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Americanism: The Genesis of a Civil Theology (Part II)

Americanism: The Genesis Of A Civil Theology (Part II)

With the exception of Washington, all the Founding Fathers had, of course, to travel the road from the controversial to the noncontroversial sphere. Franklin, Jefferson, and Lincoln accomplished the journey more rapidly than did Madison and Marshall.105 Hamilton and Adams had to wait until the middle of the twentieth century to become noncontroversial. A congressional resolution for July 4, 1926, commemorated the cen­tennial of Jefferson’s death and the sesquicentennial of Independence Day, but John Adams was not mentioned.106

However, as soon as the controversial and noncontroversial symbols had sufficiently penetrated the consciousness of the members of society, they also became a manipulatable medium on every level of the political and social process. The venerable principles, norms, and traditions were from the beginning weapons in the war for power, the names of the Founding Fathers symbols for parties and movements and their “cause;” all the combatants on the extended field of privately motivated interest battles, the fabric of everyday politics, made use of the language of the socially dominant interpretation of order.

In its name the old settlers, the Know-Nothings, defended their social and political attitudes against immigrants. By basing themselves on the “sacred right of property” (Adams), company lawyers attempted, for the most part successfully, to block government intervention in industry by means of laws and regula­tions, in particular the issuing of antitrust laws. They did so by extending the “person” of the fifth and fourteenth amendments to the legal person of the corporation.107 Each symbol or aggregate of symbols was at one time or another used to legitimate material interests. Henry S. Randall, author of a “Democratic” biography of Jefferson (1859), defended himself against the accusation of party bias: “What American biography is not partisan, i.e. what biography of our political great men.”108  Thus, around 1840 there existed a fourfold Jefferson: the upright Democrat of the Jacksonians, the wicked demagogue and anti-Christ of the conservative Old Federalists, the liberal and pragmatic statesman of the Whigs, and finally, the defender of states’ rights of the Old Republi­cans. The modern liberal may refer to Jefferson for democracy and to Hamilton for the security of acquired rights and a limited democracy.

But even this use of the symbols reveals their role as communicators of the rightness and truth of existence, which must ever and anew assert itself against the fears nourished by the doubt about one’s own origin and end. But since the dominant symbols of the American interpretation of order are irrevocably tied to the res gestae and personae dramatis of the founding, it is understandable that it became necessary to reassure oneself of their truth in both the spiritual and the historical sense. This explains the constant protestations concerning the historicity of one’s own beginning, which contrasted so favorably with the “mythic” origins of the nations of the Old World. This claim is found in George Chalmers, James Kent, 109 James Wilson, 110 and even as late as Francis Parkman; 111  in short, it goes hand in hand with the genesis of the basic pattern of the traditional American monumental history. It is not here exclusively a matter of a judgment by the historian about his materials. For the linking of self-understanding to founding suggests a dependence of existential truth on historical truth. This is a specific outgrowth of the Protestant heritage in which the written word of God, which anyone can read and interpret, is the source of the Christian life. The documentation of the beginnings, universally accessible, corresponds to the fixed self-documentation of God in Holy Scripture.

The nexus is seriously endangered when the interpretation of social existence assumes the form of “monumental history.” For it is precisely this, according to Nietzsche, that leads to the circumstance that there are times when “there is no possible distinction between a ‘monumental’ past and a mythical romance, as the same motives for action can be gathered from the one world as the other.”112 In other words, the conception of order that regards itself as the construction of the unfolding of the found­ing experience and is construed as monumental history inevitably con­tains a permanent element of unrest, crisis, and fear, since the tendency of monumental history to historical fiction must of necessity be under­stood by Americans as existential fiction—that is, the untruthfulness of their conception of order. Proof that such fictions exist—as such, a con­tinuous phenomenon of human history—is amply at hand, but more im­portant than the concrete occasion for such fictitious creations is the fact that the fictions took their place in the national symbolism, and thus in the consciousness of society, with extreme rapidity, as several examples will show.

The most famous exclamation of the Revolution, Patrick Henry’s “Give me liberty, or give me death,” supposedly the climax of a speech delivered on March 23, 1775, in the Virginia House of Burgesses, was the invention of a biographer, William Wirt, who was intent on turning his subject into a hero and consciously constructed the paradigma of a life of a Founding Father.113 The silversmith and courier of the Continen­tal army, Paul Revere, owes his fame as patriotic hero to the fact that in 1860 Henry Wadsworth Longfellow climbed the tower of the Old North Church. The result of this adventure was the poem “Paul Revere’s Ride.”114 Although independence was declared on July 2, 1776, the oc­casion is celebrated on July 4, the day on which nothing happened except that Jefferson’s phrasing of the declaration was ratified. When Davy Crockett—intermittently the national hero of frontier culture, whose va­riety he exemplified as a hunter, soldier, politician, and poet—was a con­gressman, he broke with Jackson over the latter’s support of land specu­lation. The Whigs tried to exploit the situation to gain western votes; in a well-organized campaign they created a legend for the elections. Nev­ertheless, Crockett was not reelected in Kentucky and moved to Texas; his martyr’s death at the Alamo posthumously lent the semblance of ve­racity to the fiction invented for the campaign.115

The assumption that present existence is merely the development and interpretation of the founders’ lives naturally assigns a special role in America to the institutions of national history—the regional and local historical societies with antiquarian interests, the genealogical societies, and so forth, which we find in one or another form in all modern nations. They secure for the collective (state, community) and the individual a manifest, immediate participation in the founding that goes far beyond external sharing in the ritual and an inner frame of mind. As it did else­where, genealogy in America served to elevate the individual’s humdrum life by focusing on eminent ancestors. These ancestors need not have per­formed great deeds, for the dogma that anyone who had come to these shores before 1776 had helped to found the nation provided everyone with a bona fide—a Founding Father on the family tree. But beyond this, a bloodline extending back to the founding promised a truer, more sub­stantial, more American existence in the present. Conversely, this crite­rion in effect excluded all groups whose genealogy forbade presumed participation in the creation because they were slaves of African origin, original Indian inhabitants, or immigrants from Europe who had come only after the event.

Until the great national crisis in the second half of the nineteenth century, the tradition was cultivated and interpreted by a Protestant intelligentsia of Anglo-Saxon descent. Most controversies cen­tered on the share and precedence of various groups from this milieu in the founding. Thus, the South attacked the predominance of the New England tradition. Presbyterians and Quakers claimed to rank above the Puritans as the standard-bearers of religious tolerance. But the colossal shock of the Civil War, industrialization, corporate capitalism, and the rising self-confidence of the newcomers changed the picture in various aspects. The relevance of the traumatic experience of the Civil War for Ameri­can self-understanding is difficult to overestimate, since even the histori­cal interpretation of the res gestae of the Civil War, its causes and consequences, is in turn an integral element of the process of the self-understanding of American society.116

The Symbolic Renewal of the Paradigmatic Republic: Abraham Lincoln

Within the context of the present inquiry, the analysis of Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War is to be limited to a few crucial points. First, the Civil War clearly signaled the collapse of the common national world of symbols. As long as the national symbolism retained its functional efficacy, conflicts could be solved on a political level or held in abeyance by the application of different mechanisms of interpretation. In the con­text of the successful establishment of the republic as a power unit ca­pable of political, diplomatic, and economic action, however, the dy­namics of the social process simultaneously dissociated contradictory components of political reality to the point at which two social orders confronted each other. To that extent we can agree with Barrington Moore when he speaks of the “irreconcilability of two different forms of civilization.”117

If originally the balance of power had allowed the Union to exist—indispensable premise for the realization of the “para­digmatic republic”—only at the price of accepting possibly temporary socioeconomic, political, and psychological structures of dubious “re­publican” character, the preservation of the Union now enforced a mili­tary conflict on the level of power. Moore’s overall analysis is correct in stating that neither superficial socioeconomic nor political or even simple moral questions caused the Civil War. But Moore’s pointing to “funda­mental causes . . . of an economic nature”—that is, the existence of two different economic systems, giving rise to two different capitalist civili­zations—touches on only part of the reality. Moore clearly sees that the question of slavery was in fact a matter of the political realization of divergent interpretations of man’s entire existence in society: “Slavery was a threat and an obstacle to a society which in fact was heir to the Puritanical, the American, and the French Revolutions. Southern society was founded firmly on inherited rank as the basis for judging a man.”

Moore correctly sees the victory of the North as the revolutionary justi­fication for a firmly rooted democracy of an industrial-capitalist nature. But it must be pointed out that he inadmissibly simplifies and thus sup­presses a crucial dimension of reality. For as Louis Hartz has brilliantly shown, the alternative interpretation of the national symbolism was tied to the overall American self-understanding to such an extent that the corporative-conservative language of the South time and again reflected the doctrine of republicanism. In the South the criterion of inherited rank was applied only to the African, whether slave or free; for the rest, especially in the South, the republican “ideal of equal opportunity” (to ac­quire a slave) was of great significance for social mobility and social self-understanding of whites on all social levels.

In this sense, outlined by Moore, the emphasis on the contradictory forms of civilization within a nation is vague insofar as the respective “ideal” was not simply reflected in a particular economic collective condition; the economic makeup of the South or the North and West in the early 1860s had, in turn, resulted from a complex process of consciousness and social history. Moore in­dicated as much when he raised the question of “what would have hap­pened if the South’s plantation system had found a foothold in the West in the middle of the nineteenth century and had encircled the North.”118   One should, more correctly, ask what would have happened if slavery as a national institution (which it was before 1776) had remained an inte­gral element of the whole nation’s economic conditions.

Paradoxically, the collapse of the consensus resulted from the psychosocial establish­ment of the “paradigmatic republic” in the North and West as far as the so-called border states, that followed from the founders’ politics. To this extent the Civil War was certainly the “second revolution,” forced into being by the logic of the “paradigmatic republic,” in that its laissez-faire individualistic component brought about the mobilization of the common man (which we shall examine more closely below), the sociopolitical conditions for the supremacy of the farmers of the West and the industrial North, and the interpretation of order that they advocated. This interpre­tation was irreconcilable with the institution of slavery as a national in­stitution, such as existed in the colonies before 1776.

As already noted, the founders eliminated slavery as a national institution from the Ameri­can cosmos, reducing it to the “peculiar institution” of one region. As such it was legitimized in the Constitution of the United States in the categories available to the founders’ set of symbols. As a man, the slave was a person; but in his social existence, he was property. This regulation was enshrined in the Constitution (Article I, Section 2 and Section 9; Article IV, Section 2) without explicit mention of the institution of slav­ery: “Its anomalous existence was forced to depend on elaborate circum­locutions and tacit understanding.” “The evidence there permits the con­clusion that the future, with respect to possible public action against slavery, was left open on purpose, at the insistence of such delegates as James Madison, Governeur Morris, and James Wilson.”119 Madison ex­plicitly stated that the conception of the “paradigmatic republic” was irreconcilable with slavery: “Mr. Madison thought it wrong to admit in the Constitution the idea that there could be property in men.”120 Toler­ated by the Constitution though continually repressed into the social un­conscious, where it had a traumatic effect, slavery was preserved de facto in the southern states, thanks to their political and economic power within the federation.

But the congressional debates on the Missouri Compromise had raised the question in principle as early as 1819. Underlying this debate was a conflict over the meaning of the fundamental principles of the regime, and it was no coincidence that it produced the first extended consideration by Congress of the meaning of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. The Northern Position was straight­forward: the doctrines of the Declaration were basic commitments, provid­ing substance for the “republican form” of government guaranteed to every state by Article VI, Section 4 of the Constitution. In framing the constitu­tion, the equalitarian thrust of republicanism against slavery had been set aside in deference to the predicament of the Southern states, where slavery was already entrenched beyond uprooting. But in legislating for the terri­tories, where social patterns were not yet set, Congress should consider itself bound by the standards of republicanism, by which slavery could not be justified.121

Jefferson, an old man by now, persuaded of the necessity of a tacit ar­rangement between North and South for the sake of preserving the Union until slavery could be eliminated gradually, was horrified to glimpse a novel sort of constellation: “A geographical line, coinciding with a marked principle, moral and political, once conceived and held up to the angry passions of men, will never be obliterated.”122 Nevertheless, until the 1830s, with Jeffersonianism the South remained aware of the irrec­oncilability of this institution with the symbolism of national self-inter­pretation. Only the threat to the South’s power from the long-range po­litical and economic developmental trends in the nation, combined with the consolidation within the society of the plantation states, promoted a variant of the American symbolic form. This variant interpreted the in­dependent political and socioeconomic structure in such a way as to give the South a social identity without entirely forfeiting the authoritative truth of the founders’ order.

A “heresy bound by geography” l23 was created; that is, a completely heterogeneous sectional group of political units turned into a closed society, “the South.”124 This new entity was by no means the same as the geographic region of the southern United States; on one hand it was only conditionally possible to include the states of the “upper South,” whereas on the other hand the Southwest, most espe­cially Texas, felt itself to be part of the South. The common element in such a symbolization of the South’s psychosocial field was the traditional interpretation of the Constitution, stressing states’ rights and limited fed­eral power, the agrarian republicanism of the Jeffersonians with the rec­ognition of slavery as a political and economic institution, justified by the inferiority of the omnipresent Afro-Americans and by the civilizing su­periority of white culture.

The Old South’s Virginia-dominated gentry society, with its country republicanism, was becoming transformed into a large-scale, dynamically capitalistically diversified, agrarian society; commercially run plantations, which powered the economy, existed at the center of the mass of white yeomanry living on family farms without significant urban centers, but most especially without the basic structure of the town constitution peculiar to New England; here and there the white population was even sparser. The pressure of this transformation distorted the consciousness and symbolic structure of the general Ameri­can tradition in various ways.

The white minority within a black ma­jority, whose political and social control alone promised to overcome the deep-seated anxiety of a mass rising on the model of Haiti, took seriously the biological version of the chain of being, as they did the ethnic attri­bution to the American apocalypse to turn it into a historical-speculative progressivism of the white race, which received the blessing of a funda­mentalist belief in the Bible. In the minds of the slaveholders and those who wanted to own slaves, the property-individualistic component be­came separated into a laissez-faire individualism sui generis; eventually this attitude openly reduced the society’s sensus communis to the civiliz­ing ethos of white Americanism.

The synthesis of these elements in the symbolism of “romantic nationalism” (Hartz) as a coherent interpreta­tion of order came too late for the white masses. George Fitzhugh’s “So­ciology of the South” remained merely an isolated episode, in spite of the beginning of speculative exegesis of the southern experience by John C. Calhoun, Hughes, Theodore R. Dew, and J. D. B. De Bow, as well as in the romantic literature. The “sociology of the South,” as a paradigmatic counterpart to the “political economy of the North,” attempted to mo­bilize in equal measure the tradition of Western civilization and the new social science of positivism to enhance the dignity of the southern ethos.

Fitzhugh and his fellows reconstructed a historical depth dimension of civilizing greatness for the South; its referents included ancient Egypt, Israel, Greece, Rome, and feudal Europe, as well as counterrevolutionary conservatism and antiliberal socialism. Slavery was shown to be the ethi­cally, politically, and economically appropriate social way of organizing work to establish the “good society,” since it does not leave unprotected men exposed to the anarchic forces of laissez-faire, the conflict between capital and labor. Historically, the so-called free society of the modern world was seen as a decline from a healthy, beautiful, and natural order; this decline would inevitably drive a free society to its own defeat in the socialism of a Saint Simon, a Fourier, or a Blanc; however, this is no more than an attempt to restore the old order of the slave society. ”

All concur that free society is a failure. We slaveholders say you must return to do­mestic slavery, the oldest, the best and most common form of socialism. The new schools of Socialism promise something better, but admit, to obtain that something better, they must first destroy and eradicate man’s human nature.”125   But here human nature is no longer experienced in a philosophical or Christian way; it is defined “scientifically.” It is the new certainty of Comtian sociology and of biologistic anthropology, which describes man as a datum—that is, reifies him. It is this which “first al­lows” us to recognize the “great truth which lies at the foundation of all society—that every man has property in his fellow man.”126

The Spiritual Roots of the Civil War

The South’s self-understanding—which dealt with the tiny minority of the large planters (about 2 percent of the slaveholding families) and the group of those who owned from ten to twenty slaves (about 24 percent of the slaveholding families), along with the mass of those who owned fewer slaves, as well as the 75 percent of the white population that owned no slaves at all—could, on the basis of economic reality, nevertheless refer to a certain rationality in the system. The southern economy was thoroughly profitable in the capitalist sense; agriculture in particular was considerably more efficient than the system of western family farms. A similar situation prevailed in reference to the use of slaves in urban industry. As Moore had already unequivocally noted, slavery was by no means irreconcilable with industrial capitalism. Just the opposite was true; the cotton of the South was the principal impetus to industrialization in the North and played an important role in the industrial revolution in England.127

The economic rationality of the southern variant of the economic sys­tem also worked in other regions in principle, to the extent that through­out the United States the situation was one of a national economic system with a considerable rate of growth.128 Economic contradictions by no means need have evoked armed conflict before the backdrop of the eco­nomic rationality embracing the whole of society. 129 But the economic rationality operating in society is not its constitutive basis, no matter how important a factor the economic structure might be. It was precisely the Civil War that showed how forcefully the South, in spite of its economic inferiority, could hold its own against the North and West. 130 What was crucial on the level of power politics was the confrontation over control of the constitutional power center, the federal government—that is, the future direction of national policy.

Here too the question of power was instrumental, for it arose only when the principal order of the United States as a continental empire was questioned. But in this way the truth and authority of the founders were at stake. A logical reaction to the question with Fitzhugh’s attempt to create for the South its own interpretation of order, reasoning that the work of the fathers had failed and that the ancient order of things would have to be reestablished. The social order of the South had the truth and authority of history on its side; the factuality of the South’s history and “sociology”—to this extent Fitzhugh’s recourse to European experiences was thoroughly “modern”—replaced the fathers’ consciousness as the center of order. It followed therefore for those few southern thinkers who cared about a radical justification of their social existence that the Con­stitution of the United States must be revised to reflect the southern prin­ciples of order. “Social forms so widely differing as those of domestic slavery and (attempted) universal liberty cannot long co-exist in the Great Republic of Christendom. They cannot be equally adapted to the wants and interests of society.”131

“The sociology of the South” states logically that “slavery will every­where be abolished, or everywhere reinstituted.”132 The secession of the South was only a minor program in the worldwide dispute concerning the future order of society; the long-range debate was over the replace­ment of the “free Society.” In principle the debate also involved slavery as a principle of social organization, independent of the American case involving slaves of African descent. This implication, which Lincoln im­mediately understood and exploited for his own ends, also underlies, as we will show, the crucial challenge to the fathers’ concept of order. But Fitzhugh and his allies never understood the consciousness-shaping form of the “paradigmatic republic.”

Louis Hartz has described at length how the southerners were unable to free themselves of the ordering impact of the fathers’ consciousness and concomitant symbolization they sought to destroy:

“Long before, in the seventeenth century, America had laid this trap for the Southern thinkers. By being ‘born equal,’ by establishing liberalism without destroying feudalism, it had transformed the rational­ist doctrine of Locke into the traditionalist reality of Burke so that any­one who dared to use conservativism in order to refute liberalism would discover instead that he had merely refuted himself.” 133

 There is no so­lution to the dilemma:

“the more consistently a man advanced the anti-liberal arguments of Burke, the farther away he got from the traditional­ist substance they were designed to protect. The more he cherished the traditionalist substance, the farther away he got from the antiliberal arguments. The only question was on which horn of the dilemma he wanted to impale himself. Most southerners, unlike Fitzhugh . . .   actually embraced both.”134

In the consciousness of the South, the old Jeffersonianism was to be resurrected in a New Burkean traditionalism:

“Calhoun exemplifies it perfectly, a man whose thought it cut into two by the tug of the liberal past and the pull of the reactionary present. He slays Jef­ferson only to embrace him with a passion on the end, he destroys the Founding Fathers only to carry their work forward.”135

The logic of this contradiction required a revision of the work of the founders under the horizon of the status quo ante. Calhoun fell back on institutionalism as the instrument of order. The southern interpretation of the Constitution, with the explicit recognition of slavery as a political and social institution, had to become the basis on which the Union was reorganized. The principle of a “concurrent majority” and a dual execu­tive was to defuse the sectional conflict by means of “political equilib­rium” (William H. Seward). In this way Calhoun hoped in at least one section to protect slavery as the social organization of Afro-Americans and at the same time to preserve the republican principle of order for the whites. Such was the South’s actual intention around the middle of the century.

In my view, Calhoun best formulated the South’s position: the dis­tortion of the “paradigmatic republic,” which the founders accepted for the sake of pragmatic power, was to be raised to the principle of the empire. Unlike Fitzhugh’s sociology, however, this position could be justified only by accepting a speculation on race that identified African-Americans scientifically, that is, authoritatively, as inferior. But this so­lution merely led back to the historical and depth-psychological dimen­sion of the common American consciousness: the contradiction between the philosophical and Christian experience of the potential equality of all men and the actual and historical experience of the coexistence of ethni­cally and racially different forms of humanity in a society in which the African minority was de facto and de jure robbed of the spiritual-political dimension in its social existence.

Inevitably the southerners had to fail in solving this common American dilemma. Thus if the racial theory tried to save the whites from the attack on Locke, an inescapable reality kept pulling them into its orbit, since their common humanity with the Negroe could not easily be denied. Indeed the very com­pulsion they felt to attack Locke betrayed them on this score, since Locke had been concerned with men in general, not with Negroes in particular. Or the Negroe was not a Lockian “man,” why bother to attack Locke? If the Negroe was a parcel of property rather than a human being, why bother to attack Jefferson? Certainly Jefferson had believed in property rights. The Southerners could not remove from the human category, and, not being able to do so, their logic of inequality was bound to backfire on themselves.136  But the pressure of social reality allowed only a few, such as Moncure Conway, to arrive at a theoretical decision: “the Negroe must either be an ‘inferior animal’ or a ‘man and a brother.’ Eventually coming to ac­cept the truth of the latter alternative, Conway felt a deep sense of his own inferiority and lack of humanity in ever having doubted, and spent much of his life trying to make up for it.”137

Understandably most of the southerners were so frightened at losing the foundation on which their social world was constructed that, in spite of all the inconsistencies of their position, they could not abandon the truth and authority of the fathers and thus carried the illogicality of their revisionism to the point where even after secession the constitutional order of the fathers was taken over in toto in establishing the Confederate States of America. Be­fore that time Calhoun’s position still seemed to promise a constitutional solution on the level of power—an illusion with the paradoxical outcome that each step in a successful assertion of southern interests in national politics inevitably brought the South closer to defeat, to the point where Southern republicanism was excluded from the dominant frame of con­sciousness and symbolism, driving them to the underground of tolerated illegal social practice. In this area, however, North and South had little cause to accuse each other after Reconstruction.

In the years after 1820 it became increasingly clear that the quarrel over the basic principles of American order—that is, the question about the realization of the founders’ “paradigmatic republic” through the so­cial expansion of New England culture and its spiritual-political dy­namic, not least raised by the engagement of the sons of the federalist founders who were driven out of the political process by the rise of Jackson—disturbed arrangements made on the basis of elitist interests. But the threshold for mass mobilization on questions of principle could be passed only under specific socioeconomic conditions: population growth through immigration into the Midwest and North, redirection of midwestern agriculture to the North, growing independence of the North’s industrial interests in contrast to the traditional southern-oriented fi­nance and trade interests, expansion and internal consolidation of the South, and so forth. The call for regeneration of the truth of the fathers in a spiritual-political movement of awakening and reformation could meet with a response only after the southern strategy of challenging the prevailing interpretation of man and society became obvious to a ma­jority of the white workers and farmers in the West and North that felt threatened by southern attacks on the free-soil and free-labor policies in the West.

We should point out that in terms of policy the experience of the search for lost justice in the republican experiment motivated only iso­lated groups. The majority of the northern population did not share the abolitionists’ bursts of moral outrage; their fundamentalist dogmatism often repressed the more complex social problems. But the spirituality of New England culture, embodying the truth and authority of the fathers, preserved its political expression not only in the organizational form of the civil association, but also in the medium of public order, as is shown by countless ordinances issued in the congresses of both the various New England states and the new states in their social hemisphere. For the New Englanders, slavery and slave labor were the permanent degradation of humanity and justice; they represented a violation of the “dictates of Christian religion” and the “higher law of God,” as well as the “supreme law of the Land,” along with the national Con­stitution and the Union.138

What is decisive in this regard is not that the scale of judgment was naturally taken from the traditional, symbolic cosmos of the founders, but that an intellectual minority focused on those symbols which express immediate person-centered existential virtue and that the constitutional order was placed in the context of an overarching experience of order. By recurring to the fundamental experience of order, sensitive minds became so much aware of the principled untruth of the status quo that the link between the psychic order and the societal order once more came within the view of political action and practice. Inevitably, morally motivated political practice gained influence over the majority through the shared symbolism of republicanism only after this majority felt the threat of im­pediment to its laissez-faire individualistic understanding of the republic as the place for free personal development.

This understanding was de­scribed by the key symbols free soil, free men, and free labor. But in my view William Appleton Williams is mistaken in seeing the social materi­alization of the laissez-faire morality of total individualized freedom in religion, politics, and economics through revision of the Constitution as the decisive cause for the mobilization of the North and West in the Civil War.139 Of course there is no gainsaying that in the symbolization of the Republican party the laissez-faire concept of the common man asserted itself at the same time that it expressed the position of interests of differ­ent social and regional groupings in the respective realization of the promise of this concept. Nevertheless, it required a conscious or uncon­cious recourse to the psychological depth dimension of the dominant form of consciousness, in which the prevalent reality image of the society as a community of free and equal men had its empirical origin and ground.

Only this psychosocial condition explains why the prospect of danger to the whole order of society from slavery could become socially relevant to such a degree that a great number of individuals suddenly saw their immediate social existence threatened, though such a thing was out of the question, especially as the interests of the majority of the political and economic elites pointed in the direction of compromise. The indis­tinct reactivation of a trapped experience of order in the concrete con­sciousness of many people led the Republican party to find in Lincoln a representative figure. In the course of his political life, he was able to rediscover the meditative depth dimension of the “paradigmatic repub­lic” beyond its laissez-faire curtailment.

Before that time, however, an impersonally materialized dogmatism of national consensus still covered up the conflict, as proved by the success of the Clay-Webster Compromise of 1850, with its confirmation of the Fugitive Slave Acts, as well as the balanced admission of slave and free states into the Union and the election of Franklin Pierce to the presidency in 1852.140 In Clay’s and Webster’s self-understanding the nexus of order and founding was still present through biography. Their tormenting fear of decline was, first of all, fear that the new nation would break apart.

Increasingly they took the continental empire of the American Republic as an end in itself. Its meaning in history resulted from the successful historic mission of the national collectivity, predestined by God, and less from the quality of the good life in society. Webster and Clay gave absolute precedence to the perpetuation of the social organization of the founders. This twist made it biographically understandable as well as characteristic for the process of dogmatizing the symbolic self-interpretation of the founders in a complex of doctrines that stabilized the social consensus.

The content of “nationality” was not the recon­struction of the experiences of order, but the duty of preserving and in­creasing the national polity by applying the precepts of the founders. This was the key symbol for “harmony,” “peace,” and “security” as the criteria of social order. The secondary virtue of “duty” became the carrying theme of a political ethic whose content was determined by a preserving constitutionalism and nationalism and whose form was the practice of mutual compromise. In their defense of the Compromise of 1850, Webster and Clay logically interpreted the existential virtues as peripheral to the person. The American Republic, they noted, was substantially identical with the continental empire; freedom, equality, justice, and morality were inevitably subordinated to imperial existence.

But unwittingly Webster and Clay thus turned the person-centered existential virtues, the precon­dition for the goodness of society, into the constitutional way to regu­late conflicts among the members of society. This is equally true for the conflict concerning the question of the content of humanity and its order. Webster and Clay were forced by the logic of the power process to abso­lutize the institutionalism and power-political pragmatism of the Found­ing Fathers at the cost of relinquishing those motivating experiences of order that alone serve to legitimate the experiment in power politics car­ried out by the republican Union. The Union’s existence, in turn, was now meant to sanction any constitutional pragmatism. 141

Finally, this change in the traditional symbolism of order positively defines a dynamic sociopolitical power complex as the anonymous center of historical order. An orthodox power-pragmatic nationalism arose at the center between the romantic nationalism of the South and the spiri­tual-political nationalism of New England culture. Rufus Choate, one of Webster’s New England followers, in a speech delivered on July 4, 1858, offered a good example of such reification of a social artifact to the center of order:

“Think of [nationality] as a state of consciousness, as a spring of feeling, as a motive of exertion, as blessing your country, and as reacting on you. Think of it as it fills your mind and quickens the heart of millions around you. Instantly, under such an influence, you ascend above the smoke and stir of this small local strife; you tread upon the high places of the earth and of history; you think and feel as an American for America; her power, her eminence, her consideration, her honour are yours; your competitors, like hers, are kings; your home, like hers, is the world; your path like hers, is on the highway of empires; our charge, her charge, is of generations and ages. . . . Think of it [nationality] as an active virtue. Is not all history a recital of the achievement of nationality, and an exponent of its historical and imperial nature? Even under systems far less perfect than ours, and influences far less auspicious than ours, has it not lifted itself up for a time above all things meaner, vindicating itself by action, by the sublimit of working hope.” 142

In his obituary for Webster, Choate logically stressed that the preserva­tion of the Union was to be preferred to any discussion of slavery, for the sake of America’s progress.143 This concentration of self-understanding on organized society itself as the ground and source of all that givesmeaning to the life of the members of society made quite an impact on the political consciousness of Americans.

Lincoln’s Mastery of Both Rhetoric and Reality

The social relevance of this reduction of the dominant symbolic form to national patriotism unquestionably lies in the fact that structures of social organization can be taken for the quality of society itself, and the unquestioning loyalty to the whole of society relieves the citizen of the question of his own quality without any loss in the terms of meaning for his existence. The language of this early form of patriotic orthodoxy transfers the spiritual and symbolic consensus to the social unconscious; for that very reason it was so important to the survival of American society well into the twentieth century.

Even more characteristic of this aspect than Clay and Webster are the messages and addresses of President Pierce. Here the fathers appear as efficient and practical patriots who wasted no energy “upon idle and delusive speculations.” The belief in the national institutions and the preservation of the grand constitutional doctrine, along with renunciation of all wild and chimerical plans for change brought forth by the unstable minds of visionary sophists and self-seeking demagogues, the “restless spirit,” now elevates a mature nation in the fulfillment of its purpose to the “Great Republic of the World.”144

Although power-pragmatic nationalism broke down in the crisis of divergent interpretations of reality, at the same time it established the indissolubility of the continental empire on the psychosocial level to such an extent that the idea of secession, which had until this time been symbolically legitimated, was rejected with horror by both New England abolitionists and southern romantics as rebellion against what seemed the truth and authority of the order of the paradigmatic republic. Only the background of this crucial success of the power-pragmatic idea of unity can explain the circumstance that, in the discussions on principle concerning the order of man and society in the Republic, Lincoln was able to firmly link the program of spiritual-political awakening with the preservation of the Union. “The Union must be preserved in the purity of its principles as well as in the integrity of its territorial parts.”l45 For Lincoln, the Union was the conditio sine qua non to preserve that “form and substance of government whose leading object is to elevate the conditions of man” in the world.146 The plausibility of this argument of the majority of those involved presumed the consciousness-shaping power of the power-pragmatic doctrine of the Union of Lincoln’s opponent Stephen Douglas.

On his way to the White House, Lincoln, from the beginning the common man as zoon politikon par excellence, apparently came to understand increasingly the meditative origins of the forms given to consciousness and symbolism by the Founding Fathers, without losing his own ability to engage in pragmatic politics. It was surely this skill that allowed him to understand that Douglas’ revision of the Missouri Compromise of 1820 in the Kansas-Nebraska Bill of 1854 and the Supreme Court’s 1857 Dred Scott decision opened the door to a thorough revision of political power relations in the Union.

The alliance of the New England spiritual-political awakening with a broad spectrum of sociopolitical and regional interests of workers, farmers, some industrialists, new immigrants and nativists, old Whigs and anti-Dixie Democrats, abolitionists, Negrophobes, and temperance advocates into a new party furnished the social basis for a regeneration of republicanism on the model of the Founding Fathers. The laissez-faire concept of the common man, wrapped in the tradition of the “American System,” promised an industrial economic society of autarkic producers (in agriculture, trade, and industry) beyond the conflict of capital and labor, in which the virtuous republic achieves full maturity to the extent that everyone is granted unlimited access to the realm of public happiness according to his abilities.

“Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Speech, Free Men” meant, according to Lincoln:

“that education—cultivated thought—can best be combined with . . . any labor, on the principle of thorough work. . . . Let us hope, that by the best cultivation of the physical world, beneath and around us; and the intellectual and moral world within us, we shall secure an individual, social, and political prosperity and happiness, whose course shall be onward and upward, and which, while the earth endures, shall not pass away.”147

According to Eric Foner, the fundamental achievement of the Republican party before the Civil War consisted in the formulation of an interpretation of order “which blended personal and sectional interest with morality so perfectly that it became the most potent political force in the nation.”148 This Republican interpretation of order contained the implication “that North and South represented two social systems whose values, interests, and future prospects were in sharp, perhaps mortal, conflict with one another.”l44

Lincoln perceived the conflict of two types of transcendental truths in American society, though they could represent only one truth—that is, the truth of the fathers. Lincoln consciously and emphatically accepted the claim to truth of Fitzhugh’s “Sociology of the South”: American society can be based on but one principle:

“A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government can not endure, permanently half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved—I do not expect the house to fall—but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing, or all the other. Either the opponents of slavery will arrest the further spread of it, and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in course of ultimate extintion; or its advocates will push it forward, till it shall become alike lawful in all states, old and new—North as well as South. Have we no tendency to the latter condition?”150

Lincoln transformed a theoretical insight into a plausible symbolic formulation by taking Fitzhugh’s argument seriously and turning it against him. It is a matter of slavery as a principle of social order, not of the particular institution in the South.

The politics of the South in the Union signaled the “nationalization of slavery”—that is, the alteration of the dominant pattern of institution and behavior—as well as the order of consciousness encompassing the former in the Union in the sense of “the sociology of the South”:

“Our government rests in public opinion. Whoever can change public opinion, can change the government, practically just so much. Public opinion, on any subject, always has a ‘central idea,’ from which all its minor thoughts radiate. That ‘central idea’ in our political public opinion, at the beginning was, and until recently has continued to be ‘the equality of men.’ And although it was always submitted patiently to whatever of inequality there seemed to be as a matter of actual necessity, its constant working has been a steady progress towards the practical equality of all men.”

But the election of James Buchanan in 1856 was “a struggle, by one party, to discard that central idea, and to substitute for it the opposite idea that slavery is right, in the abstract, the workings of which, as a central idea, may be the perpetuity of human slavery, and its extension to all countries and colors.”151

Lincoln’s interpretations of events during the 1850s take up the theme of the jeremiad with new urgency: the “central idea” of the Republic is not only put in question, it is already well on the way to becoming lost. The new Republicans of 1854 organized a political mass movement, not because Lincoln demanded the immediate elimination of the “peculiar institution” of the South, but because he made people understand the immediate danger “that slavery would become a nationwide American institution if its geographical spread were not severely restricted at once.”152

Regardless of whether Lincoln’s opinion regarding long-range trends in the United States was justified, however, the fear of the “nationalization of slavery” took its vitality from the meaningful connection of founding and order. The new “central idea” of slavery stood for all the social developments that ate away at the order of the fathers. That was why Lincoln’s response to the crisis had to be: “with steady eye on the real issue, let us reinaugurate the good old ‘central idea’ of the Republic. We can do it. The human heart is with us—God is with us.”l53

In word and deed Abraham Lincoln was a unique exponent of the “political faith” of his fathers. In Lincoln the form the fathers gave to consciousness and symbol became present under the horizon of nineteenth-century experience to such a degree that Lincoln’s self-understanding became identical with his symbolic function in the consciousness of society. But at the same time the structure of American consciousness gained a new kind of authenticity in Lincoln’s psyche, for the peculiarly Western spiritual-political background of experience of an Adams or a Jefferson was lacking.

The nexus of founding and order was, for Lincoln, the self-evident principle of American existence. All Americans, the descendants of the founders as well as all later immigrants, form a corpus mysticum with the fathers, in which the presence of God through the symbolic mediating role of the fathers in the Declaration of Independence is guaranteed for all past, present, and future generations. “We find a race of men living in that day whom we claim as our fathers and grandfathers; they were iron men, they fought for the principle that they were contending for; and we understood that by what they then did it has followed that the degree of prosperity that we now enjoy has come to us.”

The anniversary celebration of independence ties the grandfathers to the fathers at the same time that it brings the individual into harmony with himself, his fellowmen, and his country. But alongside those citizens who are immediately descended from the blood of the fathers, there is still that half of the American people:

“who are not descendants at all of these men, they are men who have come from Europe . . . and settled here, finding themselves our equals in all things. If they look back through this history to trace their connections with those days by blood, they find they have none, they cannot carry themselves back into that glorious epoch and make themselves feel that they are part of us, but when they look through that old Declaration of Independence they find that those old men say that ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,’ and then they feel that the moral sentiment taught in that day evidences their relation to those men, that it is the father of all moral principle in them, and they have a right to claim it as though they were blood of the blood and flesh of the flesh of the men who wrote that Declaration . . . and so they are. That is the electric cord in that Declaration that links the hearts of patriotic and liberty-loving men together, that will link those patriotic hearts as long as the love of freedom exists in the minds of men throughout the world.”154

This theology of the national corpus mysticum stands at the center of the Lincolnian reform movement: “The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield, and patriotic grave, to every living heart and hearthstone, all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature,” Lincoln’s first inaugural address noted in the year of crisis, 1861.155

The fathers as mediators to God and guarantors of the mystical community find their collective reincarnation precisely in this: “this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”156 The “new birth of freedom” is the collective work of reconstructing the founding in order to restore it in all its truth and purity: “Our republican robe is soiled, and trailed in the dust. Let us repurify it. Let us turn and wash it white, in the spirit, if not the blood, of the Revolution.”l57 

Lincoln’s logical recurrence to the substance of the symbolism of American self-understanding, that is, the nexus of founding and order, was persuasive because of the spiritual authenticity of this recourse in the person of Lincoln; in him the form of consciousness and its critical symbolic form once again became genuinely united. This circumstance, finally, explains Lincoln’s ability to mobilize large sections of the nation and unite them in a political movement overreaching separate socioeconomic interests and his elevation to their charismatic leader; it also accounts for the disintegration of the movement into its original elements after his victory and death.

Lincoln’s “republicanism” was the permanent interpretation of the words of the fathers and always circled around the symbols of order of the Declaration of Independence. Lincoln perceived that the sacredness of the document is no longer a given; its words were mangled; its meaning distorted, even despised and denied.158 With the denial of the Declaration of Independence, America, however, also denied the order of the founding: the Founding Fathers “meant to set up a standard maxim for free society, which could be familiar to all, and revered by all; constantly looked to, constantly labored for, and even though never perfectly attained,constantly approximated, and thereby constantly spreading and deepening its influence, and augmenting the happiness and value of life to all people of all colors everywhere…. Its authors meant it to be, thank God, it is now proving itself a stumbling block to those who in after times might seek to turn a free people back into the hateful paths of despotism.”159

Lincoln drew on the language of the fathers for the power of persuasion with which he made it absolutely plain to his fellow citizens that “nationalization of slavery” meant the recantation of the Declaration of Independence: “if free Negroes should be made things, how long think you, before they will begin to make things out of poor white men.”160  And he graphically listed the possibilities of such a process of turning men into objects:

“You say A. is white, and B. is black. It is color, then; the lighter, having the right to enslave the darker? Take care. By this rule, you are to be slave to the first man you meet, with a fairer skin than your own. You do not mean color exactly?—You mean the whites are intellectually the superiors of the blacks, and, therefore have the right to enslave them? Take care again. By this rule, you are to be slave to the first man you meet, with an intellect superior to your own. But, say you, it is a question of interest; and if you can make it our interest, you have the right to enslave another. Very well. And if he can make it his interest, he has a right to enslave you.”161

By this reflection Lincoln demonstrated his sensitivity to the implicit theoretical problems: the reduction of man to an object contradicts the premise laid down in the Declaration of Independence of the essential equality of all human beings as such, which alone justifies the corpus mysticum of American society, beyond all differences in the actualization of this essential humanity. Lincoln also logically understood that the motive for the objectification is to be found in the disorder of the psyche by which the relationship between reason and emotion is reversed. Disavowal of the Declaration of Independence in this spirit was a recantation of human nature, for to the extent that it clearly robs men of their humanity and turns them, like household pets, into objects, the principle of slavery is grounded in the “selfishness of man’s nature” and declares “self-interest” to be the sole proper principle of action. The principle of order of the Declaration of Independence, on the other hand, is realized in the “love of justice,”162 forbidding any denial of the Negroes’ humanity.

But Lincoln also lived so exclusively in the authoritative symbolic world of the fathers that he and the whole Republican movement had to run aground on its sociopolitical and theoretical limitations as soon as it became a question of a possible integration of the Afro-American as a zoon politikon in the nation’s corpus mysticum—though “slavery” as a principle of social organization contradicted the substantial order of the fathers, “the Republican desire to place this great question of slavery on the very basis on which our fathers placed it, and no other.”163 But what can it mean that “our Fathers did not make this nation half slave and half free. . . . I insist that they found the institution of slavery existing here. They did not make it so, but they left it so because they knew of no way to get rid of it at that time”? By prohibiting slave trading and slavery in the new territories, where these had not been practices, “they placed it where they understood, and all sensible men understood, it was in the course of ultimate extinction.”164

Accordingly, Lincoln continued, the Constitution recognized no right of property in human beings, avoiding the words slave and Negro race and speaking only of persons.165 But how were the Fathers to be interpreted if slavery was to be abolished? Lincoln’s exegesis of the tradition resulted in an attempt to differentiate between the actualizations of humanity in society. As a first step, the Declaration of Independence included the potential equality of all human beings: the Negro was “entitled to all natural rights enumerated in the Declaration of Independence, the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”166 Accordingly, the Negro was entitled to all civil rights which virtually circumscribe the private realm of social existence: the individual right to life, liberty, and property imply the status of a legal subject, insofar as the protection of individual rights must be guaranteed by the legal order of society.

Lincoln proclaimed the natural and legal equality of the Afro-Americans—”he asserts for them a perfect equality of civil and personal rights under the constitution,” explained the New York Times after his election167—but with the majority of Republicans, he believed that neither the Declaration nor the Constitution inevitably required that “social and political equality between whites and blacks” be realized in the political order.168 Since the authority of the fathers did not demand “political friendship” between black and white, did not compel the admission of the Afro-American to the “public happiness” of political life, as the radical Republicans derived from the New England ethos, Lincoln could justify the politics of suppression: “Free them, and make politically and socially, our equals?” he asked himself as early as 1854. “My own feelings will not admit this; and if mine would, we well know that that of the great mass of white people will not. Whether this feeling accords with justice and sound judgement, is not the sole question, if indeed it is any part of it. A universal feeling, whether well or ill-founded, can not be safely disregarded. We can not, then, make them equals.”169

Although Lincoln believed that the granting of citizenship was constitutional, he was influenced by the basic psychological makeup of the white majority and was persuaded of its very real import on any political decision—probably correctly. The insurmountable obstacle in the conscious and unconscious mind of Lincoln and his fellow citizens consisted of the consequence of the realization of the “republic of virtue” for the Afro-American as zoon politikon, for which an exegesis of the fathers’ symbols of order was hardly suitable: racial integration.

The pressure of the historical and psychic depth dimension in American society proved from the beginning to be stronger than the existential truth of the experience of order. The European interpretation of the experience of the African as the other and stranger in a counterpart of human deficiency, in which one’s own emotional nature was projected, was in some form or other part of every image of reality. Winthrop D. Jordan has shown that it was only the presupposition of this reverse image that allowed slavery to arise in the colonies, and that consequently racial integration to the point of miscegenation seemed a psychological and social danger to personal human essence.170  For Lincoln the alternative of racial integration was out of the question.171 He opted for separation of the races through colonization. When this alternative failed, what remained, in spite of the formal extension of political rights to Afro-Americans, was social separation through segregation. “All I ask for the Negro is that if you do not like him, let him alone. If God gave him but little, that little let him enjoy.”172

 Lincoln’s spiritual-political reform remained focused on slavery as the expression of all the evils of the world, bemoaned in the jeremiad. It addressed the purification of the individual psyche of those who shared in the national corpus mysticum, that is, the return to the purity of the fathers’ origins. The republicanism of 1860 mobilized for its second revolution, the Civil War, the established symbolic pattern of the first Revolution, complete with the underlying structure of revolutionary consciousness; it included apocalyptic undertones as well, as proved by “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” (1862.).173 At the center of this revolutionary consciousness of the radical Republicans we find once more the acute experience of an existential tension between want and plenty, disorder and order, time and eternity, which causes a collective process of “conversion” in the spiritual-political revival: “the radicals … rejected a cardinal principle of American politics, that of compromise. They were as much moralists as politicians, using political means to eradicate a sin from American society.”l74

The politics of the Republicans once more raised the patterns of consciousness and symbolism of revivalism and millenarianism from the underground of the social subculture of churches and sects to the national level in a design for existence socially dominant for the North. Its interpretation of the Civil War, with the victory of the truth of spiritual-political reform over the untruth of the South, became once and for all the definitive integral element of the national symbolic universe. The Civil War achieved the public status of a spiritual-political reformation—of course, first of all, in the life and death of Lincoln as the Redeemer.

In his beginnings, of course, Lincoln, a local politician, was no political-ethical revivalist, as were his later allies Charles Sumner, Thaddeus Stephens, Joshua Giddings, William Seward, and others from the New England belt, who called themselves “political abolitionists.” But his regional revivalist background, together with his nonsectarian, national-American, biblical-Unitarian religiosity marked by “faith in the Fathers,” allowed Lincoln to discover a persuasive interpretation of his political actions in the symbolism of spiritual-political awakening and restoration.175 “A redeeming nation, a Redeemer-President: the combination is appropriate. The fact that, in the crucial hour, there was elected a President who did indeed have the qualities of such a figure was further proof that the millennial mission was no dream.”176

The repolitization of the awakening of the national corpus mysticum proceeded in the reinstitutionalization of the Fathers’ traditional rituals; during the crisis, the representative of the “people under God” called for public meditation, for penance and thanksgiving. The proclamation of fast days on August 12, 1861, and March 30, 1863, and of Thanksgiving on July 15, 1863, and the president’s second inaugural address, of March 4, 1865, all furnish the authoritative symbolic interpretation of the res gestae of the Civil War under the horizon of the collective experience of spiritual regeneration of God’s people in America. Public mortification, public prayer, and fasting meditatively disclose the ground of all being, God, who not only permitted the affliction of the Civil War but actually sent it as punishment for individual and collective sinfulness.

The decline from the original excellence of the Fathers’ order, the fall of the nation, was essentially manifested in the evil of slavery; but slavery stood, in a way, for all other forms of corruption: the ever-present greed for power and possession, sexual dissipation, and the abuse of alcohol—that is, the overall complex of private and public viciousness—become the occasion for public confession of sin and guilt and for the prayer for forgiveness and mercy as well as for the grace to allow conversion. This conversion is also understood as national reformation, for the Civil War is not only God’s punishing affliction but also a wondrous proof of God’s grace. The war represented the public act of collective, active remorse and purification of the sinners; the war was the process by which submission to divine Providence took place. The return to God in a well-ordered spiritual-political existence was identical with the return to the “truth” and order of the Fathers. In 1863 Lincoln gave exemplary expression to the principle of the political revival:

“And insomuch as we know that, by His divine Law, nations like individuals are subjected to punishments and chastisements in this world, may we not justly fear that the awful calamity of civil war, which now desolates the land, may be but punishment, inflicted upon us, for our presumptuous sins, to the needful end of our national reformation as a whole people? We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of Heaven. We have been preserved, these many years, in peace and prosperity. We have grown in numbers, wealth and power, as no other nation has ever grown.”

“But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace, and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us; and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us! It behooves us then, to humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins, and to pray for clemency and forgiveness.”177

“I invite the People of the United States to . . . render homage due to the Divine Majesty, for the wonderful things he has done in the Nation’s behalf, and invoke the influence of His Holy Spirit … to lead the whole nation, through the paths of repentance and submission to the Divine Will back to the perfect enjoyment of Union and fraternal peace.”178

In the inaugural address of 1865 he described the catharsis of the Civil War in an apocalyptically tuned theodicy.

“The Almighty has its own purposes, ‘Woe unto the world because of offences! For it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh!’ If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offences which, in the Providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through his appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that he giveth to both North and South, this terrible war, as the woe due to those by whom the offence came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a Living God always ascribe to him?”

“Fondly do we hope—fervently do we pray— that the mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it should continue, until all the wealth piled by the bondman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by an other drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgements of the Lord, are true and righteous altogether.”

Lincoln’s version of Matthew 18:7 is placed right beside the Revelation of Saint John in order to incorporate the affliction of the war in a divine plan of salvation, which removes the “scandal” of slavery from the world and allows the victory of the North to be understood as the Lord’s righteous punishment of the sinners in the South. Lincoln’s concluding words present the ethic of the purged psyche: “With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in . . . to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.”179

Lincoln does not, however, mistake the purification of the national psyche with the salvation of man in the world; he warned against any apocalyptic exaltation that prophesied the realization of the kingdom of God in the here and now of the United States:

“Human nature will not change. In any future great national trial, compared with the men of this, we shall have as weak, and as strong; as silly, and as wise; as bad and good. Let us, therefore, study the incidents of this, as philosophy to learn wisdom from, and none of them as wrongs to be revenged.”180

Lincoln’s symbolism blended seamlessly with the other components of societal self-interpretation. In the “Founder and Restorator,” the national revival had once more brought the nation symbolically into harmony with the fathers, with God, and with the cosmos. The work of reconciliation seemed completed by Lincoln’s sacrificial death.181

The apotheosis of Lincoln as father and restorer gave to society a new source of order, a new standard for the interpretation of the existential truth of the order of the Fathers. But Lincoln’s spiritual strength was not communicated to enough members of society to allow the spiritual-political reformation of the depth dimension of the psyche to be touched to this extent and to allow the authentic experiences of order to evoke socially relevant changes in the socially dominant mental pattern.

Reconstruction was important within the prevailing symbolic form, since in the long term it implicated the inclusion of all the people on the continent in the paradigmatic republic. Because of its advanced concretization, however, the prevailing symbolic form largely swallowed all attempts at intellectual breakthroughs beyond the established image of reality. Only briefly did recurrence to the Fathers in the crisis seem to restore the nexus between order and founding in the real experience of the national corpus mysticum. But the consciousness of society, without foundation in predogmatic reality of knowledge, clung to the handed-down symbolic form to obviate the permanent danger of the loss of substantial solidarity.

The impetus of the spiritual-political awakening failed after 1865 as it ran increasingly into those socioeconomic processes that evoked the socio-political implications of spiritual-political revivals in society. As early as 1876 the centennial was once again marked by the sign of the jeremiad concerning universal corruption. The latent search for the order of man in the Republic was shaped by the medium of the meditative visualization of the founding and the associated methodologies of the social communication of the symbolic forms under changed social conditions.182



105. Wector, Hero in America; Peterson, The Jefferson Image.

106. Thorpe, “Adams and Jefferson,” 234.

107. P. A. Freund et al., eds. Constitutional Law (Boston, 1942), II, 1282ff.

108. Quoted in Peterson, The Jefferson Image, 113.

109. Craven, Legend of the Founding Fathers, 63-64.

110. J. Wilson, Works, ed. R. G. McGloskey (Cambridge, Mass., 1967), I, 6.

111. Boorstin, The Americans, II, 377.

112. Nietzsche, Werke, I, 223 (English from Nietzsche, The Use and Abuse of His­tory, 15).

113. Boorstin, The Americans, II, 309. In general, see S. G. Fisher, “The Legendary and  Myth-Making Process in Histories of the American Revolution,” Proceedings of the Ameri­can Philosophical Society, XL (1912).

114. Wector, Hero in America, 87. 120. Farrand, ed., Records of the Federal Convention, II, 417.

115. Boorstin, The Americans, II, 317-33.

116. Compare K. M. Stampp, ed., Causes of the Civil War (Englewood Cliffs, N.J., 1959)·

117. B. Moore, Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy (New York, 1963).

118. Ibid.,   187-88.

119. D. L. Robinson, Slavery in the Structure of American Politics, 1765-1820 (New York, 1971), 246, 424

120. Farrand, ed., Records of the Federal Convention, II, 417.

121. D. L. Robinson, Slavery in the Structure of American Politics, 409.

122. Thomas Jefferson to John Holmes, March 22, 1820, in Jefferson, Writings, XII, 158-59.

123. Bratford, A Rhetoric for Continuing Revolution, 2.

124. W. McWilliams, The Idea of Fraternity in America (Berkeley, Calif., 1973), 167. 125. George Fitzhugh, “Sociology of the South,” in Antebellum, ed. H. Wish (New York, 1960), 85.

126. Ibid., 83. Compare the anthology edited by McKitrick, ed., Slavery Defended (Englewood Cliffs, N.J., 1963); J. Calhoun, Works (New York, 1851-56). See also R. Hofstadter, “Calhoun,” in The American Political Tradition and the Men Who Made It (New York, 1961), 68-92; L. Hartz, The Liberal Tradition in America (New York, 1955), 145-200; W. J. Cash, The Mind of the South (New York, 1969), especially 91-100; McWilliams, Idea of Fraternity, 258-70. On the anthropological discussion in the United States, see W. D.Jordan, White Over Black (Chapel Hill, N.C., 1968), 482-538.

127. D. C. North, The Economic Growth of the United States (Englewood Cliffs, N.J., 1961),.67ff.; Moore, Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy; D. L. Robinson, Slav­ery in the Structure of American Politics, 432-33; A. H. Conrad and J. R. Meyer, “The Economics of Slavery in the Ante-Bellum South,” Journal of Political Economy, LXVI (1958), 95-130; R. W. Fogel and S. L. Engerman, Time on the Cross: The Economics of American Negro Slavery (Boston, 1974).

128. I use the term economic society here with the meaning given it by E. Heimann, Soziale Theorie der Wirtschaftssysteme (Tübingen, 1963).

129. Compare especially Moore, Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy.

130. This fact continued to perplex Friedrich Engels, among others, and occasionally made him doubt whether the North would win. Compare K. Marx and F. Engels, The Civil War in the United States (New York, 1961), 239-51.

131. Quoted in Wish, ed., Antebellum, 8.

132.. Fitzhugh, “Sociology of the South,” in Antebellum, ed. Wish, 95.

133. Hartz, Liberal Tradition, 151. 134. Ibid., 153-54. 135. Ibid., 166.136. Ibid., 170.

137. McWilliams, Idea of Fraternity, 266-67.

138. For example, see Acts and Resolves of Massachusetts, 1846-1848, 541-42; Acts and Resolves of Massachusetts, 1854-1855, 946-47 and passim.

139. W. A. Williams, Contours of American History, 252ff., 285-86.

140. Compare A. Nevins, Ordeal of the Union (New York, 1947-71), I; W. E. Binkley, American Political Parties (New York, 1963), 179-80; Moore, Social Origins of Dictator­ship and Democracy.

141. Compare Nagel, Sacred Trust, 160ff.

142. Quoted in Kohn, American Nationalism, 109.

143. Compare Nagel, Sacred Trust, 160.

144. Quoted in Nagel, Sacred Trust, 154-55.

145. Lincoln, Collected Works, II, 341. Lincoln always understood himself as the executor of Clay’s policies, and he always interpreted Clay, though sometimes it took an effort, as the purest representative of the Founding Fathers’ tradition; see his obituary for Clay of June 6, 1852, in Collected Works, II, 121-32.146. Ibid., IV, 438.

147. Ibid., III, 481-81. Compare the detailed account of the sociopolitical and programmatic genesis of the Republican party in E. Foner, Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men: The Ideology of the Republican Party Before the Civil War (New York, 1970), and Binkley, American Political Parties, 206-37.148. Foner, Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men, 309.

149. Ibid., 310.

150. Lincoln, Collected Works, II, 461-61.

151. Ibid., II, 385.

152. Hofstadter, American Political Tradition. Later, Marx was to adopt this belief of Lincoln’s: “The war of the Southern Confederacy is, therefore, not a war of defense, but a war of conquest, a war of conquest for the extension and perpetuation of slavery” (Marx and Engels, The Civil War in the United States, 73).

153. Lincoln, Collected Works, II, 385.

154. Ibid., 499-500. For here and for what follows, compare W. J. Wolf, Lincoln’s Religion (Boston, 1970).

155. Lincoln, Collected Works, IV, 271.

156. Ibid., VII, 23.

157. Ibid., II, 276.

158. Ibid., 404.

159. Ibid., 406.

160. Quoted in Hofstadter, American Political Tradition, 113.

161. Lincoln, Collected Works, II, 222-23.

162.. Ibid., 255, 271.

163. Ibid., IV, 21-22.

164. Ibid., III, 276.

165. Ibid., 307 ff., 522-45.

166. Ibid., 222.

167. Quoted in Foner, Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men, 294.

168. Lincoln, Collected Works, III, 328. Compare also III, 16, 146; II, 520 and passim.

169. Ibid., Il, 256.

170. Jordan, White Over Black, xff. Compare also D. L. Robinson, Slavery in the Structure of American Politics, 430; Foner, Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men, 261-300.

171. Lincoln, Collected Works, V, 370ff.

172. Ibid., II, 520.

173. First stanza:

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord:
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;
He hath loosed the fateful lightning of his terrible swift sword;
His truth is marching on.


Glory! Glory! Hallelujah ….

Fifth stanza:

In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea;
With a glory in his bosom that transfigured you and me;
As he died to make men holy, let us die to make men free,
While God is marching on.

The author, Julia Ward Howe, was far from being a dogmatic Christian; rather, she belonged to the “enlightened” Boston reformers surrounding Theodore Parker, closely connected with radical Republicans. “Thus the fact that she was the poet of the American apocalyptic faith is significant, it shows how deeply such ideas must have penetrated the national mind” (Tuveson, Redeemer Nation, 198). Tuveson’s brilliant interpretation of the song shows it to be an “Americanized” paraphrase of the apocalypse of Saint John; see 199-102. Compare also F. Wilson, Patriotic Core: Studies in the Literature of the American Civil War (New York, 1962), 91-96, and W.-A. Clebsh, “Christian Interpretations of the Civil War,” Church History, XXX (June, 1961), 212-2.2.

174. Foner, Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men, 114. Characteristically, Moore, Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy, simply bypasses this motivational center in his account of the radical Republicans.

175. Compare Lincoln’s “Address Before the Young Men’s Lyceum of Springfield, Illinois, January 27, 1838,” in Collected Works, I, 108-15; “Temperance Address, February 24, 1842,” ibid., 279: “And what a nobel ally is this, to the cause of political freedom. With such an aid, its march cannot fail to be on and on, till every son on earth shall drink in rich fruition the sorrow quenching draughts of perfect liberty. Happy day, when all appetites controlled, all passions subdued, all matters subjected to mind, all conquering mind, shall live and move the monarch of the world. Glorious consummation! Hail fall of Fury! Reign of Reason, all hail.” See also C. Sandburg, Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years and the War Years (New York, 1954), 14, 575, 641; McWilliams, Idea of Fraternity,276-78; Wolf, Lincoln‘s Religion.

176. Tuveson, Redeemer Nation, 206. Compare Nagel, Sacred Trust, 156-57, 191ff.

177. Lincoln, Collected Works, VI, 156,

178. Ibid., 331.

179. Ibid., VIII, 333. Compare the precise interpretation of the text in Tuveson, Redeemer Nation, 206-207, as well as Nagel, Sacred Trust, 130, 134, 145ff., 156-57, 165ff.

180. Lincoln, Collected Works, VIII, 101.

181. Nagel, Sacred Trust, 191ff., 195, 198ff.

182. Ibid., 207-23, 242-46.


This excerpt is from Americanism: Revolutionary Order and Societal Self-Interpretation in the American Republic. (Louisiana State University Press, 1999). This is the second part with parts one and three available; also see “Postwar Americanism,” “American Progressivism,” and “Americanism: Counterculture and Common Sense.”

Jürgen GebhardtJürgen Gebhardt

Jürgen Gebhardt

Jürgen Gebhardt is a Board Member of VoegelinView and Emeritus Professor at the Insitute for Political Science at the University of Erlangen-Nürenberg. He is the author and editor of several books, including Political Cultures and the Culture of Politics: A Transatlantic Perspective (Universitaetsverlag Winter, 2010).

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