Mike Huckabee ‘Getting Wrong’ With Lincoln

With the presidential election season moving into high gear it is just a matter of time before we are bombarded with the tired references to the Founding Fathers and Abraham Lincoln. It’s all about “getting right” with these men, but this past week Mike Huckabee completely missed the boat when he referenced Lincoln in his defense of Kim Davis, the Kentucky clerk, who as you all know is currently in jail for defying a court order authorizing marriage certificates for gay couples.

Huckabee argues that Kim Davis is following in the footsteps of Lincoln, who he believes defied the Supreme Court’s decision in the case of Dred Scott.

It should come as no surprise that at no point has Huckabee offered textual evidence or reference to a specific moment in Lincoln’s public career to support his claim:

“Look, you would have hated Lincoln, because he disregarded the Dred Scott 1857 decision that said black people aren’t fully human,” Huckabee said when host Joe Scarborough questioned him about his support of Davis. “[Lincoln] disregarded [Dred Scott] because he knew it was not operative, that it was not logical.”

“You obey if it’s right,” the former Arkansas governor said on “This Week.” “So, I go back to my question, is slavery the law of the land because Dred Scott said so? Was that a correct decision? Should the courts have been irrevocably followed on that? Should Lincoln have been put in jail? Because he ignored it. That’s the fundamental question.”

The level of ignorance at work here is staggering. It doesn’t take much to locate Lincoln’s very public view of the Dred Scott case as well as his understanding of the judicial review. You can find it in a speech he gave in his hometown of Springfield, Illinois on June 26, 1857.

And now as to the Dred Scott decision. That decision declares two propositions-first, that a negro cannot sue in the U.S. Courts; and secondly, that Congress cannot prohibit slavery in the Territories. It was made by a divided court-dividing differently on the different points. Judge Douglas does not discuss the merits of the decision; and, in that respect, I shall follow his example, believing I could no more improve on McLean and Curtis, than he could on Taney.

He denounces all who question the correctness of that decision, as offering violent resistance to it. But who resists it? Who has, in spite of the decision, declared Dred Scott free, and resisted the authority of his master over him?

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.”

We believe, as much as Judge Douglas, (perhaps more) in obedience to, and respect for the judicial department of government. We think its decisions on Constitutional questions, when fully settled, should control, not only the particular cases decided, but the general policy of the country, subject to be disturbed only by amendments of the Constitution as provided in that instrument itself. More than this would be revolution. But we think the Dred Scott decision is erroneous. We know the court that made it, has often over-ruled its own decisions, and we shall do what we can to have it to over-rule this. We offer no resistance to it.

It is worth reading the rest of Lincoln’s speech. He offers a close critique of Chief Justice Taney’s ruling and assesses its place as precedent for future cases. There is nothing in Lincoln’s speech or any other that I am aware of which supports Huckabee’s argument above.

In fact, if anyone ought to read Lincoln right now it’s an individual whose highest aspiration is to win an elected office that involves nothing less than enforcing the law.

22 thoughts on “Mike Huckabee ‘Getting Wrong’ With Lincoln

  1. Annette Jackson

    There is so much ignorance floating around there on any subject you can select. Miz Davis has also been compared to Martin Luther King for no reason other than it is apparently an attempt to make her into a freedom fighter. Grasping at straws…

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      1. Annette Jackson

        There was a “Davis for President” sign at a rally for her outside her lonely cell…which apparently won’t be too lonely tomorrow with visits from Huckabee and Cruz scheduled…..what historical facts will be twisted next?

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  2. James Harrigan

    thanks for that Lincoln quote, Kevin. I of course knew that Huckabee was spouting nonsense, but I hadn’t known about Lincoln’s words on the subject.

    As a legal matter, I suppose that Dred Scott wasn’t overturned until the 13th and 14th amendments. Is that correct?

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      1. Stephen Blackstock

        Seems like Scott’s inability to sue was redressed by the 14th, and Congress got the ability to prohibit slavery in the territories was reconstituted by the 13th, no?

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  3. Allen Edelstein

    Isn’t it typical of us humans to jump to conclusions that support our own beliefs without checking further? And isn’t this especially true when politics and not just our personal beliefs are the issue?

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    1. Kevin Levin Post author

      Another commentator compared Kim Davis to a Jew living in Nazi Germany. In the hands of certain people, history is whatever you want it to be when it is being driven by politics.

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  4. Johnny Bernhard

    Kevin, with all due respect I believe you may be off-target here. Lincoln did not assume the office of the Presidency until 1861. The speech you cite was given in 1857. Lincoln was not a public official at that time and was only a candidate for the U.S. Senate race, which he ultimately lost to Stephen Douglas. Thus, his only possibly course of action in 1857 would be to criticize the decision, as he had no power to defy it. Later, Lincoln said in his 1861 inaugural speech that “…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.” This is widely interpreted to be a reference to the Dred Scott decision, although Lincoln did not mention it by name. More can be read on this at http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/03/03/lincoln-addresses-the-nation/#ftnStriner

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    1. Kevin Levin Post author

      Thanks for the comment.

      Thus, his only possibly course of action in 1857 would be to criticize the decision, as he had no power to defy it.

      I don’t follow you here. Why couldn’t Lincoln have voiced opposition to the ruling or suggested in a speech that citizens ought to actively disobey it?

      In the speech I referenced Lincoln does talk about the work that can and even ought to be done to overturn unjust decisions by the Supreme Court. What he doesn’t countenance and what I don’t see in the link you provide is where he advocates disobeying a ruling. In other words, I interpret Lincoln to be advocating a lawful overturning of a SC decision.

      Huckabee is suggesting that Lincoln advocated disobeying a decision made by the court. I don’t see that.

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      1. Johnny Bernhard

        Kevin, the point I’m making is that Huck was referencing Lincoln’s actions as President (1861-1865), not as a Senatorial candidate in 1857. So anything Lincoln said in 1857 is neither here nor there. In fact, if you look more closely at Lincoln’s inaugural address and his actions as President, it is clear that Lincoln took the position that the Dred Scott decision only settled the case of Dred himself, not a principle for the rest of country. One can hardly argue that Lincoln’s 4+ years in office was deferential to the Dred Scott decision.

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        1. Kevin Levin Post author

          Lincoln may not have been “deferential” to the Scott decision during the presidency, but that is quite different from the claim that Huckabee is making about his attitude toward the Supreme Court and the rule of law.

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        2. Douglas Egerton

          In both his debates with Douglas in 1858, and then during his presidential campaign in 1860, Lincoln consistently argued that while the Dred Scott decision had been wrongly decided, the Court had ruled and therefore had to be obeyed, which is why abolitionist Parker Pillsbury insisted that in voting for Republicans, “you as effectively vote for slavery as you would in voting for Stephen A. Douglas.” Republicans did hint in 1860, of course, that Taney was very old, and that a vote for them was a vote to reverse Dred Scott down the road. But among mainstream Republicans, only Salmon Chase argued that the Court could simply be ignored. One of the problems with people like Huckabee is that they announce this nonsense on talk shows in which the hosts are rarely little better up on the historical past than they are, and so nobody calls them on their inaccuracies. Thank you for doing so, Kevin.

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          1. Johnny Bernhard

            See BPS’s comment below. And there are other examples of Lincoln as President disregarding the principle of the Dred Scott decision. I am not contesting that Lincoln said otherwise in speeches and debates for he took office.

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  5. Marian Latimer

    I love how these fine folks invoke whatever political martyr they think might serve their purpose. Let’s be clear, this woman is not doing anything but keeping an entire county government in an uproar and making it very stressful for the other people who have to work in that complex to do their jobs. There are a dozen of these magistrates here in NC, a state that passed a no same sex marriage amendment but a hefty and embarrassing margin, a few election cycles ago, doing precisely the same thing. They may opt out for sincerely held beliefs but they also cannot issue or perform any other marriage certificates or ceremonies. I believe that there are others in the county who have to step up to do so. (And there was a record number of same-sex marriages, outnumbering straight marriages, as soon as the new law took effect.) I’m no Biblical scholar but I believe that there really is no clear reference to this but there is also mentions of polygamy and brothers having to marry the widow of their brother and so on. Kind of puts Ms. Davis and her followers with a new set of questions to answer.

    I was a public/government employee/civil servant for virtually my entire career. Did I like some of the BS stuff I had to do, even though I disagreed with it or in many cases, thought it was cruel? Nope, but that was part of the job. I sent a clerk from the front desk back to one of the supervisors once because she was not, by God, going to issue a medical authorization for an abortion for one of my clients. She thought the new governor was instantly going to give her the right to do that. Another clerk issued it.

    This woman took, as most officials do, an oath. She is doing the equivalent of a seven year old, who suddenly discovers that there is homework, life isn’t fair, and there are no do-overs in the real world, but she will throw a tantrum until that world meets her needs. In short, she is not so much a religious fanatic as an attention whore. Pull the cameras and the rest of the media out of there and you can bet she will cave real fast.

    Oh, and I hope they are deducting the costs of her confinement from her pay.

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    1. Marian Latimer

      Having CNN on this afternoon and not paying close attention until they announce that this woman was getting out, I watched this with my best friend on the phone up in Michigan. I rest my case on the media whore description. This isn’t about religion at all. It’s about a new form of Klan in a different colored sheet. Huckabee was right there to cash in his political chips.

      America: coasting backwards one zealot at a time.

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  6. BPS

    Hadley Arkes, a professor at Amherst, in his book “Natural Rights and the Right to Choose” relates concrete actions Lincoln took in his adminstration to NOT enforce Dred Scott.
    One black man had been denied a patent and another black man a passport necessary to study medicine in Germany. These had been denied in the Buchanan adminstration because these men had been deemed “non-citizens” by the Dred Scott decision.
    In 1861, Lincoln ordered the federal officials to issue the patent and the passport.

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    1. Elijah

      Is there a requirement to be a citizen to receive a patent? Was citizenship required to receive a passport. Could the president legally provide exemptions if citizenship is a prerequisite?

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    1. BPS

      While an 1836 law allowed non-citizens to apply for patents, issuance of them were still at the discretion of the patent office. If blacks born free in the U.S. were not citizens of the U.S (and according to the Dred Scott decison, they were not, then they were not citizens of any country. The reason given to the applicant, who applied as a U.S. citizen, by the bureaucrat from the patent office was that he was NOT a U.S. citizen.
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_United_States_patent_law

      Reply

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