by Chris Leithner
Montreal, August 15, 2008
The only thing new in the world is the history you don’t know. Almost everything that Americans in general and Republicans in particular think they know about Lincoln is a toxic mixture of myths, distortions and wicked lies.(1)
Founded in 1854, the Republican Party rose to prominence and power when its nominee, Abraham Lincoln, won the presidential election of 1860. To this day, many people regard it as the “Party of Lincoln” and historians and the general public have long considered Lincoln, next only to Washington, as America’s greatest president (see also “Rating the Presidents” by Pat Buchanan and “Down With the Presidency” by Lew Rockwell).
The first big lie, which is universally believed, is that Lincoln, dubbed the “Great Emancipator” by his cult of worshippers, went to war in order to free slaves. The abhorrence of racial injustice and the desire to abolish slavery played no role in the Union’s determination to strangle the Confederacy in its cradle. What did? One factor was Lincoln’s determination to preserve the Union at any cost – including the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. In 1862, Lincoln wrote to Horace Greeley (the leading Northern newspaperman of the day): “My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and it is not either to save or destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it.”
Similarly, in 1861 Congress resolved that the purpose of the war was not “[to interfere] with the rights or established institutions of those states,” but to preserve the Union “with the rights of the several states unimpaired.” On the day that hostilities commenced at Fort Sumter (12 April 1861), only the seven states of the Deep South had seceded, there were more slaves within the Union than outside it and Lincoln hadn’t the slightest intention to free any of them. Alexis de Tocqueville’s observation in Democracy in America (1835-40) remained true: “The prejudice of race appears to be stronger in the states that have abolished slavery than in those where it still exists.”
Another factor that motivated war was the Republican Party’s lust (which, with few and brief exceptions, it has retained to the present day) to tax and spend. The North waged war against the South in order to regain the federal tax revenue that would be lost if the Southern states seceded peacefully.(2) Republicans were then, and remain today, a Party of Big Government. In Lincoln’s time, Republicans championed a high (i.e., protectionist) tariff. They used the proceeds – which were laundered through roads, canals, railways, etc. – to dispense lavish corporate welfare to their backers. To Republicans, the fact that tariffs, corporate welfare and the like favoured an anointed few (whose residences, factories, etc., were overwhelmingly in the North) and punished a benighted many (Southerners were mostly “outs” rather than “ins”) was inconsequential. What was essential, however, was that consumers, Southern as well as Northern, subsidise Republicans’ wealthy backers. Southerners’ unwillingness to subjugate themselves to Republicans ultimately drove them to secede.
In Lincoln’s view, only by keeping the Union intact – by force of arms if necessary – could Republicans’ lust to tax, dispense largesse and build an empire be sated. In his First Inaugural Address (4 March 1861), Lincoln threatened to invade any state that failed to collect federal “duties and imposts.” On 19 April, he rationalised his order to blockade Southern ports on the grounds that “the collection of the revenue cannot be effectually executed” in the states that had seceded.(3)
Lincoln the racist
A second wicked lie is that Lincoln championed natural rights and racial equality. Both his words and his deeds utterly repudiated any belief in or respect for these admirable principles. “I have no purpose to introduce political and social equality between the white and black races,” he announced in the first (21 August 1858) of his celebrated debates with Stephen Douglas. Like many and perhaps most other men of his time and place, Lincoln was an unapologetic and irredeemable racist: “I, as well as Judge Douglas, am in favour of the race to which I belong having the superior position.” He added “Free them [slaves] and make them politically and socially our equals? My own feelings will not admit of this. We cannot, then, make them equals.”
No reasonable person can possibly deny Lincoln’s staunch and vociferous advocacy of apartheid and white supremacy.(4) On 17 July 1858, he said: “What I would most desire would be the separation of the white and black races.” And in the fourth of his debates with Douglas (on 18 September), he vowed: “I will to the very last stand by the law of this state, which forbids the marrying of white people with Negroes.” Lincoln enthusiastically supported the Illinois Constitution, which at that time prohibited the emigration of black people into the state; he also backed the infamous Illinois Black Codes, which deprived the small number of free blacks residing within the state any semblance of citizenship; and he applauded the Fugitive Slave Act (1850), which compelled Northerners to capture runaway slaves and return them to their owners.
Lincoln brought these shamelessly racist attitudes and pro-slavery policy preferences to the White House. In his First Inaugural Address, he promised to support a proposed constitutional amendment (that had just passed the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives) that would have prohibited the federal government from ever assuming the power “to abolish or interfere, within any State, with the domestic institutions thereof, including that of persons held to labour or service by the laws of said State.” Also in his First Inaugural, Lincoln proposed to make this constitutional amendment “express and irrevocable.” Finally, Lincoln was a lifelong advocate of “colonisation,” that is, of shipping all black people to Africa, Central America, Haiti – anywhere other than the U.S. “I cannot make it better known than it already is,” he stated in a Message to Congress (1 December 1862), “that I strongly favour colonisation.” Indeed, he favoured it so strongly that he was the president of the Illinois Colonization Society. To Dishonest Abe, African-Americans could only be “equal” once they had been expelled from the United States.
A third myth is that Lincoln’s war saved the Union. Clearly, it did so geographically; just as clearly, however, by destroying its voluntary nature – which the Founders had emphasised and which had been taken for granted thereafter – the war ruined the Union philosophically. In the Declaration of Independence (1776), Articles of Confederation (1777-1781) and Constitution (1788), the states described themselves as “free and independent.” These documents could not be clearer: states delegated specified powers to the federal government which they had created as their agent, and they retained ultimate sovereignty for themselves. When they put their signatures to the Declaration of Independence, America’s Founders announced the secession from the British Empire of the states which they represented; and when George III signed the peace treaty ending the war, he named all of the states individually. He waged war against thirteen states, not a single entity called “the United States Government.”
“Abraham Lincoln was not the Great Emancipator: he was the Great Warmonger and Imperialist, the Great Racist, the Great Taxer-and-Spender, the Great Corruptionist, the Great Incarcerator and the Great Vandal of the Constitution.”
Given those precedents, what sane person could possibly deny the same right of secession to Americans who withdrew consent from the federal government? Early in the 19th century, Northern rather than Southern states threatened to secede. Vermont considered secession in order to register its extreme disgust at the Louisiana Purchase – whose champion, Thomas Jefferson, knew was unconstitutional and who throughout his life affirmed the right of any state to dissolve the bonds of Union. Further, Massachusetts threatened to secede as a protest against the Embargo Act of 1807, the War of 1812 and the annexation of Texas in 1845. On none of these occasions did any Southerner (or any American of any description) threaten Yankees with invasion.(5) When Texans seceded from Mexico, no American doubted their right to do so and to join the Union. Quite the contrary: all insisted that they had such a right, and that no Mexican had any right to stop them. But to Lincoln and his henchmen, freedom of association did not permit freedom of disassociation: hence Southerners (including Texans) could join but couldn’t depart the Union. Like the insect in the Venus Flytrap and the guest at the Hotel California, you’re free to enter but you can never leave.
The truth, however, is that in 1861 the principle of freedom of association and right of secession was as widely understood and affirmed in the North as it was in the South. As The Brooklyn Daily Eagle editorialised on 13 November 1860, the Union “depends for its continuance on the free consent and will of the sovereign people of each state, and when that consent and will is withdrawn on either part, their Union is gone.” The New York Journal of Commerce concurred. On 12 January 1861 it warned that a coerced Union, one in which states were forcibly restrained from secession, would change the nature of government from “a voluntary one, in which the people are sovereigns, to a despotism where one part of the people are slaves” (see also John Remington Graham, A Constitutional History of Secession, Pelican, 2002).
Lincoln the dictator
A fourth blatant lie, cherished by Republicans, is the assertion that Lincoln was a “Defender of the Constitution.” The polar opposite is true: Lincoln was a tyrant and the despoiler par excellence of the Constitution. Generations of historians have accurately labelled him a “dictator.” “Dictatorship played a decisive role in the North’s successful effort to maintain the Union by force of arms,” wrote Clinton Rossiter in Constitutional Dictatorship (first published in 1948). “Lincoln’s amazing disregard for the Constitution was considered by nobody as legal.”
James G. Randall documented Dishonest Abe’s assault upon law and liberty in Constitutional Problems Under Lincoln (first published in 1926). Lincoln suspended the writ of habeas corpus and ordered the military to arrest tens of thousands of political opponents. At his command, but without a shred of legal authority, ca. 300 newspapers were closed and all telegraphic communications censored; elections in the North were rigged; throughout the Union, Democratic voters were intimidated; in New York City, hundreds of protesters against conscription (a form of slavery) were shot; West Virginia was unconstitutionally carved out of Virginia; and the most outspoken member of the Democratic Party opposition, Congressman Clement L. Vallandigham of Ohio, was deported. For good measure, duly-elected members of the Maryland legislature were gaoled, as was the mayor of Baltimore and a Maryland Congressman. In total disregard of the Second Amendment to the Constitution, inhabitants of Border States (Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri and West Virginia) were disarmed, and wherever Lincoln’s evil tentacles could spread, private property was confiscated.
A fifth lie is that Lincoln was a “great humanitarian” who bore “malice towards none.” The truth is that Lincoln planned and managed a total war upon Southern civilians (see in particular Mark Grimsley, The Hard Hand of War, Cambridge University Press, 1997). Like Robert Mugabe today and sordid host of dictators during the 20th century, Lincoln ordered his troops to murder women and children. His war included the destruction of entire towns populated solely by civilians, massive looting, rape and execution without trial (or even charge) of non-combatants. To this day, General William Tecumseh Sherman’s March to the Sea (November-December 1864) remains the worst act of terrorism committed on American soil (see, for example, “Sherman’s March” by Clyde Wilson). Americans would be wise to remove their blinds and recall that this evil act was perpetrated by the agents of the U.S. Government at the vengeful behest of a Republican president. Sherman wrote on 24 December: “We are not only fighting armies, but a hostile people, and must make old and young, rich and poor, feel the hard hand of war, as well as their organised armies. I know that this recent movement of mine through Georgia has had a wonderful effect in this respect.” Using the rules established by the Allies after the Second World War, Lincoln and the high command of the Union Army unquestionably qualified as war criminals.(6)
A sixth lie, perhaps the most despicable of all, is that the War of Northern Aggression was necessary. Only war, say its mythologisers and apologists, could have ended slavery. The truth, of course, is that it was a war of choice and not of necessity. This war, the deadliest in American history, caused the deaths of 620,000 soldiers and an undetermined number (but possibly as many as 250,000) of civilians. Approximately one in four adult, white male Southerners perished. And it was all for nothing. During the 19th century, dozens of countries, including the British, Russian and Spanish empires, abolished the indefensible institution of slavery. They did so peacefully and by means of compensated emancipation. Among the countries of the Western Hemisphere that followed this route were Argentina, Colombia, Chile, all of Central America, Mexico, Bolivia, Uruguay, various French colonies, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela. Only in the Land of the Free is war and the destruction of property and constitution regarded as a necessary condition of emancipation. Whether in the American South or the Middle East, Republicans, it seems, have to destroy a country in order to deliver it.
Abraham Lincoln, then, was not the Great Emancipator: he was the Great Warmonger and Imperialist, the Great Racist, the Great Taxer-and-Spender, the Great Corruptionist, the Great Incarcerator and the Great Vandal of the Constitution. He was a war criminal and America’s worst-ever president.
1. The authority in this field is Thomas DiLorenzo. See in particular his books The Real Lincoln: A New Look at Abraham Lincoln, His Agenda, and an Unnecessary War, Prima Lifestyles, 2002, and Lincoln Unmasked: What You’re Not Supposed to Know About Dishonest Abe, 2006, and short articles. See also Government Growth, the Party of Lincoln, and George W. Bush by Anthony Gregory, and Jeffrey Rogers Hummel, Emancipating Slaves, Enslaving Free Men: A History of the American Civil War, Open Court, 1996.
2. In 1860, the proceeds from tariffs comprised 95 percent of federal revenue. The secession of the Southern states thus meant considerable loss to the federal treasury. Expenditures – i.e., pork barrel politics – would have to fall, and Lincoln’s and his Republican henchmen’s raison d’être become much less viable. That, they would not abide.
3. Republicans demanded the blockade and bombardment of Southern ports because the Confederate constitution had outlawed protectionist tariffs. Given a 50 percent tax on goods imported via New York, and a 10 percent tax in Charleston (South Carolina), then much trade would divert from Northern to Southern ports – to the detriment of the former and the profit of the latter. This the Republicans could not abide: hence even before the War started they demanded the blockade and bombardment of Southern ports. See also David Gordon’s review of A Century of War: Lincoln, Wilson, and Roosevelt.
4. Native Americans have as many grounds as Southerners to despise Dishonest Abe. The man who gave the military a free hand to oppress Northerners and Southerners also gave carte blanche to federal troops and cavalry to exterminate Indian tribes in the West.
5. Canadians, too, have good reason to laugh in derision at Americans delusions about “self determination.” Just as Southerners were forcibly denied the right of secession, on two occasions (1775 and 1812) Americans invaded Canada in order to force annexation upon unwilling British North Americans. Canadians declined the American “offers” because they have long known something that utterly escapes Americans: a benign despot across the seas, particularly one that takes no more than an intermittent interest in his overseas Dominions, is far preferable to a malignant one within the Beltway. Fortunately for the liberty of Canadians, on each occasion the Americans withdrew in ignominy and disarray.
6. In his memoirs (1891), Sherman wrote that he met with Lincoln after the March to the Sea. The president was eager to hear stories about how thousands of Southern civilians (mostly children, women, the elderly and the infirm) had been plundered, sometimes murdered, and rendered homeless. According to Sherman, Lincoln laughed uproariously at the stories. One of Sherman’s biographers (Lee Kennett, Sherman: A Soldier’s Life, Harper, 2002), who otherwise writes very favourably about the general, concludes that if the Confederates had won the war then they would have been “justified in stringing up President Lincoln and the entire Union high command for violation of the laws of war, specifically for waging war against non-combatants.”