At age twenty-eight, Abraham Lincoln made a public address. A biographer, David Donald, noted, “This was the golden age of the lyceum movement, when men and women thronged lecture halls and listened for hours to speakers who might edify, enlighten or, at least, amuse them.” Writing a century ago, the poet Carl Sandburg described the theme of this long-remembered and often-cited 1838 Lyceum Speech as, “the spirit of violence in men overriding law and legal procedure.”
We in the US live again in a time of threat, now, “societal” tension, not unlike the time of Lincoln’s speech, the then, “sectional” tensions of the approaching Civil War - and tension now for the same reason, the endurance of white supremacy.
Praising the system of government bequeathed us by the Founders, Lincoln asked, “At what point shall we expect the approach of danger?” He responded rhetorically, is there some “transatlantic” giant to “crush us at a blow” and come “take a drink from the Ohio?” No. “If destruction be our lot, we ourselves must be its author.”
For evidence Lincoln cited “disregard for law … furious passions, in lieu of sober judgment … (and) worse than savage mobs for … ministers of justice.”