On January 6, insurrectionist thugs stormed the U.S. Capitol. Incited by a president deserving of impeachment and his host of congressional enablers, they entered the Capitol to stop an electoral “steal” that had never occurred. Delusion and irresponsibility reigned.
But this being America, it was only a matter of time before the forces of self-government, of responsibility, and of law resurfaced. Hours, as it turned out. Congress returned to the floor that very evening to complete its certification of the electoral votes. And the words of Abraham Lincoln were there to guide them.
Dick Durbin, a senator from Lincoln’s state of Illinois, reminded his colleagues of Lincoln’s insistence that the construction of the Capitol dome be completed during the Civil War, even as crucial resources of time and money were running short. In Durbin’s telling, Lincoln saw the dome as an essential symbol—a sign that the Union would prevail, a sign that the forces of unity, hope, and democratic republicanism would reign victorious again.
Lincoln’s faith in democracy and constitutionalism motivated his support for the completion of the Capitol dome, but so did his sober recognition that self-government is fragile. The events at the Capitol remind us that the task of retaining our system of self-government is quite difficult, given the destructive tendencies, passions, and ignorance that are sown in the nature of man. As such, our democratic republican system of government must be cherished and strengthened, by each generation of Americans after the next. As the late Harry Jaffa wrote in The Crisis of the House Divided: “Lincoln has been understood and correctly understood as the supreme advocate of the cause of popular government. But it is not because he saw no problem, no difficulty, in adopting that advocacy. Noble things are difficult, said Aristotle, and the nobler more difficult. Lincoln saw popular government as most noble and most difficult.”