Lincoln's Defense of Politics: The Public Man and His Opponents in the Crisis over Slavery

By Thomas E. Schneider | Go to book overview

Chapter 6
The Attack on Locke

Notwithstanding his implicit criticism of Locke in the Disquisition on Government, Calhoun shared Locke's suspicion of government, a suspicion rooted in the liberal distinction between state and society. If the framers of the Constitution were to be faulted, in Calhoun's judgment, it was for drawing the line with insufficient distinctness. The efforts of Fitzhugh, by contrast, were directed toward diminishing the distance between state and society. Traditional societies, he pointed out, do not regard government as something artificial, and, accordingly, they do not share liberals' concern with marking the limits of legitimate government action. Traditional societies do not feel the need to distinguish strictly between submitting to government and consenting to it.

In his Peoria speech, given the same year that Sociology for the South was published, Lincoln said, “no man is good enough to govern another man, without that other's consent”—a claim about human nature he held to be implicit in American institutions of government as well as explicit in the Declaration of Independence. In his attack on the Declaration, Fitzhugh did not focus on its assertion of human equality, because to do so would have implied that he was defending natural slavery. Fitzhugh knew better: “that natural slavery of the weak to the strong, the foolish to the wise and cunning” was what existed in the North, where “liberty

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