Monday, February 9, 2009

Abraham Lincoln on the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution: "A Word Fitly Spoken"

As we celebrate Lincoln's 200th Birthday on February 12th, let us reflect on his favorite quote: “... We hold these truths to be self‑evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Abraham Lincoln said: “I have never had a feeling politically that did not spring from the sentiments embodied in the Declaration of Independence” and “Let us revere the Declaration of Independence.”

Concerning the relationship of the Declaration of Independence to the Constitution, Abraham Lincoln wrote the following meditation on the Old Testament, Proverbs 25:11 – “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver”:

“[The prosperity of the United States] is not the result of accident. It has a philosophic cause. Without the Constitution and the Union, we could not have attained the result; but even these are not the primary cause of our great prosperity. There is something back of these, entwining itself more closely about the human heart. That something, is the principle of "Liberty to all" -- the principle that clears the path for all -- gives hope to all -- and, by consequence, enterprise and industry to all.

The expression of that principle, in our Declaration of Independence, was most happy, and fortunate. Without this, as well as with it, we could have declared our independence of Great Britain; but without it, we could not, I think, have secured our free government and consequent prosperity. The assertion of that principle, at that time, was the word "fitly spoken" which has proven an "apple of gold" to us. The Union, and the Constitution, are the picture of silver, subsequently framed around it. The picture was made, not to conceal, or destroy the apple; but to adorn and preserve it. The picture was made for the apple -- not the apple for the picture.

So let us act, that neither picture, or apple shall ever be blurred, bruised or broken …
That we may so act, we must study, and understand the points of danger.”
From Roy P. Blaser, ed., The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln (New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 1953), vol. iv, 168 (italics in original).
As Lincoln did throughout his life and Presidency, may we ever cherish the Declaration of Independence, and may its principles of liberty and equality ever be protected under our Constitution.
By: J. David Gowdy