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Lincoln on the Purpose of Government

“This is essentially a People’s contest… It is a struggle for maintaining in the world, that form and substance of government, whose leading object is to elevate the condition of men – to lift artificial weights from all shoulders – to clear the paths of laudable pursuits for all – to afford all an unfettered start and a fair chance in the race of life.”

Message to Congress, July 4, 1861

“It is not merely for today, but for all time to come that we should perpetuate for our children’s children this great and free government, which we have enjoyed all our lives.”

Speech at Washington, D.C., August 22, 1864


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Lincoln on Race Relations and Tensions


“There will be some black men who can remember that with silent tongue, and clenched teeth, and steady eye, and well poised bayonet, they have helped mankind on to this great consummation, while I fear there will be some white ones unable to forget that with malignant heart and deceitful speech they strove to hinder it.”

Letter to James Conkling, August 26, 1863


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Lincoln on Reading Bills Before Voting

“A capacity and taste for reading gives access to whatever has been discovered by others. It is the key, or one of the keys, to the already solved problems. And not only so; it gives a relish and a facility for successfully pursuing the unsolved ones.”

Speech at Milwaukee, September 30, 1859


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Lincoln on the Republic of States

“The republican system of government has proved its adaptation to what is the first purpose of government everywhere – the maintenance of national independence (and) the preservation of peace, order and national prosperity.”

Letter to D. M. Hurtado, June 4, 1861

“Each community, as a State, has a right to do exactly as it pleases with all the concerns within that state that interfere with the right of no other State; and that the general government, upon principle, has no right to interfere with anything other than that general class of things that does not concern the  whole.”

Speech at Chicago, July 10, 1858


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Lincoln on the Republican Party

“All you have to do is to keep the faith, to remain steadfast to the right, to stand by your banner. Nothing should lead you to leave your guns. Stand together, ready, with match in hand. Allow nothing to turn you to the right or the left. Remember how long you have been in setting out on the true course; how long you have been in getting your neighbors to understand and believe as you now do. Stand by your principles; stand by your guns, and victory, complete and permanent, is sure at last.”

Speech at Chicago, March 1, 1859

“The chief and real purpose of the Republican Party is conservative. It proposes nothing save and except to restore this government to its original tone…”

Speech at Columbus, September 16, 1859


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Lincoln on the Right to Rise

“Most governments have been based, practically, on the denial of the equal rights of men. Ours began by affirming those rights. The said “some men are too ignorant and vicious to share in government.” “Possibly so,” said we, “and by our system you would always keep them ignorant and vicious. We propose to give all a chance; and we expect the weak to grow stronger, the ignorant wiser and all better and happier together.”

Notes, July 1, 1854


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Lincoln on the Role of the Judiciary

“Judicial decisions have two uses – first, to absolutely determine the case decided, and, secondly, to indicate to the public how other similar cases will be decided when they arise. For the latter use they are called “precedents” and “authorities.” . . . Judicial decisions are of greater or less authority as precedents according to circumstances…  If this important decision had been made by the unanimous concurrence of the judges, and without any apparent partisan bias, and in accordance with legal public expectation, and with the steady practice of the departments throughout our history, and had been in no part based on assumed historical facts which are not really true; or, if wanting in some of those, it had been before the court more than once, and had there been affirmed and reaffirmed through a course of years, it then might be, perhaps would be, factious, nay, even revolutionary, not to acquiesce in it as a precedent. But when, as is true, we find it wanting in all these claims to the public confidence, it is not resistance, it is not factious, it is not even disrespectful, to treat it as not having yet quite established a settled doctrine for the country.”

Speech at Springfield, June 26, 1857


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Lincoln on Supreme Court Decisions

“I do not forget the position assumed by some, that constitutional questions are to be decided by the Supreme Court; nor do I deny that such decisions must be binding, in any case, upon the parties to the suit, as to the objects of that suit, while they are also entitled to very high respect and consideration in all parallel cases, by all other departments of the government. And while it is obviously possible that such decisions may be erroneous in any given case, still the evil effect following it being limited to that particular case, with the chance that it may be overruled, and never become a precedent for other cases, can better be borne than could the evils of a different practice. At the same time the candid citizen must confess that if the policy of the government, upon vital questions affecting the whole people, is to be irrevocably fixed by decisions of the Supreme Court, the instant they are made in ordinary litigation, between parties in personal actions, the people will have ceased to be their own rulers, having to that extent practically resigned their government into the hands of that eminent tribunal.”

First Inaugural Address, March 4, 1861


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Lincoln on Transportation Infrastructure

The Transcontinental Railroad Act enacted in 1862 over Lincoln’s signature built the trackage system that connected a nation, reducing the travel time between East and West from months to days. The benefits to commerce and industry, civilization and progress were immediately obtained. Government does have a legitimate role in infrastructure development and maintenance.


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