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Timely Ideas: Abraham Lincoln’s Lyceum Address

September 15, 2020

by Jeremy Gypton

On 27 January 1838, notable local lawyer Abraham Lincoln addressed the Young Men’s Lyceum in Springfield, Illinois. This social and civic organization was made up of prominent and would-be prominent young men of the town and surrounding area and served as a place where its members could listen to interesting and useful speeches and, it was hoped, learn how to become more thoughtful and wise members of the community. In this address, Lincoln spoke at length about the rule of law and the need for people to follow the law, even when they believed it to be unjust, given that in America laws could be changed. He warned of the problems caused by mobs and vigilantes who, in taking the law into their own hands, were actually serving to destroy the law as a whole. By acting out their politics outside of the law, such people would encourage law-abiding citizens to lose faith in the law, and turn from it, as well. Lincoln, in his wisdom, saw far more in seemingly isolated instances of mob “justice” than one might initially perceive. Indeed, he saw the potential for his fellow citizens to destroy the country “by suicide” because of their lack of understanding of the value of the rule of law, and their unwillingness to use the system to achieve desired ends, instead of seeking to tear down that system.

Read Lincoln’s Lyceum Address here.

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