The Real News of the Month

January 2006
Volume 13, Number 1

Editor: Joe Sobran
Publisher: Fran Griffin (Griffin Communications)
Managing Editor: Ronald N. Neff
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  -> The Living Document, RIP
  -> Winter Scenes (plus electronic Exclusives)
  -> Young Lincoln
  -> The Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation


The Living Document, RIP

     Both John Roberts and Samuel Alito survived their 
confirmation hearings, winning praise for their poise and 
legal acumen, as well as rueful respect for their deft 
sidestepping of the Big Issue: Roe v. Wade. Liberals 
grumbled that they were "extreme" and "outside the 
mainstream" for having expressed doubts, at various times 
in the past, about Roe and other sacred liberal 
precedents, such as those requiring reapportionment of 
state legislatures under the Fourteenth Amendment.

     Amusingly enough, it was Justice William O. Douglas, 
the liberals' liberal, who observed, "No patent medicine 
was ever put to wider and more varied use than the 
Fourteenth Amendment." Truer words were never spoken -- 
certainly not by Douglas, anyway. Nearly every judicial 
ruling liberals like to call "historic" has relied on 
this badly worded and illegally ratified excrescence on 
the Constitution. It can be twisted to mean nearly 
anything, and has been.

     But the very word "historic" suggests the truth: 
that all these bold rulings were controversial in their 
day, which is to say, outside the mainstream. When they 
were handed down, there were certainly two sides to many 
issues, with liberal justices audaciously taking the 
novel side (and even they were far from unanimous in many 
cases). Once that was done, however, it appears that the 
traditional views thus overturned became taboo, and it 
was the part of conservatives to conserve the liberals' 
gains. The old mainstream was dead; long live the new 

     Henceforth liberals would add a new wrinkle to their 
rhetorical zeal for dissent and independent thinking. 
When practiced by their opponents, these admirable things 
abruptly became vices and acquired pejorative names like 
"extremism." Hence the rejection of Robert Bork, who had 
indiscreetly criticized the flimsy reasonings and rulings 
of both the Warren and Burger courts; hence the pressure 
on subsequent Republican nominees to swear fealty to 
those things Bork had so rudely profaned.

     A liberal is one who can be open-minded about 
anything except the past; about that he is strictly a 
bigot. He divides the past into two broad categories, the 
"progressive" and the "reactionary," and once a thing has 
been placed in the latter column (also called 
"Neanderthal" or "medieval"), it never gets another 
chance. From then on it's "Roma locuta, causa finita," as 
it were. The Deposit of Faith has been infallibly 
defined. Or, in the terse formula of the Brezhnev 
Doctrine, "What we have, we keep." So much for the Living 

     Happily, a new era is upon us, liberals have lost 
their long monopoly of power, and so this great rule of 
liberalism is becoming unenforceable. Roberts and Alito 
prudently tiptoed past some touchy questions, with 
respectful nods to stare decisis, and lo! The U.S. 
Supreme Court, though it still leaves much to be desired, 
now has four justices who are willing to view the past 
with open minds. At this point, that's about as much as 
any reasonable reactionary can hope for.

The Moving Picture
(page 2)

     Before, during, and after their confirmation 
hearings, John Roberts and Samuel Alito faced the usual 
liberal charges that their views were "extreme" and 
"outside the mainstream." That is to say, liberal 
judicial precedents -- that is to say, Roe v. Wade -- 
should be regarded as "settled law," eternally fixed, and 
nobody suspected of ever having thought independently 
about them should be confirmed to the bench. Of course 
those "historic" rulings were controversial in their own 
day, and Roe remains so. So since when has the Living 
Document become immutable?

*          *          *

     Though use of the phrase didn't begin with the 
Bush II administration, or even with Bill Clinton's, it's 
comical how often news reports of prominent Republicans 
these days note that the subject "denies any wrongdoing." 
Every presidency begins by boasting that it has 
"restored" integrity, honor, patriotism, national pride, 
et cetera, to the White House; and a few months later 
we're right back to the phase of "denies any wrongdoing." 
Next time I go to confession, I must tell the priest, 
"I'm a Republican, father, and I categorically deny any 

*          *          *

     The Semitically Incorrect David Irving has been 
jailed in Austria for having committed the crime of, 
well, free speech: he has denied that it has been proved 
that there were gas chambers at Auschwitz. Though he's 
nearly always described as a "Holocaust denier," no such 
denial is ever actually cited; in fact, he has said, in 
my hearing, "I'm not a Holocaust =denier=; I'm a 
Holocaust =skeptic.=" But in Europe, that may be enough 
to get him a long prison sentence.

*          *          *

     An Egyptian mullah has issued a fatwa decreeing that 
having sexual intercourse in the nude "annuls the 
marriage." Setting aside the problem of enforcement, this 
raises all sorts of questions. Is it enough to wear 
socks? Party hats? And of course, veils? And we think we 
have it tough putting up with clergymen like Pat 

*          *          *

     Elton John has tied the knot, as it were, with his 
boyfriend under Britain's liberalized civil union laws. 
We trust the happy couple isn't honeymooning in Egypt, 
where tinted sunglasses may not satisfy the law.

*          *          *

     The war in Iraq drags on, as our brave men and women 
continue dying to spread democracy and freedom. You have 
to wonder whether even the most hardened neoconservative 
doesn't sometimes ask himself, in the middle of the 
night, whether the cause really warrants sacrificing the 
lives of so many shiksas.

*          *          *

     Sad to say, the WASHINGTON POST reports that Colin 
Powell and Colonel Larry Wilkerson, his old friend and 
former chief of staff, are no longer on speaking terms. 
Wilkerson is scathing about G.W. Bush and Co., whom he 
accuses of "hard-headedness," "arrogance," "hubris," and 
"probably the worst ineptitude in governance, 
decision-making, and leadership I've seen in 50-plus 
years." He thinks the decision to invade Iraq was a worse 
blunder than the Bay of Pigs or the Vietnam war. And he 
strongly suggests that his old boss came to share these 
views after being "used" and "misled" by Bush into 
defending the disaster.

The Young Lincoln
(pages 3-12)

[What follows is a chapter from my book in progress, KING 
LINCOLN. It deals, lightly I hope, with Lincoln's 
formative years, citing details and quoting sources which 
most biographers overlook, but which I think are 
important for understanding the man he was to become. My 
approach here is more sympathetic than critical; I want 
to show even the virtues that would later turn into 
tragic flaws. And of course a lot of this material is 
just enjoyable gossip; yet even that helps us size up the 
real man who has been obstructed from our view by legends 
and monuments.]

     Abraham Lincoln's formative years remain a mystery. 
So does the man himself. Among the countless books about 
him we find such titles as THE LINCOLN NOBODY KNOWS, 

     He came from poor and illiterate people who left few 
records of themselves and little testimony about him; the 
few recorded remarks of his relatives about him are dull 
and uninformative. He had been named for his grandfather 
Abraham Lincoln, who had been killed "by stealth" by an 

     A kick in the head from a mare once left the boy 
Lincoln unconscious for several hours; when he came to, 
he finished the sentence he'd begun at the moment of the 
kick. Otherwise, his early days appear to have been 
uneventful. He summed them up with a line from the poet 
Thomas Gray: "The short and simple annals of the poor."

     As a grown man, Lincoln had few close friends -- 
none from boyhood or early youth -- and no real 
confidants. He never kept a diary or wrote a full 
autobiography; he never poured his heart out even in his 
private letters; and it is hard to imagine him disclosing 
his intimate memories and thoughts to the reading public. 
Apart from his sometimes rowdy frontier humor, he was 
like Jefferson in his personal reserve.

     Even his long-time junior law partner, the 
intelligent and observant Billy Herndon, who knew him as 
well as anyone, didn't really understand him very well. 
The two men got along together, with no friction and much 
mutual respect; but there was a firm (though tacit) line 
that Herndon could never cross. Despite Lincoln's 
friendly and humble manner, those who met him felt that 
he was not a man to take familiar liberties with. 
Something about him was always, in an indefinable way, 

     But Lincoln was, after all, a human being, not an 
impenetrable sphinx. Far from being absolutely opaque, he 
merely had an unusually reserved manner most of the time, 
and he was too complex to disclose all of himself at once 
even if he had wanted to. Spontaneous self-expression was 
not his style. And he instinctively hid things from 
others -- not necessarily guilty things, but things it 
was in his interest to conceal. Often these included his 
intentions. They certainly included his origins. For all 
his public praises of "our [national] fathers," his own 
ancestors were nothing to brag about. All in all, he was 
a man who kept his own counsel. And when the time for 
words came, he was generally more than ready.

     Lincoln never wanted to =seem= mysterious. He 
habitually presented himself as a plain, simple man, 
"without guile," speaking common sense with unadorned 
logic. He argued without pedantry or arcane citations. In 
an age of long-winded oratory, he was concise. Unlearned 
audiences could understand him. He once cautioned the 
intellectual Herndon, "Billy, don't shoot too high -- aim 
lower and the common people will understand you. They are 
the ones you want to reach -- at least the ones you ought 
to reach. The educated and refined people will understand 
you any way. If you aim too high your ideas will go over 
the heads of the masses, and only hit those who need no 

     Born in 1809, Lincoln grew up in poverty on what was 
then the Western frontier -- Kentucky, Indiana, and 
Illinois. His forebears were Quakers, but the family had 
long since lapsed; some of them were Baptists by the time 
he was born.

     He often referred self-consciously to his humble 
beginnings, and they haunted him even more than he 
showed. According to Herndon, "There was something about 
his origin he never cared to dwell on." He seems to have 
been ashamed of his father, Thomas Lincoln, and none too 
fond of him; if he ever said a good word about the old 
man, no record of it has survived. In a pair of brief 
autobiographical summaries he recalled that Thomas grew 
up "literally without education. He never did more in the 
way of writing than to bunglingly sign his own name." The 
word "bunglingly" sounds distinctly untender, if not 
contemptuous. In Lincoln's background "there was 
absolutely nothing to excite ambition for education."

     Was his father a drunkard? There is no positive 
evidence either way; but if he was, it might explain 
Lincoln's aversion to liquor and his early passion for 
the temperance movement.

     As for his mother, Lincoln once confided to Herndon, 
"My mother was a bastard." Her illegitimacy pained him as 
a reflection on himself. But he added, "God bless my 
mother; all that I am or ever hope to be I owe to her." 
Then he fell silent for a long time, and never mentioned 
the subject to Herndon again. The only route of escape 
from his origins he saw was hard work and 
self-improvement, and he took it.

     Everyone who knew the young Lincoln agreed on one 
thing. He read constantly. As a boy, he read everything 
he could lay hands on; as a lawyer on the circuit, he 
would read by firelight as his roommates snored in the 
same room; as president, he would lie reading on the 
floor of the White House, propping his head against a 
chair. His reading also isolated him from those around 
him. Though physically present, he was not really with 
them; he was with Blackstone, Shakespeare, or Euclid; or 
with the prophet Isaiah. No wonder he seemed remote and 
aloof without meaning to.

     His mother died when he was nine. His father 
remarried; his stepmother adored him -- "the best boy I 
ever saw," she called him -- and Lincoln seems to have 
been much closer to her than to his father. But on the 
whole, Lincoln remained distant from his poor relations. 
He never introduced them to his wife, his children, or 
his friends; Thomas Lincoln never met his grandchildren. 
As Lincoln rose in society, his kin became embarrassing 
to him.

     It was different with his own children: he doted on 
them, enjoyed every moment he could spend with them, and 
disciplined them so little that they were a severe 
annoyance to others, even interrupting his cabinet 
meetings without reproof. Herndon observed tartly, "Had 
they [defecated] in Lincoln's hat and rubbed it in his 
boots, he would have laughed and thought it smart."

     Lincoln first made his local reputation as a 
funnyman. His gifts as a storyteller and mimic attracted 
people from miles around a country store where he worked 
for a living. "As a mimic he was unequalled," Herndon 
recalled. His demeanor had little of the dignity and 
melancholy later associated with him; the crowds he kept 
roaring with laughter never imagined that this fun-loving 
youth's violent death would one day shock the world.

     His jocularity didn't sit well in Washington during 
his presidency. His enemies portrayed him as a heartless 
buffoon, joking while men were dying in agony. His own 
cabinet found his droll stories unseemly.

     He was a natural leader for several reasons, his 
humor being only one of them. There were also his 
commanding height and physical power. His brawny strength 
awed other men even on the tough frontier; as a wrestler 
he took on all comers and won. He served a brief stint in 
the Black Hawk war of 1832; though he saw no fighting, he 
won the respect of his fellows, who elected him their 
captain. His honesty and fairness caused people to like 
him, and he was often sought to referee games or 
adjudicate disputes. He was also kind and gentle, his 
tenderness extending even to animals in distress; there 
are stories of his solicitude for dogs, turtles, birds, 
even a hog.

     Though unassuming, Lincoln was also, despite his 
lack of education and polish, strikingly intelligent. His 
natural qualities commanded respect without any effort on 
his part. He had the power to hurt and humiliate others, 
if he wanted to; he was too good-natured to want to, but 
his force of personality nevertheless made itself felt. 
Beneath his seeming humility Herndon noticed his 
deep-seated arrogance, "an unconscious feeling of 
superiority and pride."

     His words might not sparkle with brilliance, but in 
their plainness and logic, they had weight. After his 
death Isaac Arnold would recall that "as a 
conversationist he had no equal. One might meet in 
company with him the most distinguished men, of various 
pursuits and professions, but after listening for two or 
three hours, on separating, it was what Lincoln had said 
that would be remembered. His were the ideas and 
illustrations that would not be forgotten." Arnold had 
known men who preferred Lincoln's conversation to an 
evening at the theater.

     His habits were sober; he abstained from liquor and 
tobacco. And he had a natural tact and refinement: much 
as he loved a bawdy story, he minded his tongue in the 
presence of women.

     Lincoln was gauche around the opposite sex. His odd 
looks must have made him feel ugly as a youth; he was 
clumsy and ill-dressed to boot. His humor didn't seem to 
help him make small talk with the girls; he found himself 
reserved, overproper, tongue-tied. Like many serious 
young men, he probably tried too hard and felt himself a 
failure. Women and their special needs and expectations 
simply baffled him. "Lincoln had none of the tender ways 
that please a woman," Herndon remarked. Mary Owens, whom 
he briefly courted, found him "deficient in those little 
links which make up the great chain of a woman's 
happiness.... I thought him lacking in smaller 
attentions." But she remembered with amusement that he 
could pity even a hog in distress.

     Among men, though, Lincoln was a success. With them 
he was self-assured, poised, and popular. They in turn 
recognized him as a budding politician and urged him to 
run for office. The idea appealed to him. In his first 
race for the state legislature he narrowly lost, but he 
won his own precinct 277 to 7. He was elected to the 
legislature on his second try, in 1834. In 1836, 1838, 
and 1840 he was easily reelected, until he chose not to 
run again in 1842.

     Lincoln soon excelled as a speaker and tactician. 
His speeches were both persuasive and entertaining; his 
jokes and yarns enlivened his performances, in contrast 
to the standard heavy oratory of the age. His fellow 
Whigs and the Democrats alike were delighted by his 
manner of speaking, the chief exceptions being the 
targets of his sarcasm and satire.

     In his mid twenties, during his first term as an 
Illinois legislator, he fell in love with a pretty girl 
named Ann Rutledge, whom he hoped to marry, despite her 
ambiguous engagement to another man, who had mysteriously 
gone away to New York. She suddenly took sick and died in 
1835. Billy Herndon (who never met her) may have 
exaggerated her importance in Lincoln's life, but later 
biographers have gone to the other extreme in discounting 
the story. Herndon, who was honest as to facts however 
unreliable in his judgments, quotes Lincoln as saying of 
Ann's grave, "My heart lies buried there."

     There is no reason to doubt that Lincoln said and 
meant it. We can only guess whether he would have married 
her had she lived. Many years later, after his election 
to the presidency, a New Salem friend asked him if it was 
true that he had fallen in love with Ann Rutledge. "It is 
true -- true indeed I did," Lincoln replied; "I did 
honestly and truly love the girl and think often -- often 
of her now." We needn't take this to mean, as Herndon 
spitefully did, that Lincoln regretted marrying Mary 
Todd, whom he met four years after Ann's death. He 
recovered enough to woo at least one woman in the interim 
between Ann and Mary; he took her rejection with good 
humor. But like the rest of us, Lincoln must have 
thought, as he aged, of the road not taken.

     If the "real" Lincoln is elusive, a chief reason is 
his humor. He could see any situation from more than one 
angle, and he regarded even himself with irony. 
Anticipating Groucho Marx, he told his close friend 
Joshua Speed he would hesitate to marry any woman who was 
"blockhead" enough to accept him; a quip that in its way 
forecast the graver irony of his Second Inaugural 
Address, in which he contrasted the purposes of both 
North and South with those of Divine Providence. "Men are 
not flattered by being shown that there has been a 
difference of purpose between the Almighty and them," he 
told Thurlow Weed shortly after that speech. Even as a 
young man, Lincoln could step back from himself. And even 
in the heat of a civil war in which the temptation to 
self-justification was overwhelming, he never quite lost 
this rare capacity for self-detachment.

     In a superficial way, humor was Lincoln's immediate 
link to his fellow men; in a deeper way, it isolated him, 
keeping him aloof from the normal partisan passions of 
those men, even when he shared those passions.

     Lincoln's recurrent depressions were the obverse of 
his ambition; they began about the time he was admitted 
to the Illinois bar in 1836. As for his ambition, Herndon 
said, "That man who thinks Lincoln calmly sat down and 
gathered his robes about him waiting for the people to 
call him, has a very erroneous knowledge of Lincoln. He 
was always calculating, and always planning ahead. His 
ambition was a little engine that knew no rest." Herndon 
also observed that Lincoln, when he chose, could be "the 
most secretive -- reticent -- shut-mouthed man that ever 

     Lincoln's friend David Davis echoed this portrait 
almost verbatim: "He was the most reticent, secretive man 
I ever saw or expect to see." Another lawyer, Leonard 
Swett, added, "He always told only enough of his plans 
and purposes to induce the belief that he had 
communicated all; yet he reserved enough to have 
communicated nothing." He could sidestep a question with 
extraordinary skill; or with a joke. His speech was 
literally accurate, as a rule, but it would be stretching 
a point to call him candid. He seldom blurted his 

     It was impossible to guess what Lincoln was 
thinking, and he did a lot of thinking. His powers of 
concentration were great; his long silences were 
notorious. So were his evasions. "Lincoln never confided 
to me anything," Davis complained. "I can get nothing out 
of him," a political associate once reported; while 
another observed that "he seems to make it a matter of 
pride not to commit himself."

     Lincoln was renowned for his scrupulous honesty, but 
this was partly strategic: he knew the value of good 
credit (rather than declare bankruptcy, he worked for 
many years to pay off debts a deceased business partner 
had stuck him with) and the danger of being exposed as a 
deceiver. As he told Herndon, "I han't been caught lyin' 
yet, and I don't mean to be."

     His honesty was to some extent a modus operandi; so 
was his secretiveness, as during his long public silences 
before his inauguration and during the Sumter crisis. 
Sometimes he let his subordinates mislead people, but 
Lincoln himself was never "caught lyin'." His lawyerly 
balance between accuracy and reserve has given rise to 
many of the enigmas that still surround him. He remains, 
as Richard N. Current has put it, "the Lincoln nobody 
knows." In short, he was a master equivocator.

     Yes, Lincoln was honest, in the sense that his words 
were nearly always strictly accurate, as far as they 
went; but his honesty should not be confused with 
impulsive and uninhibited candor. It was never that. It 
was always guarded and calculating. The words might be 
true enough, but the inner man remained hidden. And even 
the words might bear a cunning double meaning.

     What was the nature of Lincoln's ambition? For an 
answer, we may study his 1838 speech to the Springfield 
Young Men's Lyceum. In that speech, titled "The 
Perpetuation of Our Political Institutions," he argued 
that the American people faced no serious foreign threat; 
any danger "must spring up amongst us. It cannot come 
from abroad. If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves 
be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we 
must live through all time, or die by suicide." The chief 
peril he saw lay in mob rule, riot, anarchy.

     But he foresaw another peril too. The Founding 
Fathers had sought "celebrity, and fame, and 
distinction," in building the institutions of the 
Republic. "If they succeeded, they were to be 
immortalized; their names were to be transferred to 
counties and cities, and rivers and mountains; and to be 
revered and sung, and toasted through time." But today, 
he said, "this field of glory is harvested," and in the 
future, "men of ambition and talents" -- such as "an 
Alexander, a Caesar, a Napoleon" -- may decide to achieve 
fame by destroying the free institutions the Founders 

            Towering genius disdains a beaten path. 
       It seeks regions hitherto unexplored. It sees 
       =no distinction= in adding story to story, 
       upon the monuments of fame, erected to the 
       memory of others. It =denies= that it is 
       glory enough to serve under any chief. It 
       =scorns= to tread in the footsteps of =any= 
       predecessor, however illustrious. It thirsts 
       burns for distinction; and, if possible, will 
       have it, whether at the expense of 
       emancipating slaves, or enslaving freemen. Is 
       it unreasonable then to expect, that some man 
       possessed of the loftiest genius, coupled 
       with ambition sufficient to push it to its 
       utmost stretch, will at some time, spring up 
       amongst us? And when such a one does, it will 
       require the people to be united with each 
       other, attached to the government and laws, 
       and generally intelligent, to successfully 
       frustrate his designs.

            Distinction will be his paramount 
       object; and although he would as willingly, 
       perhaps more so, acquire it by doing good as 
       harm; yet, that opportunity being past, and 
       nothing left to be done in the way of 
       building up, he would set boldly to the task 
       of pulling down.

     Some have supposed that Lincoln was unconsciously 
(or even consciously) prophesying his own career, even 
his assumption of dictatorial powers during the Civil 
War. We need not go that far; it is enough to see that 
Lincoln, even as a young man, conceived the ultimate 
fulfillment of ambition not in power or wealth, but in 
distinction, fame, glory, monuments -- historical memory. 
In this sense the speech is deeply self-revealing: from 
the beginning of his political career, Lincoln, whose 
"towering genius" was still latent and unsuspected by 
others, craved to be remembered in history.

     The reason may be connected with Lincoln's views on 
religion. As Robert V. Bruce has argued, Lincoln probably 
aspired to =historical= immortality because he never 
believed in =personal= immortality: "Lincoln's antidote 
for despair was the concept of immortality through 
remembrance, eternal consciousness by proxy in the mind 
of posterity."

     "History" and "memory" are the motifs of Lincoln's 
utterances. His words are so memorable in part because 
they are about memory itself. "The mystic chords of 
memory ... The world will little note, nor long remember 
... Fellow-citizens, we cannot escape history. We of this 
Congress and this administration, will be remembered in 
spite of ourselves ... The fiery trial through which we 
pass, will light us down, in honor or dishonor, to the 
latest generation ... The world will not forget that we 
say this ... the world will forever applaud ... impartial 
history will find ... and call us blessed, to the latest 
generations ... We run our memory back over the pages of 
history ... cherished memories ... "

     Raised as a Baptist, Lincoln never belonged to a 
church as an adult; as a young man he was strongly 
anti-religious. Herndon tells us he had been influenced 
by his reading of Enlightenment skeptics like Voltaire, 
the Comte de Volney, and Thomas Paine. More than one 
friend said Lincoln "bordered on atheism." Others thought 
him more of a Deist, believing in a general Providence 
but not a personal God. Lincoln's favorite poem, a grimly 
maudlin thing titled "Mortality," by William Knox, 
offered no hope beyond the grave.

     The young Lincoln was surprisingly militant in his 
skepticism. Herndon relates that around 1834 Lincoln 
wrote a short book attacking the basic tenets of 
Christianity, including the truth of the Bible and the 
divinity of Christ. "He carried it to the store [where he 
worked], where it was read and freely discussed. His 
friend and employer, Samuel Hill, was among the 
listeners, and, seriously questioning the propriety of a 
promising young man like Lincoln fathering such unpopular 
notions, he snatched the manuscript from his hands and 
thrust it into the stove. The book went up in flames, and 
Lincoln's political future was secure."

     "But," Herndon goes on, "his infidelity and his 
skeptical views were not diminished. He soon removed to 
Springfield, where he attracted considerable notice by 
his rank doctrine." It is amusing to reflect that but for 
Hill's intervention, Lincoln might have published the 
book, foreclosed any chance of a political career, and 
been remembered in American history, if remembered at 
all, as a minor freethinker.

     Over the years Lincoln tried to confine his doubts 
about Christianity to private conversations with friends; 
but he had made such a reputation as an infidel that by 
1846, when he ran for a seat in Congress, the local 
clergy strongly opposed him. He found it necessary to 
publish a handbill denying that he was "an open scoffer 
at Christianity." It was a guarded denial, carefully 
avoiding any statement of his positive beliefs. "That I 
am not a member of any Christian Church, is true; but I 
have never denied the truth of Scriptures; and I have 
never spoken with intentional disrespect of religion in 
general, or of any denomination of Christians in 

     He added,

            I do not think I could myself, be 
       brought to support a man for office, whom I 
       knew to be an open enemy of, and scoffer at, 
       religion. Leaving the higher matter of 
       eternal consequences, between him and his 
       Maker, I still do not think any man has the 
       right thus to insult the feelings, and injure 
       the morals, of the community in which he may 

     This was a pretty noncommittal and evasive denial, 
and probably in large part false, if his old friends are 
to be trusted. But as a politician, Lincoln did believe 
in one thing: "public opinion" or "public sentiment." 
"With public sentiment," he said in 1858, "nothing can 
fail; without it, nothing can succeed." Or, as he would 
say in his 1854 speech on the Kansas-Nebraska Act, "A 
universal feeling, whether well or ill-founded, cannot 
safely be disregarded."

     This may explain why he was so often willing to 
quote the Bible in his speeches: he knew that "public 
sentiment" accepted Scriptural authority, whether or not 
he himself did. Bible-based Christianity was the 
foundation of American public opinion. And Lincoln was 
always ready to deal with public opinion as he found it. 
He was a politician, not a martyr.

     Bruce notes that Lincoln, when consoling the 
bereaved, was always careful not to affirm his belief in 
an afterlife. He found lawyer-like formulas that sounded 
vaguely pious; yet he could never bring himself to say 
the conventional words about reunion with the dead in 
heaven. Like many close students of Lincoln, Bruce notes 
that he had "a genius for saying precisely what he meant 
and no more, yet in such a way that at first impression 
it sounded like what his audience wanted to hear."

     Lincoln grew increasingly secretive about his 
religious beliefs. If he had become more orthodox with 
age, he would have had no obvious reason to conceal the 
fact; whereas if he remained skeptical, as Herndon 
insisted he did, he had every reason to keep it to 
himself. On a few occasions he is reported to have 
endorsed the Bible, in a general way; but many 
essentially irreligious people might do as much. (His 
brief 1860 campaign autobiography avoids the whole 
subject of religion and church membership.)

     His own wife sounded none too sure about his views 
on religion: "Mr. Lincoln had no faith and no hope in the 
usual acceptation of those words. He never joined a 
church; but still, as I believe, he was a religious man 
by nature. He first seemed to think about the subject 
when our boy Willie died, and then more than ever about 
the time he went to Gettysburg; but it was a kind of 
poetry in his nature, and he was never a technical 
Christian." One senses that Lincoln never really confided 
his thoughts even to Mary Lincoln; reticence indeed!

     Still, he was fluent in the rhetoric of piety. His 
speeches are full of Biblical and religious resonances: 
"house divided, chosen people, hallow, consecrate, 
devotion, dedicated, under God, the judgments of the 
Lord, true and righteous, imploring the assistance of 
Divine Providence, His appointed time, this mighty 
scourge of war, the widow, the orphan, the better angels 
of our nature, call us blessed, even unto the latest 
generation ... "

     Lacking Latin, Greek, and even French, Lincoln, 
thanks to King James and Shakespeare, had a marvelous ear 
for English words with ancient and archaic echoes. (His 
witty secretary John Hay sometimes referred to Lincoln in 
his diary as "the Ancient.")

     Among Shakespeare's plays Lincoln's favorite was 
MACBETH. It fascinated him to the end of his life, 
perhaps because of its themes of political ambition and 
equivocation: Macbeth is fatally misled by "th' 
equivocation of the fiend that lies like truth ... these 
juggling fiends ... that palter with us in a double 
sense, That keep the word of promise to our ear and break 
it to our hope." The witches deceive Macbeth without 
being "caught lyin'." Echoes of this and other 
Shakespeare plays may be found in several of Lincoln's 

     As a courtroom lawyer, Lincoln was skillful. His 
friendly, folksy style concealed a deep cunning. "His 
analytical powers were marvelous," Joshua Speed recalled. 
"He always resolved every question into its primary 
elements, and gave up every point on his own side which 
did not seem to be invulnerable. One would think, to hear 
him present his case in court, he was giving his case 
away. He would concede point after point to his adversary 
until it would seem his case was conceded entirely away. 
But he always reserved a point upon which he claimed a 
decision in his favor, and his concession magnified the 
strength of his claim. He rarely failed in gaining his 
cases in court."

     He would give up a minor point with a cheerful, 
disarming, "Well, I reckon I was wrong," then move on to 
the next issue without looking back. His friend Leonard 
Swett described Lincoln's concessive courtroom manner in 
similar terms: "When the whole thing was unraveled, the 
adversary would begin to see that what [Lincoln] was so 
blandly giving away was simply what he couldn't get and 
keep. By giving away six points and carrying the seventh, 
and the whole case hanging on the seventh, he traded away 
everything which would give him the least aid in carrying 
that. Any man who took Lincoln for a simple-minded man 
would very soon wake up with his back in a ditch." 
Lincoln had a way of inducing his foes to underestimate 
him; and they usually did, to their cost.

     Another lawyer, John Littlefield, remembered the 
same style from a slightly different perspective: "The 
client would sometimes become alarmed, thinking Lincoln 
had given away so much of the case that he would not have 
anything left. After he had shuffled off the unnecessary 
surplusage, he would get down to 'hard pan,' and state 
the case so clearly that it would soon be apparent that 
he had enough left to win the case with. In making such 
concessions he would so establish his position in 
fairness and honesty that the lawyer on the opposite side 
would scarcely have the heart to oppose what he contended 

     Swett added this observation: "The first impression 
he generally conveyed was that he had stated the case of 
his adversary better and more forcibly than his opponent 
could state it himself." His rare ability to comprehend 
his foe's position made Lincoln himself a powerful foe.

     Despite Lincoln's excellence in courtroom forensics, 
his colleague Stephen Logan judged that "his general 
knowledge of law was never very formidable." Herndon 
found him "strikingly deficient in the technical rules of 
the law." More interested in principles than in details, 
he was rarely thorough in preparing his cases; he relied 
on his logic, wit, and ability to sway a jury to get him 
through the day. He was particularly adroit at using 
jokes to bring home analogies; jurors laughed as they saw 
his points. His adversaries must have heard the verdict 
in the hilarity. But though his humor was his strong suit 
with juries, Lincoln could be equally effective in teary 
pathos or roaring indignation. His displays of anger were 
rare, but when they erupted they were crushing.

     Lincoln's skills were sufficient to make him a 
successful and highly respected lawyer. He argued 
hundreds of cases before the state supreme court and won 
most of them. One Illinois newspaper ranked him "at the 
head of the profession in this state."

     He also had a reputation for honesty in his 
profession. Logan added that Lincoln "had this one 
peculiarity: he couldn't fight in a bad case." Herndon 
agreed: "With him justice and truth were paramount. If to 
him a thing seemed untrue he could not in his nature 
simulate truth. His retention by a man to defend a 
lawsuit did not prevent him from throwing it up in its 
most critical stage if he believed he was espousing an 
unjust cause."

     Another lawyer, Joseph Gillespie, remarked after 
Lincoln's death, "It was not in his nature to assume or 
attempt to bolster up a false position. He would abandon 
his case first." David Davis is worth quoting on this 
head: "The framework of his mental and moral being was 
honesty, and a wrong case was poorly defended by him. The 
ability which some eminent lawyers possess of explaining 
away the bad points of a cause by ingenious sophistry was 
denied him. In order to bring into full activity his 
great powers it was necessary that he should be convinced 
of the right and justice of the matter which he 
advocated. When so convinced, whether the cause was great 
or small he was usually successful."

     Lincoln could be so moved by honest grievances that 
he sometimes took cases for poor clients without 
accepting a fee. But in 1847 he also represented a 
Kentucky slaveowner named Robert Matson who sought to 
recover his fugitive slaves in Illinois; that case didn't 
seem to disturb Lincoln's conscience. Maybe he felt that 
representing a slaveowner was part of his business, like 
representing murderers and other criminals. But there is 
a clear difference between getting a man acquitted of a 
wrong already done and helping him commit a wrong.

     At any rate, the Matson case casts a strange light 
on Lincoln's claim that he had always hated slavery for 
its "monstrous injustice." He later told Speed, "I 
confess I hate to see the poor creatures hunted down, and 
caught, and carried back to their stripes, and unrewarded 
toils"; the sight of a dozen slaves shackled together on 
the Ohio River had been "a continual torment to me," and 
slavery still had "the power of making me miserable." 
These vivid words, addressed to his closest friend, 
deepen the enigma of the relation of the public Lincoln 
to the private one.

     Lincoln himself deplored the "vague popular belief 
that lawyers are necessarily dishonest." He advised, "Let 
no young man, choosing the law for a calling, for a 
moment yield to this popular belief. Resolve to be honest 
at all events; and if, in your own judgment, you can not 
be an honest lawyer, resolve to be honest without being a 
lawyer. Choose some other occupation, rather than one in 
the choosing of which you do, in advance, consent to be a 
knave." Successful as he was, Lincoln was to all 
appearances almost indifferent to profit and careless 
about money. Herndon said he lacked "money sense."

     In 1839 Lincoln met Mary Todd, daughter of a banker 
and cousin of his law partner John Stuart. By the fall of 
1840 he was engaged to her. They were married two years 

     Mary Todd Lincoln has always had a bad press, and 
she brought it on herself with her explosive temper and 
violent tongue. No First Lady has ever made uglier scenes 
or behaved more eccentrically. She was known to insult 
dignitaries and accuse their wives of flirting with her 
decidedly unflirtatious husband. Her jealousy would have 
been comical, except for the very real pain it caused. 
Lincoln's two (male) secretaries called Mary (behind her 
back, of course) "the Hell-Cat." Herndon's epithets 
included "she-wolf," "tigress," and "the female wild cat 
of the age."

     But Mary's worst moments came at periods of extreme 
stress. She had lost two young sons, one of them, Willie, 
during some of the hardest days of the Civil War, when 
her marriage was under special strains. Several of her 
relatives, three of her brothers among them, also died in 
these days, fighting for the Confederacy. During her 
years in the White House she began to lose her sanity; 
Lincoln saw it coming and warned her to get a grip on 
herself, lest he be forced to put her into an asylum, and 
years later their son Robert found it necessary to have 
her confined.

     The fact remains that Mary was among the first women 
ever to see anything promising in Abraham Lincoln. She 
was a rich, polished, popular Kentucky belle, of good 
family and education (she spoke fluent French) and with 
ambitions of her own (her sister said, maybe jokingly, 
that Mary believed "she was destined to marry a 
President"). She was a brilliant conversationalist; 
Herndon acknowledged that she was "witty," "quick," and 
"intelligent," though "sometimes terribly sarcastic."

     Among Mary's many beaux was the short, brilliant, 
cocksure Stephen Douglas, a dandy in dress and a lion in 
speech, who was already rocketing to fame and, though 
four years younger than Lincoln, was leaving Lincoln in 
the dust. The two men had already met in debate in 1838 
and 1840. Even when not confronting him in person, 
Lincoln attacked Douglas by name in a remarkable number 
of speeches over more than 20 years; Douglas was always 
the rival he measured himself against, and Lincoln 
usually got the worst of their contests. He also viewed 
Douglas as politically unethical. Yet there was 
remarkably little personal ill feeling between them.

     Mary's conversation left Lincoln helplessly dumb 
with admiration. Yet she had the discernment, even as a 
young woman, to choose this shy, gawky, shabby bumpkin 
over his more sparkling rivals. She saw in him qualities 
that were invisible to others. Her detractors seem to 
assume that Lincoln's potential greatness must have been 
obvious from the start. It was not. Most people saw 
nothing but his oddities, which were impossible to 

     But he was determined to make something of himself. 
He mastered Blackstone on his own; even after entering 
Congress he studied Euclid by night until he had 
conquered all six books. Having neither wealth, family, 
nor formal education to recommend him, he realized that 
his one sure resource was his own mind. Mary must have 
been a woman of rare insight to appreciate the inner man 
who was taking form within his humble, almost grotesque 
outward appearance. (One thinks of Tetty Johnson's remark 
that Samuel had struck her as "the most sensible man" she 
had ever met.) Some of Mary's friends urged her not to 
marry him.

     Still, Lincoln broke off their engagement for a 
while and fell into a deep depression. Speed recounts 
that he despaired that "he had done nothing to make any 
human being remember that he had lived." The sources of 
his depression -- "the hypo," as he called it -- were no 
doubt deep-seated, but it is of interest that he should 
offer this explanation of his mental state, echoing his 
Lyceum speech. The thought that he should be forgotten 
distressed and discouraged him. The ambition of "towering 
genius" -- to make his mark on history -- already 
possessed him.

     In 1842 friends arranged a reconciliation between 
Lincoln and Mary. The couple were not only happy but 
playful together, and once they giddily joined in a prank 
that went sour. They began writing pseudonymous letters 
to a local newspaper satirizing James Shields, the 
Democratic state auditor of Illinois. Shields was enraged 
and, discovering Lincoln's authorship, challenged him to 
a duel. (Lincoln concealed Mary's hand in the affair.)

     Knowing Shields's reputation as an excellent shot, 
Lincoln chose broadswords as weapons, because "I could 
have split him from the crown of his head to the end of 
his backbone." But when the two men met at the dueling 
site in Missouri (Illinois banned dueling) friends 
intervened and prevented the fight. Lincoln and Shields 
settled their quarrel peacefully, shook hands, and went 

     The memory of the incident embarrassed Lincoln for 
the rest of his life. He and Mary agreed never to speak 
of it again, and many years later Lincoln sharply warned 
an army officer never to mention it "if you desire my 
friendship." He had learned both the wounding power of 
his words and the necessity of curbing his sharp wit. 
"Quarrel not at all," he advised a young captain during 
the Civil War. "No man resolved to make the most of 
himself, can spare time for personal contention.... Yield 
larger things to which you can show no more than equal 
right; and yield lesser ones, though clearly your own. 
Better give your path to a dog, than be bitten by him in 
contesting the right. Even killing the dog would not cure 
the bite." He used to say to Mary, "Do good to those who 
hate you and turn their ill will into friendship."

     Swett testified, "He was certainly a very poor 
hater. He never judged men by his like or dislike for 
them. If any given act was to be performed, he could 
understand that his enemy could do it just as well as 
anyone. If a man had maligned him, or been guilty of 
personal ill-treatment and abuse, and was the fittest man 
for the place, he would put him in his cabinet just as 
soon as he would his friend. I do not think he ever 
removed a man because he was his enemy, or because he 
disliked him."

     The mature Lincoln avoided making enemies 
needlessly. He would fight only over things worth 
fighting about, keeping his fights as impersonal and as 
free from acrimony as possible; some of them would be 
bitter enough anyway. James Shields later became a U.S. 
Senator; during the Civil War he offered his services to 
the Union cause, and Lincoln, with typical magnanimity, 
appointed him a brigadier general.

     More than once Lincoln's sharp wit caused hard 
feelings. On one occasion he ridiculed and mimicked a 
fellow legislator so hilariously that he brought down the 
house -- and brought the man himself to tears. When 
Lincoln realized what he had done, he sought the man out 
and made profuse apologies. After that he was usually 
careful not to use his gifts to wound. Often, even as 
president, he would discharge angry sarcasm in a letter, 
which would remain unsent.

     Over the years Lincoln developed a genius for tact. 
His homely diplomacy rarely had need of circumlocutions; 
he learned to speak plainly without inflicting pain. He 
was delicately sensitive to others' feelings, and he 
explained his philosophy of persuasion to a Springfield 
temperance society in 1842, when he was 33:

            Human nature ... is God's decree, and 
       can never be reversed. When the conduct of 
       men is designed to be influenced, persuasion, 
       kind, unassuming persuasion, should ever be 
       adopted. It is an old and a true maxim, 
       that a "drop of honey catches more flies than 
       a gallon of gall." So with men. If you would 
       win a man to your cause, first, convince him 
       that you are his sincere friend. Therein is a 
       drop of honey that catches his heart, which, 
       say what he will, is the great high road to 
       his reason, and which, when once gained, you 
       will find but little trouble in convincing 
       his judgment of the justice of your cause, 
       if indeed that cause really be a just one. 
       On the contrary, assume to dictate to his 
       judgment, or to command his action, or to 
       mark him as one to be shunned and despised, 
       and he will retreat within himself, close all 
       the avenues to his head and his heart; and 
       tho' your cause be naked truth itself, 
       transformed to the heaviest lance, harder 
       than steel, and sharper than steel can be 
       made, and tho' you throw it with more than 
       Herculean force and precision, you shall no 
       more be able to pierce him, than to penetrate 
       the hard shell of a tortoise with a rye straw.

            Such is man, and so must he be 
       understood by those who would lead him, even 
       to his own best interest.

     No wonder Dale Carnegie would constantly cite 
Lincoln as an exemplar in such popular self-help books as 
and patience would serve him well in the presidency.

     In November 1842 Lincoln and Mary were married. He 
gave her a wedding ring with the inscription "Love is 

     The Lincolns' marriage had its difficulties; after 
all, it was a marriage, and their temperaments could 
hardly have been more opposite, in large ways and small. 
They must have appeared about as incompatible as a man 
and a woman could be. But Mary's sister recalled, "So far 
as I could see there was complete harmony and loving 
kindness between Mary and her husband, consideration for 
each other's wishes, and a taste for the same books. They 
seemed congenial in all things." This sounds a little too 
good to be true. Neighbors once saw Lincoln force Mary 
out of the house, shouting, "You make the house 
intolerable, damn you, get out of it!" That their 
marriage survived, that they learned to put up with each 
other, and that they remained affectionate to the end, 
does credit to them both.

     They began their life together in a small rented 
room, surely a trial for a girl raised in privilege and 
attended by servants all her life. Within a year the 
birth of their son Robert made it even more cramped. But 
the following year they acquired the comfortable house in 
Springfield that became their permanent home.

     Tall, grotesque-looking, awkward, with sleeves too 
short for his arms and with trousers that always seemed 
to expose his lower legs, Lincoln cut a strange figure on 
the streets of Springfield. Henry Clay Whitney, a young 
lawyer who knew Lincoln, remarked that "he probably had 
as little taste about dress and attire as anyone that was 
ever born." Years later, a foreign correspondent thought 
"it would not be possible for the most indifferent 
observer to pass him in the street without notice." 
Another young Springfield lawyer bluntly called him "the 
ungodliest figure I ever saw." Mary was defensive about 
his appearance; when he was compared unfavorably to 
Stephen Douglas, she replied, "Mr. Lincoln may not be as 
handsome a figure [as Douglas], but the people are 
perhaps not aware that his heart is as large as his arms 
are long."

     As a lawyer Lincoln was remarkably disorganized, 
carrying business papers in his hat (he joked that it was 
his "office"). The fashion-conscious Mary must have been 
mortified, and she wasn't one to keep her feelings to 
herself. She made scenes; and Lincoln hated scenes. His 
patience, amounting to fatalism, must have gone far to 
saving their union. If others saw her as a harridan, he 
realized he was lucky to have her, and he made the best 
of it. (His willingness to put up with her may be a clue 
to the intensity of his memories of home life with Thomas 

     Herndon relates that on one occasion a man angrily 
approached Lincoln to demand satisfaction for a 
tongue-lashing he had received from Mary; Lincoln gently 
took the man aside and said, "My friend, I regret to hear 
this, but let me ask you in all candor, can't you endure 
for a few moments what I have had as my daily portion for 
the last fifteen years?"

     As Herndon told it, "These words were spoken so 
mournfully and with such a look of distress that the man 
was completely disarmed. It was a case that appealed to 
his feelings. Grasping the unfortunate husband's hand, he 
expressed in no uncertain terms his sympathy, and even 
apologized for having approached him. He said no more 
about the infuriated wife, and Lincoln afterward had no 
better friend in Springfield."

     Such stories must be taken with reserve. Herndon 
became Mary's worst enemy, and he published the most 
damning stories about her after her death, when they were 
impossible to rebut. But, though she could show 
captivating charm when she pleased, even to Herndon, 
there is plenty of other testimony of her wild temper, 
cruel tongue, and sometimes impossible manners.

     Lincoln the lawyer spent much of his time riding the 
circuit, and his colleagues noticed that there were many 
nights when he preferred working late at his Springfield 
office to going home. They also noticed that he rarely 
spoke of his home life.

     Still, the Lincolns lived an active social life in 
Springfield. They once entertained a gathering of more 
than 300 people at their home.

     Lincoln's surviving letters to Mary, even late in 
their marriage, are full of tender and affectionate 
touches. He was not by nature a lyrical man, and those 
letters deal largely with practical matters; still, they 
are not stiff or terse, and they usually conclude with an 
obviously sincere wish to be with her soon.

     Not all old married couples, even happy ones, enjoy 
each other's touch after many years together; but Lincoln 
seems to have had an unfeigned love for Mary to the end, 
and they were holding hands when he was shot. After his 
death she was deeply wounded by public insinuations that 
she had made his life unhappy, or that he had harbored a 
lifelong yearning for Ann Rutledge. Mary had made many 
enemies, but her beloved husband was not one of them. 
Maybe she realized, with implicit gratitude, that he had 
been extremely patient with her. People aren't always as 
unaware of their faults as they seem to be.

     Throughout his sixteen years of partnership with 
Herndon, nine years his junior, the two men never 
quarreled. Herndon hero-worshipped Lincoln, who in turn 
was always loyal to him. They had differences: Herndon 
was an Abolitionist, Lincoln was not; Herndon drank 
heavily, Lincoln abstained entirely. When Lincoln finally 
departed for Washington after his election in 1860, he 
quietly, and without reproach, asked Herndon about his 

     Gesturing at the sign bearing the name of their law 
firm, Lincoln said, "Let it hang there undisturbed. Give 
our clients to understand that the election of a 
president means no change in the firm of Lincoln and 
Herndon. If I live I'm coming back some time, and then 
we'll go right on practicing law as if nothing had ever 
happened." But he added that he felt he would never 
return alive. Then he grasped Herndon's hand, bade him a 
fervent "Good-bye," and disappeared down the street.

     Lincoln's warmth was sincere. Yet in all the years 
they had worked harmoniously together, Billy Herndon had 
never been invited to dinner at the Lincolns' home.

The Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation: An Explanation
by Fran Griffin
(page 12)

     The Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation was founded in 
2003 by Fran Griffin and a Board of Directors committed 
to the survival of the glorious culture of the West. The 
Foundation's mission is to engage in projects aimed at 
instructing the pubic on the great heritage of our 
nation. A generation of children have grown up not 
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     Resident Scholars include Joe Sobran and W. Thomas 
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was a Resident Scholar as well.

     FGF Books, the publishing imprint of the Foundation, 
has as its goal to print books by worthy authors who may 
not otherwise get the exposure they deserve. The first 
such book will be available this spring: SHOTS FIRED: SAM 
FRANCIS ON AMERICA'S CULTURE WAR. Others, including works 
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EERIE SILENCE: The Democrats are showing unwonted 
restraint. During the entire Roberts-Alito confirmation 
battle, you had to wonder if their hearts were really in 
it. Not once throughout the hearings did they play the 
pubic hair card. (page 5)

SILVER LINING: One hopeful result of these confirmation 
fights, surely, is that conservatives won't allow the 
Republicans to give a courtesy pass to the next liberal a 
Democrat president names to the Court. (page 6)

THAT'S HIM, ALL RIGHT: Maureen Dowd, current occupant of 
the Anna Quindlen Catholic Girl seat on the NEW YORK 
TIMES op-ed page, can, I must say, turn a phrase. 
Surveying the Bush administration's domestic spying 
program, she has dubbed Vice President Dick Cheney "the 
Grim Peeper." (page 7)

PHYSICIAN, N.: A man who informs you you have brain 
cancer, then tries to cheer you up by telling you they've 
found a cure for baldness. (page 10)

THE GAL THAT GOT AWAY: He's a handsome young man, a 
college student, and the son of a U.S. senator from 
Massachusetts. Unfortunately, his father isn't John 
Kerry. THE NATIONAL ENQUIRER reports that he was begotten 
by Teddy Kennedy, who, in keeping with his deepest 
convictions, begged the mother to exercise her 
constitutional right to an abortion. But she refused, and 
he was forced to buy her silence. Now the story has 
erupted, and the safest seat in the Senate may be in 
danger. That's what Teddy gets for having a fling with a 
woman who knew how to swim. (page 11)


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