“It Will Become All One Thing or All the Other.”

You may recall that Eris, goddess of discord, was not invited to the wedding of Peleus and Thetis, and that the old girl did not take kindly to this slight.  Her revenge was to toss a golden apple into the midst of the banqueting Olympians and declare that it would be the prize of the fairest goddess present.  This triggered a hot rivalry between Hera, Aphrodite, and Athena, and lead, at length, to the Trojan War.

Apple of discord has ever since been a metaphor for any cause of dispute and social disruption, most especially when the dispute is a moral disagreement over what we would call values. In the case of that first apple of discord, the dispute was over the true meaning of beauty, but when Abraham Lincoln used the metaphor three thousand years later, it was over the true meaning of justice.

In his first debate with Stephen Douglas, Lincoln said that slavery “has . . . been an apple of discord and an element of division in the house” (1858).  When Lincoln said house, he meant the United States, and when he said a house divided, he was, of course, alluding to the line that Jesus spoke when the Pharisees accused him of casting out demons in the name of Beelzebub.

“If a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand” (Mark 3:25).

Lincoln had first alluded to this line earlier that same summer, in a celebrated and calamitous speech known to history as “A House Divided Against Itself Cannot Stand” (1858).  Speaking to the convention that had nominated him as the Republican candidate for the Senate, Lincoln said

“In my opinion, [abolitionist agitation] will not cease until a crisis shall have been reached and passed.  ‘A house divided against itself cannot stand.’  I believe this government cannot endure permanently half-slave and half-free.  I do not expect the Union to be dissolved—I do not expect the house to fall—but I do expect it will cease to be divided.  It will become all one thing or all the other.”

To many in the South, this naturally sounded like a declaration of war, although Lincoln would defend himself by saying that the word “become” does not imply urgency, belligerence or coercion.  What he had meant, he said, was that America could not remain permanently sundered by a deep moral division.

“It will become all one thing or all the other.”

Spiritual concord is the natural state of a people, and if there is to be concord, any apple of moral discord must be awarded to one party in the dispute, and the losers must be made to like it.  As Lincoln made clear in his First Inaugural Address (1861), moral concord was an important part of his understanding of what the Constitution called “a more perfect Union” (it is well that we remember this whenever we read of, say, the “Union Army”).

When Jesus said, a house divided against itself cannot stand, he meant that he could not be of the Devil because casting out demons is not the Devil’s work.  If Satan’s minions practice exorcism, the Kingdom of Darkness is doomed.  When Lincoln used the same line, he evidently meant to suggest that America could be on the side of God, or the side of the Devil, but that it could not serve both masters.

“It will become all one thing or all the other.”

In his debate with Stephen Douglas, Lincoln denied that his talk of the nation becoming “all one thing or all the other” was a forecast of “a dead uniformity in the various States in all their institutions.”  No, he protested, “differences in the soil, differences in the face of the country, and in the climate, are bonds of union.”  Indeed,

“If they produce in one section of the country what is called for by the wants of another section, and this other section can supply the wants of the first, they are not matters of discord, but bonds of union—true bonds of union.”

What Lincoln described as diversity is the spatial division of labor, an economic arrangement that, like the social division of labor, increases productivity through specialization and comparative advantage.  Rather than a “dead uniformity” of economic institutions in all regions of the country, America would diversify into specialized and interdependent economic departments of a national economy. In one place there would be farms, in another place there would be mines, and in a third place the steel mills would “fill the sky with flame and beauty in the night.”*And the headquarters of all this wonderful diversity would be, of course, the great capitals of power and finance up north, hard by the Atlantic shore.

A house divided cannot stand, but Leviathan endures forever.

The Gorgon, Wilhelm Trübner (1891)

 

*) John E. Barrett, “Song of the Steel Mill”(1897)

19 thoughts on ““It Will Become All One Thing or All the Other.”

  1. Pingback: “It Will Become All One Thing or All the Other.” | @the_arv

  2. Lincoln: “I believe this government cannot endure permanently half-slave and half-free…It will become all one thing or all the other.”

    Moi: “Azadi? Alas!”

  3. Pingback: “It Will Become All One Thing or All the Other.” | Reaction Times

  4. Pingback: “It Will Become All One Thing Or The Other” | Western Rifle Shooters Association

  5. Ah, wonderful diversity such as the Yankee voters and their congressmen keeping the prices of Texas’s oil and gas artificially low for decades until deregulation. One confesses to having mused more than once that maybe it would have been better if Texas had remained a part of México, then we could have charged the full prices to the Gringos.

  6. Several years ago, during the Left’s attempt to put a trojan horse named “Civility” through the gates, NEH head Jim Leach latched onto the House Divided metaphor and pantomined Lincoln’s speech to create the set of bigoted parameters the Left has been using against normal Americans in recent years. What I pointed out then – and what your article reveals now to me about Lincoln’s intentions from the beginning – is that the forgotten verse at the end of the passage is the one that unveils how Lincoln and the Left had no intentions of sharing the house, divided or not: Mark 3:27 :” “In fact, no one can enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man. Then he can rob his house.” “

    • You’re right. These oft-quoted lines are extremely anti-diversity. The other thing worth noting is the fatuousness of Lincoln’s argument that slavery would become universal if it were not abolished. Anyhow, this is why I keep writing that party politics has been replaced by factional politics (if not outright conspiracies). Rather than dealing with each other, factions plot each others destruction. Of course only one of today’s factions is up and running, while the other is mostly sound asleep.

      • Let’s say I oppose handguns, and one morning I notice that my neighbor has dropped his handgun on the sidewalk before my house while walking the night before. His owning and carrying the gun is perfectly legal, but I believe owning and carrying handguns is very, very wrong. Do I become complicit in the evil regime of handgun ownership if I return his gun, or if I simply tell him where it is?

        Or let’s say my neighbor is sitting in his back yard enjoying some pornographic images, which a sudden gust of wind blows into my yard. I abominate pornographic images and would be horrified to have such images in my house, and yet they are legal and his possession. Should I, say, destroy the images and prevent their retrieval by dousing them with a garden hose, or must I allow my neighbor to retrieve them?

        I don’t think restoration of property connected to a legal but disapproved practice counts as spread of the practice

      • I am not persuaded by the analogies. The crucial difference is that the an abolitionist would not regard a fugitive slave as property.

      • But slavery was spreading through the free states via Fugitive Slaves Act.

        Huh? Slavery was “spreading through the free states?” I’d like to see some data that support that assertion.

  7. I doubt you would be persuaded by any analogies because, in your mind, nothing is analogous to slavery. When Lincoln said that, if slavery were not abolished, slavery would spread to all the other states, he clearly meant to suggest that slave labor would be employed in Maine, just as it was in Mississippi. Everyone who understood labor economics knew that this was false, since free labor was cheeper in the north (you didn’t have to feed free labor in the winter time).

    I would actually be interested to know how today’s law treats stolen property that is carried into a state where that property is not legal. Is it confiscated as contraband, or returned to its owner. If someone steals a pound of my marijuana in Colorado and carries it into Texas, will Texas restore my marijuana to me? If it does so, has legalized marijuana spread to Texas? I say the answers should be yes and no.

    • Everyone who understood labor economics knew that this was false, since free labor was cheeper in the north (you didn’t have to feed free labor in the winter time).

      You’re suggesting that under the slave economy in the Southern states slaves themselves derived great benefits from the institution; benefits they would otherwise largely been deprived of under “free labor” economics.

      You immoral jackass!

    • I would actually be interested to know how today’s law treats stolen property that is carried into a state where that property is not legal. Is it confiscated as contraband, or returned to its owner. If someone steals a pound of my marijuana in Colorado and carries it into Texas, will Texas restore my marijuana to me? If it does so, has legalized marijuana spread to Texas? I say the answers should be yes and no.

      Well, obviously a bag of Marijuana can’t just get up and leave the possession of its owner like a slave could/can. Albeit that in a very real sense lots of Fugitive Slaves didn’t just up and decide to walk off either, given that the radical abolitionists were constantly finding all sorts of ingenious ways of enticing them to do so. Such as packing “care packages” from the North intended for the slaves with abolitionist pamphlets and that sort of thing.

      But I would still say that a better analogy would be what we now generally refer to as a “fugitive from justice”; a criminal fleeing justice from one state to another, and the “policy” of the latter to harbor and protect him.

      This of course happens all the time today with our own immigrants fleeing justice into “sanctuary” cities and states, churches and so on. And often with little to no regard for the harbored immigrant’s criminal background. Obviously a Fugitive slave who also happened to be a criminal, or had a disposition to criminality, would have a strong impulse and desire to flee his “persecutors.” Moreso still when he knew he would receive asylum in the “free states.”

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