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Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Lincoln and the Know-Nothings: Quote of the Day

The resurgence of the know-nothings


“Our progress in degeneracy appears to me to be pretty rapid.
As a nation, we begin by declaring that ‘all men are created equal.’
We now practically read it ‘all men are created equal, except negroes.’
When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read ‘all men are created equal, except negroes, and foreigners, and catholics.’
When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretence of loving liberty — to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocracy.”
– Abraham Lincoln, August 24, 1855, letter to Joshua F. Speed

Ann Coulter has been rabble-rousing recently about immigrants (they’re destroying America), Muslims (the FBI should do … something … about them), and Catholics (they shouldn’t be citizens because they’re untrustworthy).

It used to be easy to dismiss this kind of crankery as just fringe trolling, but today, the know-nothings seem to be the front-runners for the Party of Lincoln’s nomination. 

Fear-mongering about foreign trade, immigrants, and racial and religious minorities seems to be back in style — and so is the authoritarian ideology that inevitably stalks behind it.

Donald Trump, leading the polls by a wide margin, entertains conspiracy theories about President Obama’s birthplace and religion (which isn’t surprising when most of his supporters think the president is secretly a Muslim). Trump happily bashes the Chinese, the JapaneseMexicans, and Arabs to thunderous applause in front of packed football stadiums of supporters.

Ben Carson has surged into second place, and he’s been making headlines (and a ton of donations) by saying that American Muslims shouldn’t be president or public officials.

Nine Republican candidates have  expressed interested in repealing the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of birthright citizenship — one the Republican Party’s greatest achievements after the abolition of slavery.


  • Daniel Bier is the executive editor of The Skeptical Libertarian.