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Reacting to Lincoln

In my previous post, I wrote about a talk that I had recently given about Lincoln.  I had not expected it to be terribly controversial – in fact, I wondered whether it was such common knowledge that it was not worth reporting.

But there is something about Lincoln that leads people to react in extreme ways.

Let me start with the long criticism by the first commenter, which is then endorsed by the second commenter.  The comment goes on and on, in an extremely intemperate way. The principal complaint appears to be that I took Lincoln at his word and did not conclude that he repeatedly lied to the American people about his views on slavery.  For this, I am accused of somehow not respecting Lincoln.  I would think if I had accused him of lying, without any foundation, that I would be open to criticism.  But apparently the opposite is the case.

The funny thing is that my post did not suggest that Lincoln personally approved of slavery or would not have liked to have eliminated it more quickly.  Quite the contrary.  As I said, “in Lincoln’s defense, he believed that any stronger position would have been rejected by the American people and therefore this was the best that could be accomplished for the slaves.”

I don’t normally respond to commenters in a post, but I think this comment is illustrative of how Lincoln leads people of varying positions to extreme reactions.  I was once at a conference and a Straussian professor there defended every single thing that Lincoln had done.  Lincoln could do no wrong.  The professor was very nice, but I don’t think I agreed with a single thing they said.

I was at another conference among libertarians, and one professor strongly attacked Lincoln.  Here I tried to defend some of Lincoln’s actions, but I made no headway.  For this professor, Lincoln could do very little right.

I could go on, but the point is that Lincoln leads people to extreme reactions.  Why is this?  I am not sure, but my guess is that it is a function of a couple of considerations.  First, he was an eloquent writer, and this leads people to focus on his words – either in a favorable or unfavorable way.  Second, he was an important figure – more important to the second founding than any single framer of the first founding.  And finally, as a politician who sought to stay within the bounds of public opinion, he often took moderate or intermediate positions – positions that are open to criticism or defense, depending on one’s perspective.

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on February 17, 2015 at 06:30:52 am

Mike, to me it's somewhat intriguing that you're surprised at the polarizing nature of pretty well any discussion of Lincoln.

To me, Lincoln was the first post-Constitutional-Convention critical turning point in undoing what was left of the libertarian roots of the Revolution. To others, the sins of Sherman and Grant will forever stain any discussion of Lincoln. To still others, slavery only but ONLY ended because of Lincoln "...and you'd better not say anything bad about him."

Lincoln was a tyrant. The war was no excuse for his imprisonment of tens of thousands of people in the North who happened to disagree, even the loyal opposition types. His impulse to be muscular instead of diplomatic with the South was despicable, and led to a war that could have been avoided and that still today echoes angrily through the population, especially the South. In my opinion, rather than successfully freeing the slaves, he and his ideological heirs made slaves of us all. All that was left for the undoing of American freedom was handled in 1913, and simply later expanded on with Social Security and the many "wars" (on poverty, drugs, etc.) that have re-sealed our servitude. Without Lincoln, none of the latter could have happened. ...at least not as readily.

I am of the group that recognizes Rothschild agitation fomenting the divide between the North and the South. The young country was influencing thought in a way that undermined England's royalty and its Rothschild puppet masters. Worse, it was getting advanced enough as to be a real military threat. They had to divide it, and agents were sent to stir things up. And there was that thing with Jackson that just couldn't go unanswered.

Thus, Lincoln was presented with a Kobayashi Maru (sp?) scenario that he can almost not be blamed for failing. Almost. He kept the country together, but at what price? The end of state sovereignty is the first thing that comes to mind. Millions dead is another right next to it. Then there's the fact that it was the wedge that allowed the sorcerers of Old World slavery aka feudalism back into this country. It only took the Keynesian twitches, much as they might not have been known by that name at the time, of Wilson to finalize the coup de gras and lay the groundwork for ongoing rapacion.

Lincoln is a repository, a cesspool for a great deal of anger that almost any group in the US can express about what happened in and because of the Civil War. It doesn't make it better that he is ballyhooed as one of the greats, with lots of kumbayas. However, after Hamilton, he was the next of the great destroyers of American freedom, with the Emancipation Proclamation more of a poke in the eye to the saber-rattling South than anything.

Good does come out of bad things, perhaps because of or perhaps in spite of. It's definitely a good thing that outright, obvious slavery is done away... as far as the law goes. Once in a while, something good and right comes of the 14th Amendment and the way it's been dealt with, by way of incorporation (which should have been automatic, or perhaps would have been, if the amendment hadn't been falsely ramrodded through). Nonetheless, Americans are enslaved, just as Jackson and Jefferson intoned, by transnational--nay, supranational banking institutions that know that we are fodder and they are the only folks who matter.

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kldimond
on February 17, 2015 at 11:59:08 am

Kidimond is correct in his thesis concerning Lincoln. In reality Lincoln,who corresponded with Karl Marx,was the American Lenin. Through violence and at the point of a gun,he centralized power in Washington DC and laid the groundwork for the leviathan that is smothering liberty in today's America.

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libertarian jerry
on February 17, 2015 at 12:14:19 pm

Mike:

"And finally, as a politician who sought to stay within the bounds of public opinion, he often took moderate or intermediate positions – positions that are open to criticism or defense, depending on one’s perspective."

As I was the 2nd commenter, I would hope that one does not confuse me with the first.

My position is somewhat in concord with the quote I have taken from this your 2nd piece.
The difference is that I believe that it was not simply a case of "stay(ing) within the bounds of public opinion." One can, and does, expect this from todays politicos and it carries with it a certain and [proper sense of disdain for the politicos. There was something more involved with Lincoln's *dialectic* with the people. I think Ken Masugi has given a fair sense of it with his comment that Lincoln was not suddenly "re-born" into an anti-slavery position but rather that to Lincoln anti-slavery AND the defense of Republican governance were inseparable - and from his earliest days, he did defend the overriding principle of republican governance.

As I asked in my final comment in the earlier post:

"Would it be fair to say that the two threads were inseparable but the exposition of each individual thread required a slightly different exposition and emphasis based upon conditions?"

Facially, this may not appear to be different from your quote above - yet, it also allows for the recognition that Lincoln, while remaining within public opinion, nevertheless, had a grander purpose in mind. Perhaps, not as grand as some today would have preferred - but still grand enough to "nudge" the American people to a fuller understanding of republican governance - and certainly not so evil as his detractors who would have us believe that he was the tool of bankers, merchants, etc, etc.

On balance:
Those who are upset the South lost - get over it!
Those who *deify* Mr Lincoln, give me a break.

Those who are capable of accepting the faults and virtues of the man, speak to me. I will listen.
Mike - I am listening - yours is a reasonable position.

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gabe
on February 17, 2015 at 12:52:04 pm

Jerry:

Perhaps, you should check the records.

Immediately after cessation of hostilities, the American government began to shrink and by 1868, almost the entire growth in government was reversed. It remained on this course for many subsequent administrations changing significantly (i.e., growing) only during and after WWI and President Woodrow Wilson's administration.

We too frequently blame Mr. Lincoln for the *sins* of the Progressives - if any political actors can be said to have been influenced by German thought it is the Progressives and not Mr. Lincoln.

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gabe
on February 17, 2015 at 14:25:22 pm

Mike:

Oops! Went back and re-read first post. It appears that one could take my comment about the 1st fellow being *correct* that I endorsed the view that you were accusing Lincoln of all sorts of misbehavior. I did not and do not.
I intended only to say that I also preferred to take his actions as a better indicator than his words. However, in that sense I would include the "long term actions" of his speeches as more than just words as there was, it appears to me a conscious effort (action) to effect a change in the thinking of the citizenry concerning slavery.

In any event, my apologies if my shorthand comments implied that I too was attributing to you the somewhat intemperate charges regarding Lincoln.

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gabe
on February 17, 2015 at 14:39:36 pm

Gabe..................Certainly the Federal Government shrunk after the end of the Civil War. Just like it shrunk after the First World War when we returned to "normalcy." And after the Second World War when we downsized the military on a massive scale. The point is that,despite downsizing and reduced budgets,the Federal Government's power grew in relationship to its limited functions as outlined by the Founders in the original Constitution. As I stated in my comments Lincoln laid the "groundwork" and built the foundation which permitted the growth of leviathan. Just like Lenin,and to a lesser extent Trotsky, laid the groundwork and foundations that allowed Stalin to grow his police state. Another example was Bismark who laid the groundwork for the socialist Wiemar Republic that in turn laid the groundwork for Hitler's National Socialism. Or,for example,Herbert Hoover's Reconstruction Finance Corp.that laid the groundwork for FDR's New Deal or George Bush's Patriot Act that laid the groundwork of the NSA that in turn allowed Mr.Obama to grow our domestic Police State. This is why it is always good to follow the course of history to see what proceeded,what occurred and what were the long term results and consequences of political actions.

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libertarian jerry
on February 17, 2015 at 15:08:06 pm

Gabe,

The breaking down of any kind of sovereignty of the states was sufficient. Moreover, his precedents of suspension of habeas corpus, his imprisonment of many in the North who were simply not enthusiastic enough about his actions (and God forbid you were opposed!), his stifling of the press, and so on, set things in motion that stewed and festered between his death and the Wilson administration.

All of this undoubtedly assisted in the social acceptance of the imperial state, leading in turn to "progressive" ideas of regressive feudalizing tendency and into the early 20th Century's sick developments.

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kldimond
on February 17, 2015 at 17:21:49 pm

Jerry:

I am aware of the historical circumstances and because I am I still would not accept that Lincoln laid the groundwork for the Progressive Leviathan state than did George Washington because he conducted military operations against some whiskey distillers in Pennsylvania or because he approved of the National Bank.
Lincolns increases were almost entirely war related. What remained after the war was war debt, pensions, a tax (soon ruled unconstitutional) and the one thing, if you can call it that, that did expand the scope of the Federal government - the relation of the US government to the railroads with the subsidies etc.
The rest of it, i.e., the Progressive hogwash, was (is) motivated by a completely different mindset / ideology. You are correct in citing the influence of Bismarck - but are aiming the Bismarckian arrow at the wrong target - not Lincoln but Wilson and all his hangers-on.

As for everything post Progressives, we are in agreement on the deleterious effects it has had on liberty.

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gabe
on February 17, 2015 at 17:35:13 pm

First off, it depends on what you mean by sovereignty - I for one do not see the States as having been sovereign in the normal sense of that word. But yes, there was a diminution of their internal sovereignty AFTER the War.
Yet, let us remember that Lincoln did not live to see the end of hostilities (it actually dragged on for almost another year via sporadic fighting). What we do know is that Lincoln, in contra-distinction to the Radical Republicans sought a far more lenient approach to reconciliation and had he lieved the terms of re-union may have been better than what the South received at the hands of the Congress. Remember that Andrew Johnson was impeached (but not convicted) not because of the Tenure of Office Act but rather because the Radical Rascals could not abide his neo-Lincolnian approach to re-union.

It is also worth pointing out that the South had imposed far more draconian constraints on speech than did the North under Lincoln. Indeed, the south did this PRIOR to the War. One of the causes for conflict, cited by Lincoln and others, was the Souths practice of destroying anti-slavery literature / newspapers delivered (or more accurately being attempted to be delivered) by the US Post Office. Indeed some postal carries were beaten, shot, etc. - and this was prior to hostilities.

The South also imprisoned those who were not supportive of the cause.
Moreover, Jeff Davis commandeered the southern economy, most specifically the limited rail capacity, (which some argue caused southern defeat), grain, manufactures, etc. So let us recognize that some nasty actions have been taken during wartime.
Lastly, on habeas corpus, Lincoln did get Congressional approval for his actions within a short time and this is all that the Constitution requires - Congressional approval.

All too often we criticize Mr Lincoln for doing precisely what Mr Davis did - but applaud the latter as a valiant defended or something or the other.

Lincoln ain't no saint and he ain't no devil - just a pretty darn good statesman.

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gabe
on February 17, 2015 at 19:04:48 pm

I haven't meant to give the impression that I thought the South was right. They were worked up by Rothschild agents same as in the North; just that it was opposite rhetoric.

I also acknowledge that both sides played gotcha games with one another. I think Lincoln's gotchas were particularly provocative, however. And of course, decency and truth and even lawfulness are the sacrificial lambs whenever war is in play. It's a truth, but it still doesn't make the actions right.

It's because the North won the war that Lincoln is a target; if the South had won, I'd no doubt pillory Davis for the bad precedents he set in motion. This can't be about comparing devils and choosing the lesser to praise and the greater to condemn. (and ... I'm not sure which way I'd go on that). It's about what precedents the winning side put into play, and the cultural influences--which of course also impacts the legal. It's just not solid ground to say that the biggest event (that I can think of offhand, anyway) in the 19th Century didn't lay the groundwork for almost everything that came after.

I don't claim much more than passing knowledge--albeit I have most of the standard and some of the "alternative" knowledge--of the Civil War, so I'm taking in what you're saying about Lincoln's probable better attitude about re-union. It makes sense, at least. There's no question that the Congress was out for blood. Heh, neocons.

I'd be interested to know where in the Constitution it says that any of the rights can be suspended on a congressional act. Going to be very, very difficult to get me to go along with that one.

Assuredly, the Civil War had a cultural impact well into 40 years beyond its end. Heck, it STILL has huge influence culturally and otherwise! I perceive a growing tendency over those years towards a coerced cultural acceptance of federal thinking, of statism...

The 14th Amendment, very questionably "passed," is in some ways, almost a complete rewrite of the Constitution. There is no question of its influence today, some 150 years later. Yes, that wasn't Lincoln, but if not for Lincoln's war...

1892, Francis Bellamy pens the Pledge of Allegiance. "... one nation, indivisible, ..." Where did that influence come from, I wonder? Indivisible. Prior to the Civil War, indivisible wasn't really in the mind of the people or the states. After the Civil War, it was a clamp on the jaws of choice.

Wasn't it Grant who created the great railroad fiasco by granting huge, exclusive land franchises to the train companies? Pretty big federal influence there... Clearly a neo-mercantilist move, with the Federal Government right spang in the middle. Mercantilist elitism is THE hallmark of the Federal Reserve Act, etc... Yes, Grant isn't Lincoln, but the mindset of one nation statism undoubtedly fed his belief that the government should be in the middle of ... at least key things.

I could think of more, but there is no denying that the next 40 and 50 years of the national consciousness were impacted in big ways by the Civil War's many implications.

I have this on very weak authority, but it's my understanding that the war debt was not paid by Wilson's time, and that this is very possibly why we got the Federal Reserve Act, along with its control-enabling brothers, the 16th and 17th Amendments--all passed under very questionable circumstances. The same source also asserts that the Great Depression was actually a default where the banks took control of the asset, shaking out a lot of its value. I don't know if this is true, but it sure makes sense.

Well, that's probably about all I have to say on the subject. Most of all, my commenting here was prompted by the surprise that Mike expressed at the sound and fury of the commentary on his earlier post. Point is, the Civil War is still not settled today. Not by a long shot. Heh, obviously.

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kldimond
on February 18, 2015 at 11:44:23 am

This comment is reply to Kid... last comment:

k:

It is to be found in Article I Section 9, Clause 2 and is known as the Suspension Clause:

"The privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it."

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gabe
on February 18, 2015 at 17:12:29 pm

I do not think it is fair to ascribe to Lincoln the origins of the Progressive-era statism of the 20th and 21st century American regime.

We do not know what Lincoln would have done had he lived. But he did sketch out, starting in 1864, an outline of his vision of reconstruction. It is strikingly congruent with the policies implemented by his Vice President, when he assumed the office.

I think it is reasonable to see in Congressional Reconstruction a precedent for the 20th century state. But the preferred policies of men like Thaddeus Stevens in 1867 were not those advanced by Lincoln in 1864. When Johnson defended Presidential Reconstruction, he believed he was defending the preferred policies of Lincoln. To my reading, his interpretation was plausible. Johnson was clearly not the politician that Lincoln was--but that is not the same thing as suggesting that he misunderstood the thrust of Lincoln's intentions for restoring the Union.

The constitutional changes created by Congressional Reconstruction postdate Lincoln's death. The fourteenth amendment stemmed from the politics of 1866 and 1867. The amendment that stemmed directly from Lincoln's policy choices--the 13th--is not generally viewed as constitutionally transformative, in the fashion that we conventionally teach the implications of the 14th.

It is also worth emphasizing that the precedent set by Congressional Reconstruction does not seem to have created substantial "legs." When Progressives like Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson set about expanding the regulatory authority of the Federal Government, they did not look to Reconstruction, but rather to the politics set in motion in the 1880s by groups like the Populists. If we ascribe too much weight to the influence in subsequent years of Congressional Reconstruction, we risk mis-diagnosing the sources of our present maladies.

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Kevin R. Hardwick
on February 18, 2015 at 17:17:18 pm

Lincoln believed in the labor theory of value, as did a great many other mid-18th century Americans. The source for that particular notion, it is worth noting, predates Marx--you can find it in John Locke's second treatise, for example.

But to suggest that Lincoln was somehow a communist or socialist, or that he desired to institute in America something similar to the aspirations of the European revolutionaries of 1848, strikes me as implausible. I know of nothing in the extant primary source record that supports this kind of assertion.

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Kevin R. Hardwick
on February 18, 2015 at 17:30:40 pm

Kidimond writes: "1892, Francis Bellamy pens the Pledge of Allegiance. “… one nation, indivisible, …” Where did that influence come from, I wonder? Indivisible. Prior to the Civil War, indivisible wasn’t really in the mind of the people or the states. After the Civil War, it was a clamp on the jaws of choice."

The history of American thinking about the Union is ably limned by historian Kenneth Stampp, in an excellent 1978 essay:

"The Concept of a Perpetual Union," Kenneth M. Stampp, The Journal of American History, Vol. 65, No. 1 (Jun., 1978), pp. 5-33.

Stampp demonstrates, conclusively in my view, that the view that the Union was indivisible was articulated with clarity and conviction by numerous Americans in numerous media, from 1781 all the way through the 1860s. Stampp's conclusions are supported by the recent book by Elizabeth Varon, DISUNION! THE COMING OF THE AMERICAN CIVIL WAR, 1789-1859.

The language of "indivisible union" stems from Article 13 of the Articles of Confederation. So the indivisibility of the union absolutely was in the minds of the men who wrote that document. It was also, as the scholarship of Lance Banning ably demonstrates, very much on the mind of men like James Madison, who might possibly have had something to do with drafting the Constitution produced by the Philadelphia Convention. Several of the earlier letters of the Federalist discuss these concerns.

It would be wrong to suggest that the indivisibility of the union was never challenged in the period 1789-1859. But it is demonstrably wrong to suggest that it was not present, either. It was articulated by a good many people in those years, to the extent that anyone paying attention to public life would be aware of it. It was, in other words, a conventional argument in those years.

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Kevin R. Hardwick
on February 18, 2015 at 17:33:41 pm

Kevin:

As always great points.
I wish my memory were better as I could supplement these comments a bit better but as I recall the labor theory of value may be traced back to 14th - 15th century writings that were curiously enough debunked by a French monk in the 16th century who proposed what we now call today the market exchange value.
Dang, I wish I could remember the source - perhaps Hannam's book on Science and Christianity.

BTW: In the piece on Washington in todays piece do you concur on Washington's contribution to the Convention / Constitution. I would be very interested in your opinion as I recall from one of your suggested readings that Washington played a far more active role than most folks recognize.

anyway
take care
gabe

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gabe
on February 18, 2015 at 18:33:41 pm

It is worth noting that none of the American states--with to my recollection just one exception (Texas)--has ever exercised in full the sovereinty of a sovereign nation. From 1775 forward, all of the political societies that in 1776 became what we call "states" recognized that they would cede to the Continental Congress some of the powers normally exercized by sovereign nations. Article Two of the Articles of Confederation notes the partial sovereignty of the state goverments, when it makes the concession that the states have granted to the Continental government a number of significant powers that normally are exercised by sovereigns. Lincoln's insistence that the Union predated the States is not completely implausible.

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Kevin R. Hardwick
on February 18, 2015 at 18:44:55 pm

Ah, the foibles... Ok, I give on the habeas corpus. I guess I really showed THAT one! Attacking it with my teeth and spraying it therewith as well! Thit!

Perhaps my readings have been biased. As noted, they're not the deepest. What I recall was that it was clearly understood that secession was within the pale until after the Civil War. Kevin, thanks for pointing up that however authoritative an author may seem, and no matter how many "different" things one may have read, perhaps they just aren't quite as varied as imagined. I'm kinda stunned that even with the confederate arrangement, folks thought it was locked in. I wonder if they had any intent to justify war, however.

Confounding: federation or confederacy, what's the point if it's not separable? Just call it one nation and get on with it. Also, the "one nation" concept was attacked in the Federalist/Anti-Federalist Papers, and even the Federalists disclaimed the idea, much as that might have been disingenuous. I'm not entirely in a vacuum here. I can't help but believe the "indivisible" concept was as strong as implied.

Most of all, I remain unconvinced that federal muscularity of the Civil War had nothing to do with, or was not a strong antecedent of, 20th Century muscularity. That is to say, I find it simply erroneous to claim that the Civil War didn't lay strong groundwork for future depredations.

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kldimond
on February 22, 2015 at 09:32:23 am

If Hamilton counts among the destroyers of America, where does George Washington rank? The absurdity of the anti-Lincoln argument is encapsulated here. Lincoln enemy, George Washington enemy. The anti-Lincoln position is at heart an anti-American position. Today, as at the founding, we always need to return to first principles (Virginia Declaration).

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Ken Masugi
on February 22, 2015 at 16:14:52 pm

Re: Lincoln, one must ask why he ordered federal armies south. Was secession verboten or implicitly accepted, as a last resort to protect the states/people against the usurpations of the general gov/t?

I believe the right of the states to void the constitutional compact predicated on the egregious actions of the general gov't were, nearly, universally accepted among the citizenry. No representative of the several states, at that time, believed their state should ever be subjected to a general gov't gone mad. The "Union" was not sacrosanct. Even Jefferson adumbrated the possibility, though with the hope that it would not take place.

Lincoln's act of war/treason was not to end the evils of African chattel slavery, but as he said, to maintain the Union. And, why was that? Simply because the tariff proposed by the new Confederate Congress in session in Montgomery, Alabama in the spring of '61 was significantly lower than that of the Washington gov't. And, with port cities able to handle European goods that would soon flood the American market at much lower prices than American goods, simply could not be tolerated by the 'eastern monied interests.'

War is almost always grounded on economics.

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bobcheeks
on October 15, 2020 at 15:59:45 pm

Read the cornerstone speech of the Confederacy, mapping out south's plan to be a permanent slave gulag regime. It was the Confederacy and it's civil war which brought us big government in the 20th century.

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Susan

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