GOP: Party of Reagan, Lincoln, or … Dan Winslow?

Recently I applauded a video released by Rep. Dan Winslow  for getting two mentions of Abraham Lincoln into only a little over two minutes of video. But I also questioned whether it is realistic to reclaim the mantle of the Party of Lincoln for an institution that has so long been the Party of Reagan. So does Dan Winslow of the Massachusetts GOP represent the Party of Reagan or the Party of Lincoln?

Here is what I have in mind, in addition to the quotes in my prior post wherein Lincoln argues that labor is the superior of capital.  One of President Ronald Reagan’s most famous and enduring quotations is from his First Inaugural: “Government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem.”

Contrast Reagan’s dismissal of government to this viewpoint of Lincoln, from “Fragments of a Tariff Discussion” (December 1, 1847?) “To [secure] to each labourer the whole product of his labour, or as nearly as possible, is a most worthy object of any good government.”

Reagan famously broke the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization and had generally hostile views toward labor. Lincoln seems quite willing to use government to protect labor, as a “most worthy object of any good government.”

Times change. Winslow recognizes that a Massachusetts Republican must be “a different kind of breed from the national Republicans.” He’ll have to show what that means to avoid Scott Brown’s fate of being dragged down by the national GOP. Perhaps we will witness the birth of the Party of Winslow?

About Maurice T. Cunningham

Maurice T. Cunningham is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts at Boston. He teaches courses in American government including Massachusetts Politics, The American Presidency, Catholics in Political Life, The Political Thought of Abraham Lincoln, American Political Thought, and Public Policy. His book Maximization, Whatever the Cost: Race, Redistricting and the Department of Justice examines the role of the DOJ in requiring states to maximize minority voting districts in the Nineties. He has published articles dealing with the role of the Catholic Church in Massachusetts politics and on party politics in the state. His research interests focus upon the changing political culture of Massachusetts.
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5 Responses to GOP: Party of Reagan, Lincoln, or … Dan Winslow?

  1. William Binder says:

    Prof. Cunningham,

    Is it fair to say that Lincoln viewed labor as a means to gaining capital? If so, is it fair to say that he did not necessarily prefer labor over capital, but instead viewed labor as preceding capital in the sense that labor would lead to an individual acquiring capital?

    And if this is true, then would it not follow that “in the course of time [the laborer] too has enough capital to hire some new beginner.”

  2. Jeff Semon says:

    Professor,
    Your interpretation of Lincoln’s quote “To [secure] to each labourer the whole product of his labour, or as nearly as possible, is a most worthy object of any good government.” is either grossly intellectually dishonest or a simple mistake by not seeing the word “product” in the quote.

    Lincoln clearly states that a person is entitled to keep what they earn or “as nearly as possible.”

    I hazard a guess that you are re-interpreting the quote intentionally rather than missing the word “product,” because it supports your false assumption that somehow Reagan’s less government is good philosophy counters that of Lincoln.

    Lincoln seems quite willing to use government to protect labor, as a ‘most worthy object of any good government.’

    It clearly does not.

  3. Maurice T. Cunningham says:

    Mr. Semon,
    When I see arguments like yours I am always reminded of Lincoln’s ridicule of Douglas’s arguments in the debate at Ottawa: “a specious and fantastic arrangement of words, by which a man can prove a horse chestnut to be a chestnut horse.”

    In his first attempt at elective office he issued an announcement to the people of Sangamo County outlining his views. These views explained the Whiggish willingness to expend public funds to promote economic growth. Should the representative from Sangamo pursue a rail road or the improved navigability of the Sangamo River? The rail road would be far and away the most productive option – but Lincoln was rightly observant of what the public could afford and explained he would favor improving navigation on the Sangamo.

    If you will consult the entirety of the Fragment on Tariffs from 1847 quod.lib.umich.edu/l/lincoln/lincoln1/1:423?hi=0;rgn=div1;singlegenre=All;sort=occur;subview=detail;type=boolean;view=fulltext;q1=sweat;op2=and;q2=face;op3=and;q3=bread you will see that Lincoln is working out a position in favor of action by the federal government – the tariff – to protect the laborer.

    In the Fragment Lincoln says that In the early days of the world, “the Almighty said to the first of our race `’In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread’’; and since then, if we except the light and the air of heaven, no good thing has been, or can be enjoyed by us, without having first cost labour. And, inasmuch [as] most good things are produced by labour, it follows that [all] such things of right belong to those whose labour has produced them. But it has so happened in all ages of the world, that some have laboured, and others have, without labour, enjoyed a large proportion of the fruits. This is wrong, and should not continue. To [secure] to each labourer the whole product of his labour, or as nearly as possible, is a most worthy object of any good government. But then the question arises, how can a government best, effect this?”

    Where did Lincoln see this productivity coming from? You will be pleased to note that he saw it in the individual hard work and ambition of the laborer. In the service of that hard work and ambition, Lincoln saw a role for government. In the Fragment he works through how the ability of overseas goods to undersell American goods would harm the overall economy, though it would surely benefit some in the short run.
    Lincoln’s answer obviously is not that government should stand completely aside. He seems more concerned that the worker’s labor will be misappropriated by the boss or down the road, by the slave master.

    As I posted here: “In some respects we understand our economic system in the way Lincoln explained it to us. In a speech to the Wisconsin State Agricultural Society in 1859, Lincoln said “The prudent, penniless beginner in the world, labors for wages awhile, saves a surplus with which to buy tools or land, for himself; then labors on his own account another while, and at length hires another new beginner to help him. This, say its advocates, is free labor – the just and generous, and prosperous system, which opens the way for all – gives hope to all, and energy, and progress, and improvement of condition to all.”

    But then in the same address Lincoln said this:

    “They (a class of thinkers with whom Lincoln agrees) hold that labor is prior to, and independent of, capital; that, in fact, capital is the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed—that labor can exist without capital, but that capital could never have existed without labor. Hence they hold that labor is the superior—greatly the superior—of capital.”

    For your amusement only and not as a general expression of Lincoln’s views I include this quote from an address to the Illinois legislature: “These capitalists generally act harmoniously, and in concert, to fleece the people, and now, that they have got into a quarrel with themselves, we are called upon to appropriate the people’s money to settle the quarrel.”

    But of course Lincoln saw capitalism as a great good – even if he saw a role for government in promoting its positive avenues and restricting its tendencies to harm. It may even be said that we understand American capitalism in terms set by Lincoln. Take a look at Gabor Boritt, Lincoln and the Economics of the American Dream, one of the most important books on Lincoln.

    Lincoln saw a future ripe with economic progress for all. He just didn’t see a future in which government was the enemy.

  4. Jeff Semon says:

    Professor,
    In reading both Fragments of a Tariff discussion and the selected points you have outlined, I simply must say you are profoundly wrong in your interpretation of Lincoln’s intention with those words.

    It as as clear as day:

    [all] such things of right belong to those whose labour has produced them. But it has so happened in all ages of the world, that some have laboured, and others have, without labour, enjoyed a large proportion of the fruits. This is wrong, and should not continue.

    In no way, shape, or form does Lincoln advocate that government must protect “labor.” If anything he is advocating that people are entitled to the whole of the PRODUCT of their labor.
    That is the intention of his comments.

    “Government was the enemy” ………really Professor. c’mon.

    I’d be happy to discuss this any other issues of the day on your radio show any time. Feel free to check out my youtube channel for past panels I have been a part of.
    www.youtube.com/jeffsemon

  5. Maurice T. Cunningham says:

    “To [secure] to each labourer the whole product of his labour, or as nearly as possible, is a most worthy object of any good government.” A. Lincoln.

    Your argument is with Lincoln, not with me. Simply saying it ain’t so doesn’t make it not so. Lincoln was a complex thinker who was a great avatar of American capitalism. He just didn’t see things in the simplistic way you would prefer.

    He eventually used the power of government to alienate a good deal of private property, as I recall.

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