The most arresting aspect of Jack Balkin's thought-provoking paper about the consequences of fidelity to the Constitution is his use of Abraham Lincoln. Professor Balkin offers Lincoln as a prime example of someone blinded by fidelity to the Constitution. Lincoln's fidelity to the Constitution, Balkin tells us, allowed him to make a kind of peace with slavery, to think that it was "not so great an evil that it had to be abolished immediately." This is such a powerful point because, 130 years after Lincoln's assassination, we mourn him still. We mourn him because we miss his leadership, we miss his integrity, we miss his moral vision. In the first day of this Symposium, Bruce Ackerman sadly observed, "There is nobody like Abraham Lincoln around," and that is absolutely true. He was and is our nation's secular saint. And so, if his fidelity to the Constitution blinded Lincoln to an evil so hideous and so manifest as slavery, we must ask: What of us? What are we missing? What evil do we fail to see?
The author believes that Professor Balkin is wrong about Lincoln and that the lesson we can learn from Lincoln is very different from the one Balkin offers. Lincoln teaches us both why we should be faithful to the Constitution and what fidelity is.
65 Fordham L. Rev. 1781-1786 (1997)
Scholarly Commons Citation
Treanor, William Michael, "Learning From Lincoln" (1997). Georgetown Law Faculty Publications and Other Works. Paper 1045.