Abraham Lincoln once compared the leading principle of the Declaration of Independence—the self-evident truth that all men are created equal—to an "apple of gold." The Constitution, Lincoln said, was a "picture of silver, subsequently framed around it." "The picture was made not to conceal or destroy the apple, but to adorn and preserve it."
For more than a century, modern liberalism has been working to dismantle constitutional government in America. The architects of liberalism believed, as did Lincoln, that the Constitution ultimately rests on the principles of the Declaration of Independence. A constitutional government of limited powers, one that protects equal rights through the consent of the governed, makes sense only if rights precede government and if the purpose of government is limited to protecting those rights. The liberal strategy, therefore, was to undermine the Constitution by attacking the principles of the Declaration.
Smart liberals understood that if they could persuade the American mind to reject the possibility of self-evident, timeless truth, and if they could help Americans forget the source of their rights—the "Creator" and author of "the laws of nature," in the words of the Declaration—their work would be more than half done: With the Constitution's foundation eroded, the Constitution would no longer be authoritative or binding in American political life. Liberalism could then begin to build an administrative state of unlimited political power.
The political story of the last century has been the more or less unimpeded march of liberalism. But its success is not complete. Remnants of constitutional government remain, and there are patriots who still believe that the political science of the American Founders and Abraham Lincoln remains superior to the illiberal science of modern liberalism.
Recovering limited, constitutional government in America will require more than refuting the latest liberal deconstructions of the Constitution. These are symptoms, not causes, of the liberal problem. They could never have gained public acceptance if the American public had not long ago begun to forget what the Constitution means and why it matters. Our aim, therefore, should be to restore the authority of the Constitution in our national politics. But this will require principled arguments that explain why a constitutional government of limited powers is preferable to an administrative state which knows no limits to its power. The apple of gold must be restored if the picture of silver is to serve its purpose.
To advance this work, the Claremont Institute offers the Abraham Lincoln Fellowships in Constitutional Government, an intensive, week-long seminar on the principles of American constitutional government and free society. Up to ten Lincoln Fellows will be selected. Each will receive an honorarium as well as travel, lodging, and meals, and join us August 6-14, 2005, in Newport Beach, California. Fellowships are offered to young professionals working in national public policy-related fields. Past Lincoln Fellows have included:
- White House speechwriters
- Senior staff for the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate
- U.S. Department of Justice speechwriters and counsel
- Head of United States Office of Special Counsel
- Director of the President's Council on Bioethics
- Senior writers for the Weekly Standard and National Review
- Senior fellows at national political think tanks
- Special Advisor to the United States Department of State
- Nationally syndicated editorial cartoonist
- Wall Street Journal editorial board member
The Lincoln Fellowship program is helping us grow the ranks of Claremont Conservatives, those who find the solutions to our changing political problems in the unchanging principles of the Declaration of Independence. In this way we honor the namesake of the program by doing what we believe he would do today. For more information or to download an application (Requires Adobe Acrobat Reader.), please visit the Claremont Institute's website, or contact the director of the program, Dr. Thomas Krannawitter, at firstname.lastname@example.org