Legal Ethics and Reform

Of Lincoln, Lawyers, and the Proliferation of Parties

The United States is experiencing a surge in third, fourth, and fifth party activity. In addition, many electorial changes, some old ideas and some new, are being promoted. Mostly these changes are designed to give more power to committed voters who remain apart from the traditional "big tent" parties, the Republicans and Democrats. These reforms include multi-party candidacies by one candidate, cross party endorsements, multi-candidate districts, cumulative voting, easier ballot access for new parties, elimination of the electorial college, etc.

Logically these changes should lead to a decreased involvement of lawyers in the Executive and Legislative branches of government. In "big tent" party politics the ability to dissemble convincingly is a great asset. "Big tent" parties attract a wide array of people with oftentimes conflicting ideas about key issues, so candidates who can "finesse" key issues, have a distinct advantage. Is it any wonder that lawyers oftentimes win key endorsements, get support from a wide, disparate array of contributors, and thus win primaries particularly for the most visible offices? For example, in Missouri, in the 1992 Governor's race both of the major political parties nominated lawyers; then in 1994 again in Missouri, both parties nominated two different lawyers to run for the U S Senate. Nationally, in 1996, the Presidential race being served up by the major parties will be an unusual four lawyer face off with Bill and Hillary Clinton opposing Bob and Liddy Dole.

With the advent of more focused political activity, the ideologically committed candidate, who speaks from the heart and gives no thought to dissimulation, should have an advantage. Such candidates, at least in primaries, will be appealing to smaller, more committed groups of voters who presumably will appreciate the candor. Of course, the test will be the actual election of these more committed people to office.

History, however, does not support the view that non-lawyers are advantaged by the proliferation of parties. The last time America saw such a proliferation of parties was in the 1850's. This lead to the election of Abe Lincoln with 38% of the popular vote in 1860. Lincoln, a lawyer, lead the abolitionist Republican Party to victory and then lead the county into a brutal, bloody war. He was a man in intellectual flux; he was a lawyer who could dissemble with unequalled eloquent. His address following the carnage at Gettysburg stands as one of the most quoted works of the English language. In this address, in the middle of a war to conquer secessionist states, he managed to completely avoid the word "state" or its plural "states".

Lincoln wanted freedom for slaves, but lacked vision; he was unable to learn from the experience of Britian and France. These countries, in the 1830's and 1840's, ended slavery with little bloodshed, some compensation to slaveholders, accompanied by training and apprenticeship programs for the freed slaves. Lincoln spoke eloquently of freedom but imposed major restrictions on the civil rights of Americans. He had an understanding of the benefits of keeping the Union. However, he did not appreciate the subtle brilliance of the Founding Fathers who had checked Washington DC's power by creating strong states, possessed by virtue of the Tenth Amendment of "all powers not delegated to" the federal government. Lincoln totally ignored the explicitly stated "right to secede" which several states had written into their ratification resolutions back in the 1780's when they accepted the U S Constitution.

In theory, current political trends should reduce the influence of lawyers in elected positions, but if history is any guide, the reverse could be true. America may soon be trading the current crop of spendthrift pettifoggers for a new crop of focused, dissimulators prepared to lead this country to ... who knows where. Is there another FDR, or Lincoln around the corner?

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