Happy birthday, Mr. President.1:51 PM, Feb 12, 2015 • By JEFFREY H. ANDERSON
On Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, which really does merit a federal holiday, it’s worth noting that there is no federal holiday called “Presidents’ Day” — nor should there be. The lone federal holiday in February is “Washington’s Birthday.” (If only more Americans would call it that!) Many states, however, have made the quasi-monarchical-sounding “Presidents’ Day” a state holiday. As of 1940, more than half the states apparently honored Lincoln’s birthday as a holiday, but only a smattering still do today. (California long observed both Lincoln’s and Washington’s birthdays as official holidays but ditched both in favor of “Presidents Day” soon after President Obama’s election.)
In addition to the obvious question of why we would want to have a national holiday that honors Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama, Lincoln’s own words are a reminder of the president’s appropriate place in our form of government and why, if forced to choose between the two, we’d be better off with a “Congress Day.”
In a speech he gave in 1848, at the age of 39, Lincoln quoted Whig presidential candidate Zachary Taylor (who would win election later that year) as having said, “The power given by the veto is a high conservative power; but, in my opinion, should never be exercised, except in cases of clear violation of the Constitution, or manifest haste and want of consideration by Congress.” In his speech, Lincoln responded to Democratic attacks on Taylor’s “position on the veto power,” and in the course of his argument, Lincoln made clear his own thoughts on which branch of our government is most representative — and hence most republican:
“My friend…has aptly asked, ‘Are you willing to trust the people?’ Some of you answered, substantially, ‘We are willing to trust the people; but the President is as much the representative of the people as Congress.’ In a certain sense, and to a certain extent, he is the representative of the people. He is elected by them, as well as Congress is; but can he, in the nature of things, know the wants of the people as well as three hundred other men, coming from all the various localities of the nation? If so, where is the propriety of having a Congress?”
“That the constitution gives the President a negative on legislation, all know; but that this negative should be so combined with platforms and other appliances as to enable him, and in fact almost compel him, to take the whole of legislation into his own hands, is what we object to…and is what constitutes the broad distinction between you [Democrats] and us [Whigs]. To thus transfer legislation is clearly to take it from those who understand with minuteness the interests of the people, and give it to one who does not and cannot so well understand it. I understand your idea that if a presidential candidate avow his opinion upon a given question, or rather upon all questions, and the people, with full knowledge of this, elect him, they thereby distinctly approve all those opinions. This, though plausible, is a most pernicious deception. By means of it, measures are adopted or rejected contrary to the wishes of the whole of one party, and often nearly half of the other. The process is this: Three, four, or half a dozen questions are prominent at a given time; the party selects its candidate, and he takes his position on each of these questions. On all but one his positions have already been indorsed at former elections, and his party fully committed to them; but that one is new, and a large portion of them are against it. But what are they to do? The whole was strung together; and they must take all, or reject all. They cannot take what they like, and leave the rest. What they are already committed to, being the majority, they shut their eyes, and gulp the whole.”
Moments later, Lincoln added,
The scholarly achievement of Harry Jaffa.Jan 26, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 19 • By ANDREW FERGUSON
When an admirer once asked Harry Jaffa, the political philosopher who died earlier this month at the age of 96, what led to his interest in Abraham Lincoln, he answered without a moment’s hesitation, in a ferocious bark: “Plato!”
The fight for Georgia Aug 18, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 46 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
In the summer of 1864, the Union cause rested with Generals Ulysses S. Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman. They commanded the most formidable armies ever seen on the continent, yet neither had been in uniform four years earlier, when the war began. Both were West Point trained and had served, without distinction, in the regular army. One had left the army in disgrace; the other in frustration.
Israel after Sharon and his generation.Jan 27, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 19 • By YUVAL LEVIN
Although he has, in most respects, been gone from the scene for the better part of a decade, Ariel Sharon’s death this month has nonetheless hit Israel hard. His military career was among the most exemplary in a nation that has seen far more than its share of great warriors. And by the end of his political career (if not at every point throughout it), Sharon was widely respected and admired. The sudden end of his premiership in 2006 left many in Israel with a sense of missed opportunity and unexplored possibility.
The Gettysburg Address at 150.Nov 25, 2013, Vol. 19, No. 11 • By GARY SCHMITT
November 19 marks the 150th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address—rightly judged to be the greatest speech in America’s history. And while there have been innumerable books and articles written about the content, language, and rhetorical sophistication of Lincoln’s remarks, far less has been written about why he chose the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery at Gettysburg, some four and a half months after the battle itself, to deliver the speech he did.
Obama: "I never compare myself to Lincoln."11:06 AM, Dec 30, 2012 • By DANIEL HALPER
NBC host David Gregory asked President Barack Obama this morning, "Is this your Lincoln moment?"
The question came up after Obama invoked the movie Lincoln when talking about Republicans and Democrats coming together to work out a deal on the "fiscal cliff.
6:05 PM, Dec 19, 2012 • By DANIEL HALPER
Senate majority leader Harry Reid has adjourned the Senate to allow for a viewing of the Hollywood film Lincoln.
Hundreds of thousands rally in Washington. 5:55 PM, Aug 28, 2010 • By DANIEL HALPER
Lincoln Memorial, Washington, D.C.
Radio and television personality Glenn Beck today hosted hundreds of thousands of rallying citizens from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. In what was an amazingly apolitical rally, Beck and his fellow speakers focused on three themes: faith, hope, and charity.
Curbed enthusiasm.12:00 AM, Feb 11, 2010 • By GARY ANDRES
I first encountered the word Zugzwang in a 1985 New York Times Magazine column by the late William Safire. It’s a chess term that means “compelled to move, but imperiled by doing so.” The word’s political implications are profound.
For the past 25 years, I’ve regularly witnessed the repercussions of that hard-to-pronounce term. During the 1990s, my friend Arne Christenson (who served as chief of staff to former House Speaker Newt Gingrich) and I would lament some thorny political problem faced by Republicans or Democrats and how being “compelled to move” would cause unavoidable collateral political damage. Arne would just shake his head and say, “Zugzwang.” We both knew exactly what he meant.
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