In his March 21, 1864 message to the New York Workingmen’s Democratic Republican Association, Lincoln was rallying support for the war. The 2002 movie Gangs of New York reflects the hostility in New York City against the Union, culminating in July, 1863 anti-draft riots that resulted in scores dead, including many blacks. But for Lincoln “the existing rebellion, means more, and tends to more, than the perpetuation of African Slavery—that it is, in fact, a war upon the rights of all working people.”

As Lincoln had put it seven years before in his speech attacking the Supreme Court’s opinion in the Dred Scott case, “In some respects [a black woman] certainly is not my equal; but in her natural right to eat the bread she earns with her own hands without asking leave of any one else, she is my equal, and the equal of all others.”  The natural right she has eclipses any other sentiments we may feel.

Lincoln concludes that working people must respect the property of all. “None are so deeply interested to resist the present rebellion as the working people. Let them beware of prejudice, working division and hostility among themselves. The most notable feature of a disturbance in your city last summer, was the hanging of some working people by other working people. It should never be so.” The most famous speech of Lincoln’s early career emphasized the reverence for the law against lawless men.

It is in this context that he declares that “The strongest bond of human sympathy, outside of the family relation, should be one uniting all working people, of all nations, and tongues, and kindreds.”  Subsequently, the workingmen should not join the socialist movement or engage in class warfare. They should in fact be the fiercest protectors of property rights.[i]

Nor should this lead to a war upon property, or the owners of property. Property is the fruit of labor —property is desirable — — is a positive good in the world. That some should be rich, shows that others may become rich, and hence is just encouragement to industry and enterprize. Let not him who is houseless pull down the house of another; but let him labor diligently and build one for himself, thus by example assuring that his own shall be safe from violence when built.

Finally, in addition to the focus on the dignity of labor, Lincoln rests the distinction here between him and the spreading socialist movement on “the family relation.” The Communist Manifesto  is noteworthy not only for advocating a particular form of socialism or communism, based on a new view of world-history and the abolition of private (bourgeois) property but also on the abolition (Aufhebung) of the (bourgeois) family.

It is not in the bourgeois distortion of the world but rather in human nature that private property and the family are linked, as we see from both Plato’s Republic and Aristotle’s Politics. Neither the family nor private property can exist without each other. That is why communism ancient and modern required that men surrender their hold over what is closest to them, in property or flesh and blood. That both natural goods were denied to slaves made the war a moral necessity, a consequence of the belief that “All men are created equal.”

[i] And he reiterated this in his December, 1861 Annual Message to Congress, which he alluded to in his New York Workingmen’s message:

Again, as has already been said, there is not of necessity any such thing as the free hired laborer being fixed to that condition for life. Many independent men everywhere in these States a few years back in their lives were hired laborers. The prudent, penniless beginner in the world labors for wages awhile, saves a surplus with which to buy tools or land for himself, then labors on his own account another while, and at length hires another new beginner to help him. This is the just and generous and prosperous system which opens the way to all, gives hope to all, and consequent energy and progress and improvement of condition to all. No men living are more worthy to be trusted than those who toil up from poverty; none less inclined to take or touch aught which they have not honestly earned. Let them beware of surrendering a political power which they already possess, and which if surrendered will surely be used to close the door of advancement against such as they and to fix new disabilities and burdens upon them till all of liberty shall be lost.

Ken Masugi

Ken Masugi is a Senior Fellow of the Claremont Institute. He teaches in graduate programs in political science for Johns Hopkins University and for the Ashbrook Center of Ashland University. He has edited Interpreting Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, co-edited The Progressive Revolution in Politics and Political Science, and co-authored and co-edited several other books on American politics and political thought. In addition, he has worked ten years in the federal government as a speechwriter and on policy issues, at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, where he was a special assistant to Chairman Clarence Thomas, and the Departments of Justice and Labor.

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  1. libertarian jerry says

    Abraham Lincoln,with his policies,was the beginning of the end of the American Republic. Lincoln,similar to Girabaldi in Italy and Bismark in Germany, was the great government centralizer. This is why Marx admired and corresponded with Lincoln. Marx realized that before a nation could be collectivized it must be first unified and its government centralized. If one looks objectively at American History and Lincoln’s role in that history there can be no doubt that Lincoln was the American Lenin.

    • Ken MasugiKen Masugi says

      Hi, Jerry, I usually agree with your comments. Given your criteria, wouldn’t Washington be America’s Lenin, and Lincoln our Stalin? Harry Jaffa once compared Lenin and Jefferson, not because they wanted centralized power, but because they both believed in theory that politics might eventually become unnecessary, though in practice they behaved rather differently…..

  2. Colleen Sheehan says

    Thank you for this thoughtful essay, Ken. When you quote Lincoln saying that “property is the fruit of labor —property is desirable — — is a positive good in the world,” one cannot help but think that Lincoln is in some way responding to John C. Calhoun and his followers, who attempted to change the minds of Americans from believing that slavery was a necessary evil to the notion that it was a positive good. Can you elaborate more on why Lincoln might have used that phrase in the context of the speech on property rights that you quote? Thanks much.

  3. libertarian jerry says

    Hello Ken, Your point is well taken and I can see your logic. However,looking back at history, I find that before Lincoln America was a confederation of states where the proper role and function of the Federal Government was limited and that most of the power in America,at least when it came to domestic issues,was centered within the states. During Washington’s time the Federal Government was put,more or less,into a straightjacket. After Washington was gone the Federal Government, with the aiding and abetting of John Marshall,Henry Clay and others,grew in power to the point where a confederation of southern states rebelled. Looking back on history and using your criteria, I would consider the Federalists as represented by Alexander Hamilton, as possibly the real Lenins of American history. The point is debatable. However if you look at American history in retrospect the point in time between what the Federal Government represented before Lincoln and after Lincoln it is clear to see. Especially with the changing of the Constitution to include the 14th Amendment. Thus I see the Lincoln Presidency, including legislation immediately after his death, as a watershed period in American History in that it sent America down the path to what we have become today. A democratic fascist society with a large powerful central government. In other words,Lincoln was to America what Lenin was to Russia. The defacto centralizer.

  4. Ken MasugiKen Masugi says

    Estimable James Madison and founding scholar Colleen: Lincoln’s letter reiterates the themes of Lincoln’s career by relating the argument for free labor to the anti-slavery cause. Both of course required the Union to succeed. It may well be, now that I think of it, provoked by your note, that Lincoln had in mind something like Madison’s definition of property–one has property in his rights as one has rights in his property. It being the Spring of 1864, Lincoln also had his eye on the labor vote in the fall elections.

  5. Ken MasugiKen Masugi says

    Jerry–thanks for those comments. This is the difficulty with your narrative: It begins by assuming that Washington and Hamilton were of fundamentally different minds on key questions. See the Farewell Address, for one. One can’t renounce Hamilton without dismissing Washington (who stamped out the Whiskey Rebellion, after all, and in person). And then there is little left of American history, which would have been very different. Jesse Jackson once complained that we shouldn’t attack various developing nations since at the beginning of our history we had a military dictatorship.
    You are right to have genuine concerns about overcentralized government–recall that Tocqueville, in 1840, denounced centralized administration or bureaucracy as the great evil of modern democracies. The real turn to the pathologies you describe arose in the Progressive Era. (Reconstruction would have gone quite differently had Lincoln finished his second term.) Theodore Roosevelt stole the mantel of Lincoln to justify his radical expansion of government. This month’s Forum on this site has some good thoughts on this subject, especially in Steve Knott’s comment. Look up my post on Woodrow Wilson on the blogsite too. It will be the last one that comes up if you click on my name, at the end of the author bio above. Thanks again for your good thoughts.

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