We’ve forgotten what Abraham Lincoln said about Thomas Jefferson

In a letter to the Massachusetts Republicans in April 1859, Abraham Lincoln wrote:

The principles of Jefferson are the definitions and axioms of free society. And yet they are denied and evaded with no small show of success.

One dashingly calls them ‘glittering generalities.’ Another bluntly calls them ‘evident lies.’ And others insidiously argue that they apply only to ‘superior races.’

These expressions, differing in form, are identical in object and effect — supplanting the principles of free government, and restoring those of classification and caste. They would delight a convocation of crowned heads plotting against the people.

They are the vanguard — the sappers and miners of returning despotism. We must repulse them or they will subjugate us.

This is a world of compensation; and he would be no slave must consent to have no slave. Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves, and under a just God cannot long retain it.

All honor to Jefferson — to the man who, in the concrete pressure of a struggle for national independence, had the coolness, forecast, and capacity to introduce into a merely revolutionary document an abstract truth, applicable to all men at all times, and so to embalm it there, that today, and in all coming days, it should be a rebuke and a stumbling block to the very harbingers of reappearing tyranny and oppression.

I also found this paper by David Post of Temple University Law School to be informative and useful.

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