Frederick Douglass vs Abe Lincoln: Mexican-American War

Abraham Lincoln sounds like an early version of the modern day progressive in his speech for support of Zachary Taylor for president:

Abraham Lincoln on the Mexican-American War:

If to say “the war was unnecessarily and unconstitutionally commenced by the President” be opposing the war, then the Whigs have very generally opposed it. … The marching an army into the midst of a peaceful Mexican settlement, frightening the inhabitants away, leaving their growing crops and other property to destruction, to you may appear a perfectly amiable, peaceful, unprovoking procedure; but it does not appear so to us. . .. But if, when the war had begun, and had become the cause of the country, the giving-of our money and our blood, in common with yours, was support of the war, then it is not true that we have always opposed the war. With few individual exceptions, you have constantly had our votes here for all the necessary supplies. …

If it is unconstitutional, shouldn’t his job, the Whigs’ job, have been to impeach Polk? Instead of that, he & the Whigs throw their support behind the war effort.

Below is a superb critique of the political class by former slave, Frederick Douglass.

Frederick Douglass on the Mexican American War:

The determination of our slaveholding President to prosecute the war, and the probability of his success in wringing from the people men and money to carry it on, is made evident, rather than doubtful, by the puny opposition arrayed against him. No politician of any considerable distinction or eminence, seems willing to hazard his popularity with his party, or stem the fierce current of executive influence, by an open and unqualified disapprobation of the war. None seem willing to take their stand for peace at all risks; and all seem willing that the war should be carried on, in some form or other. If any oppose the President’s demands, it is not because they hate the war, but for want of information as to the aims and objects of the war. The boldest declaration on this point is that of Hon. John P. Hale, which is to the effect that he will not vote a single dollar to the President for carrying on the war, until he shall be fully informed of the purposes and objects of the war. Mr. Hale knows, as well as the President can inform him, for what the war is waged; and yet he accompanies his declaration with that prudent proviso. This shows how deep seated and strongly bulwarked is the evil against which we contend. The boldest dare not fully grapple with it.

I loved Douglass’s critique. He writes about how no politician will risk his political neck to condemn the war and since this is the case, the war will be carried on.  Are things not much the same today?  Most politicians won’t condemn US aggression overseas because they don’t want to appear soft, they don’t want to appear like they don’t care about safety.  The citizens were sold this war on terror as necessary to their safety, and now that narrative is difficult to counteract.   The part where he said “it is not because they hate the war, but for want of information as to the aims and objects of the war” is also typical of the modern day progressives.  They have no principled argument against using the US military to attack troubled areas across the oceans, they just bicker over whether or not such attacks meet the ever-shifting objectives they outline. Lincoln plays the progressive role with his “spot resolutions”.  These resolutions were a request for information, not of any principled stand against the war.  Per his own words, he got behind the war once it was commenced.

I was fairly new to politics when “Shock and Awe” was applied to free the Iraqis.  I didn’t understand that the left’s resistance to that war wasn’t because they hated war.  I was blindsided when I pointed out how Obama continued the Bush Doctrine of preemptive war, and they did not care.  Now I realize that there was never any real principled objection to war by most on the left.  It was smoke and mirrors to cast their opponents in the worst possible light.  As soon as one of theirs had the chance to take up the role of Commander in Chief, preemptive war was then the prescription to use.  The drone war was expanded.  Libya was attacked.  Syrian rebels were armed.  When Bush was in office, I used to see talk of how it wasn’t the role of the US to be the world police.  Once Obama took the reins, it is.  We will see how they react to Trump’s foreign policy.  My money is on the objections being on how and where the wars are waged.  The days of rejecting war are over, if there ever were any days like that.

Contracts

In his book, A People’s History of the United States, Howard Zinn says that contracts always favor the rich at the expense of the poor and powerless.  Therefore, he thinks, that law simply to enforce contracts is not just since the contracts don’t originate in just conditions.

Zinn thinks the rich party always gains a better advantage than the poor counterpart.  I think this is demonstrably false.  I would argue that the poorer counterpart, in general, has more to gain.

Rich, poor, or middle class, people enter into contracts to improve their position in life.  There is no point to doing it, if gain is not expected.  The rich already have much, materially, so a contract with a poor person is going to typically only improve their position slightly.  A poor person, entering into a contract, has more to gain because they have less to begin with.  Proportionally, based on material measures, it is easy to see the poor person gains more.

On the other hand, the poor person also has more to lose. If he contracts to work for someone, and they terminate his contract, he no longer enjoys the proportionally large gains he was experiencing.  Should the poor person not fulfill his part of the contract, it won’t be that big of a hit to the rich person, since he is already well off materially.

In essence, comparatively, the poor has more to gain and more to lose by entering into a contract with a rich person.

So what does this have to do with law, contracts, and justice?

Contracts favor both parties, because neither would enter into the contract if they don’t see an advantage to doing so.  Value is subjective, and how each party values the contract is individual, and it cannot be objectified by an outside party like Howard Zinn.  His claim that the terms are always unjust fails in the face of subjective value.

We have to assume that both parties agreeing to a contract understand the ramifications of doing so, and what failing to uphold their part will mean for them.  They both understand that the rewards of the contract also come with risks should either party not be able to fulfill their part of the contract.  It is true, that man has a tendency to act on passion, and discount risks.  He may borrow money, in a zeal to improve his condition based on a market opportunity he sees.  He may not want to think about what it would mean for him should he not be able to repay the borrowed funds.  If he doesn’t consider that conditions beyond his control may lead to his inability to repay funds, that is not the fault of the lender.  The lender is still owed the money or the collateral put up.  That collateral was put up, should indicate to the borrower exactly what he is risking.  He should have a plan B, should conditions prohibit his plan A from succeeding.

Does this mean that there will be prudent men who don’t mortgage their farms to take advantage of market opportunities?  Sure.  Does it mean sometimes imprudent men gain great material advantage from accepting risk?  Sure.  It also means that imprudent men can lose everything because they accepted risk or that prudent men take a risk and they are prepared to deal with the repercussions should the risk not pay off.  People need to be treated like rational adults who can deal with the consequences of their decisions, even when the consequences are very serious.

This doesn’t mean the fallout isn’t sad.  It doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t feel sorry for them.  We have all made poor decisions that resulted in sad consequences.  If we can, we should do our best to help them in their time of need.

What we shouldn’t do is pretend that they are victims of an unjust order that always favors the rich.  The remedy to income disparity is leveling. and leveling makes everyone poorer.  Freedom permits the industrious to improve their position.  Freedom means that you should be free to enter into contracts.  Making the choice to enter a contract means you consent to the terms and the risks of noncompliance.  Freedom doesn’t mean that you can just take whatever risks you want and not have to deal with the consequences when the results don’t pan out like you hoped.

It is hard, because it is distressful when people have gotten into debt and lose their property, and livelihood as a result.  Who can listen to Rain on the Scarecrow without feeling dejected?  Feeling bad for people going through a hard time doesn’t mean that a system that enforces contracts is not just.

If people can’t expect that the terms of a contract will be upheld, then there is no justice.  A poor person would expect a rich person to make good on their promises.  If we are to be treated equally, then a rich person should expect that a poorer person should make good on their promises.  Imagine if only rich people were expected to uphold their side of a bargain, and the poorer counterparts would be exempted for various reasons.  The borrowing opportunities for those without much money would dry up, making it even harder for them to improve their material well being.  Therefore, contrary to what Howard Zinn asserts, not only is contract enforcement just, it actually helps encourage the conditions for poorer people to enhance their life.