The Mythical Lincoln

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Every February 12 Americans think they are celebrating Lincoln’s birthday. But what they are really celebrating is the birth of the Leviathan state that Lincoln, more than anyone else, is responsible for bringing about. No wonder federal politicos have made his birth date a national holiday, engraved his face is on Mount Rushmore, built a Venus-like statue of him in Washington, D.C., and put his mugshot on the five dollar bill.

More than 130 years of government propaganda has hidden this fact from the American people by creating a Mythical Lincoln that never existed. Take, for instance, the fact that everyone supposedly knows — that Lincoln was an abolitionist. This would be a surprise to the preeminent Lincoln scholar, Pulitzer prize-winning Lincoln biographer David Donald, who in his 1961 book, Lincoln Reconsidered, wrote that "Lincoln was not an abolitionist." And he wasn’t. He was glad to accept on behalf of the Republican Party any votes from abolitionists, but real abolitionists despised him. William Lloyd Garrison, the most prominent of all abolitionists, concluded that Lincoln "had not a drop of anti-slavery blood in his veins."

Garrison knew Lincoln well. He knew that Lincoln stated over and over again for his entire adult life that he did not believe in social or political equality of the races, he opposed inter-racial marriage, supported the Illinois constitution’s prohibition of immigration of blacks into the state, once defended in court a slaveowner seeking to retrieve his runaway slaves but never defended a runaway, and that he was a lifelong advocate of colonization — of sending every last black person in the U.S. to Africa, Haiti, or central America — anywhere but in the U.S.

Garrison and other abolitionists were also keenly aware that the January 1863 Emancipation Proclamation freed no one since it specifically exempted all the areas that at the time were occupied by federal armies. That is, all areas where slaves could actually have been freed.

Historians have portrayed the Mythical Lincoln as a man who brooded for decades over how he could someday free the slaves. Nothing could be more absurd. According to Roy Basler, the editor of Lincoln’s Collected Works, Lincoln never even mentioned slavery in a speech until 1854, and even then, says Basler, he was not sincere.

When Lincoln first entered state politics in 1832 he announced that he was doing so for three reasons: To help enact the Whig Party agenda of protectionist tariffs, corporate welfare subsidies for railroad and canal-building corporations ("internal improvements"), and a government monopolization of the nation’s money supply. "My politics are short and sweet, like the old woman’s dance," he declared: "I am in favor of a national bank . . . the internal improvements system, and a high protective tariff." He was a devoted mercantilist, and remained so for his entire political life. He was single-mindedly devoted to Henry Clay and his political agenda (mentioned above), which Clay called "The American System."

Lincoln once announced that his career ambition was not to free the slaves but to become "the DeWitt Clinton of Illinois." DeWitt Clinton was the governor of New York in the early nineteenth century who is credited with having introduced the spoils system to America and supervising the building of the Erie Canal (which became defunct in a mere ten years because of the invention of the railroad).

Moreover, Lincoln destroyed the most important principle of the Declaration — the principle that governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed. Southerners no longer consented to being governed by Washington, D.C. in 1860, and Lincoln put an end to that idea by having his armies slaughter 300,000 of them, including one out of every four white males between 20 and 40. Standardizing for today’s population, that would be the equivalent of around 3 million American deaths, or roughly 60 times the number of Americans who died in Vietnam.

As H.L. Mencken said of the Gettysburg Address, in which Lincoln absurdly claimed that Northern soldiers were fighting for the cause of self determination ("that government of the people . . . should not perish . . .": "It is difficult to imagine anything more untrue. The Union soldiers in the battle actually fought against self determination; it was the Confederates who fought for the right of their people to govern themselves. The Confederates went into the battle free; they came out with their freedom subject to the supervision of the rest of the country."

Another Lincoln myth was that he "saved the Constitution." But this claim is an outrage considering that Lincoln acted like a dictator for the duration of his administration and showed nothing but bitter contempt for the Constitution. Even Lincoln’s idolaters, like historian Clinton Rossiter, author of the book, Constitutional Dictatorship, referred to him as a "great dictator" who had an "amazing disregard for the Constitution . . . that was considered by nobody as legal."

The Dictator Lincoln invaded the South without the consent of Congress, as called for in the Constitution; declared martial law; blockaded Southern ports without a declaration of war, as required by the Constitution; illegally suspended the writ of habeas corpus; imprisoned without trial thousands of Northern anti-war protesters, including hundreds of newspaper editors and owners; censored all newspaper and telegraph communication; nationalized the railroads; created three new states without the consent of the citizens of those states in order to artificially inflate the Republican Party’s electoral vote; ordered Federal troops to interfere with Northern elections to assure Republican Party victories; deported Ohio Congressman Clement L. Vallandigham for opposing his domestic policies (especially protectionist tariffs and income taxation) on the floor of the House of Representatives; confiscated private property, including firearms, in violation of the Second Amendment; and effectively gutted the Tenth and Ninth Amendments as well.

As Dean Sprague correctly pointed out in Freedom Under Lincoln, all of these dictatorial acts were bad enough, but their real, long-term effect was to "lay the groundwork" for such unprecedented acts of coercion as military conscription and income taxation.

Hundreds of books have been written about Lincoln the humanitarian, a soft and gentle man. But from the very beginning of his administration he intentionally waged a cruel and unbelievably bloody war on civilians as well as soldiers. As early as 1861, Federal soldiers looted, pillaged, raped and plundered their way through Virginia and other Southern states, completely burning to the ground the towns of Jackson and Meridian, Mississippi, Randolph, Tennessee, and others. Historian Jeffrey Rogers Hummel estimates that some 50,000 Southern civilians were killed during the war, and this number, even if it is exaggerated by a multiple of two, most likely includes thousands of slaves. In his March to the Sea, General William Tecumseh Sherman boasted of having destroyed $100 million in private property and that his "soldiers" carried home another $20 million worth.

In his memoirs Sherman wrote that when he met with Lincoln after his March to the Sea was completed, Lincoln was eager to hear the stories of how thousands of Southern civilians, mostly women, children, and old men, were plundered, sometimes murdered, and rendered homeless. Lincoln, according to Sherman, laughed almost uncontrollably at the stories. Even Sherman biographer Lee Kennett, who writes very favorably of the general, concluded that had the Confederates won the war, 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 noncombatants."

Henry Clay’s American System had been vetoed as unconstitutional by virtually every president beginning with James Madison. But as soon as Lincoln took office, with the Southern Democrats absent from Congress, it was finally put into place, literally at gunpoint. In 1857 the average tariff rate was 15 percent, according to Frank Taussig’s classic, A Tariff History of the United States. The Morrill Tariff more than tripled that rate to 47 percent and it remained at that level for decades.

The National Currency Acts nationalized the banking system, finally, and lavish subsidies to railroad-building corporations generated the corruption and scandals of the Grant administrations, just as Southern statesmen had predicted for decades. Income taxation was introduced for the first time, along with an internal revenue bureaucracy that has never diminished in size. All of these policies put a great centralizing force into motion and were the genesis of the centralized, despotic state that Americans labor under today.

The biggest cost of the Lincoln’s war was the death of federalism and states’ rights, the value of which was expressed by John C. Calhoun several decades earlier when he said: "The great conservative principle of our system is in the people of the States, as parties to the Constitutional compact, and our opponents that it is in the supreme court . . . . Without a full practical recognition of the rights and sovereignty of the States, our union and liberty must perish." And they did.

Thomas J. DiLorenzo [send him mail] is professor of economics at Loyola College in Maryland. His latest book is The Real Lincoln: A New Look at Abraham Lincoln, His Agenda, and an Unnecessary War (Forum/Random House, March 2002).

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