Thomas DiLorenzo, the President of the Mises Institute, has already reviewed Paul C. Graham’s Nonsense on Stilts: The Gettysburg Address and Lincoln’s Imaginary Nation (Shotwell Publishing 2024) in characteristically excellent fashion, but the book is so insightful that some further comments are warranted. It is clear that Graham has a philosophical turn of mind and is a master of linguistic analysis.
His skill is amply on display in his dissection of Abraham Lincoln’s First Inaugural, delivered in March 1861. In that address, Lincoln endeavored to respond to the main arguments that secession was constitutional. Graham calls attention to a crucial point in the beginning of the passage in which Lincoln does this. He said: “I hold that in contemplation of universal law and of the Constitution the Union of these States is perpetual.”
What is the “universal law” to which Lincoln appeals? Lincoln’s argument is that a nation, by which he means a single sovereign body, cannot include provision for its own dissolution. “Perpetuity is implied, if not expressed, in the fundamental law of all national governments. . .no government ever had a provision in its organic law for its own termination.”
Graham easily skewers this argument. Lincoln is assuming just what the states that seceded denied, i.e., that America is a sovereign nation:
“Now, my dear reader, it may very well be the case that the fundamental law governing national governments is that they are perpetual, but the ‘Union’ has a federal, not national form of government. Lincoln seemingly took it for granted that there was one American people with one form of government—a national one—and the states were like counties—not sovereign bodies that created the institution Lincoln is characterizing as national. It should go without saying that this was not the way the States saw each other
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