Claremont's Court Historians

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Ever since the publication last March of my book, The Real Lincoln, Harry Jaffa and his followers at the Claremont Institute and elsewhere have been screeching and carrying on like a colony of baboons that has just spotted a panther. Before the book was even published Richard Ferrier and David Quackenbush responded to Ilana Mercer’s advance review in WorldNetDaily by calling her article a "rant" and referring to her personally as a "comprehensively ignorant parrot" and a "small-minded naysayer." They called me a "fanatic" even though we had never met and they had not read my book. They warned their readers, "Do not read this book," even though they had not read it themselves. If judging a book by its cover is a sign of ignorance, this has to be a case of ignorance squared.

Jaffa was his usual bizarre self in my debate with him at the Independent Institute in May, throwing the "N word" (Nazi) at me, as he had done in his earlier debates with Mel Bradford. (In my LRC article, "Jaffa’s Hitlerian Defense of Lincoln," I demonstrate that Adolf Hitler’s views on states’ rights as expressed in Mein Kampf are identical to Jaffa’s).

Mackubin Thomas Owens ludicrously labeled me a "libertarian socialist" in the Washington Times while lying through his teeth about the actual content of my book, as did Thomas Krannawitter in one of Claremont’s in-house publications. In keeping with the slimy practices of his hero Jaffa, Krannawitter also burst into a juvenile spasm of name calling.

In one of his WorldNetDaily columns the "great orator" Alan Keyes labeled everyone who disagrees with Jaffa’s strange and ahistorical interpretations of American history (see my LRC article, "Constitutional Con Men") as "pseudo-learned scribblers" with an "incapacity to recognize moral purpose" who display "uncomprehending pettiness," are "dishonest," "ignorant," and "slanderous." Jude Wanniski even went so far as to criticize my book while admitting that "I figured I did not need to read the DiLorenzo book."

The latest example of this chest-thumping hysteria is a hit piece in the October 14 issue of National Review by yet another Claremontista, one Ken Masugi. After some smarmy personal smears Masugi champions the Clintonian approach to speech making that Lincoln was known for with all his "nuances and qualifications." To most people, "nuances and qualifications" by a politician means one thing: obfuscation. And if Lincoln was anything he was The Great Obfuscator.

Masugi asserts that I distort Lincoln’s position on the deportation of black people, a policy that he championed his entire adult life, by not paying sufficient attention to Lincoln’s "nuances and qualifications." Like all Lincoln idolaters, Masugi relies entirely on a few of Lincoln’s prettier speeches, ignoring his less attractive ones as well as his actual behavior.

Masugi quotes a speech of Lincoln’s on the topic of "colonization" or deportation of black people to argue that he was not all that enthusiastic about it. But it is Masugi who is guilty of distortion here. In my book I note how Lincoln made many statements about deportation throughout his career, not just the one Masugi prefers to quote. In his 1852 eulogy to Henry Clay he said "there is a moral fitness in the idea of returning to Africa her children" and that deportation would mean "the ultimate redemption of the African race." In his December 1, 1862, message to Congress he said, "I cannot make it better known than it already is, that I strongly favor colonization." In his February 27, 1860 Cooper Union speech he advocated "deportation" so that the jobs of black laborers could be "filled up by free white laborers."

Lincoln was in fact obsessed with "colonization," which caused abolitionists like William Lloyd Garrison to denounce him as the "slave hound from Illinois" who had "not a drop of anti-slavery blood in his veins."

Masugi accuses me of confusing the issue of race (in the context of Lincoln’s numerous white supremacist statements) and slavery even though I clearly state on page 32 that "It is conceivable that many white supremacists in the North (which included most of the population) nevertheless abhorred the institution of slavery." This is typical of how Masugi dishonestly misleads National Review readers.

Masugi argues that Lincoln should be judged only by two or three of his prettier-sounding speeches and not by his actions. By that criterion even Bill Clinton could be made to look like a great statesman. The two speeches that are Masugi’s favorites are the Gettysburg Address and Lincoln’s Second Inaugural. Forget about his behavior in office for four years, says Masugi. Ignore his twenty-eight-year involvement in politics prior to becoming president. Judge him only by his sugar-coated political rhetoric in these two speeches.

The Gettysburg Address was brilliant oratory, but it was also political subterfuge. As H.L. Mencken pointed out, it was the Southerners who were fighting for the consent of the governed and it was Lincoln’s government that opposed them. They no longer consented to being governed by Washington, DC.

Lincoln’s admonition that government "of the people, by the people, for the people" would perish from the earth if the right of secession were sustained was equally absurd. The United States remained a democracy, and the Confederate States of America would have been a democratic country as well.

Lincoln’s notion that secession would "destroy" the government of the United States is also bizarre in light of the fact that after secession took place the US government fielded the largest and best-equipped army and navy in the history of the world up to that point for four long years.

The truth is that Lincoln repudiated the dictum of the Declaration of Independence that governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed. He also unequivocally denied that "all men are created equal." "I have no purpose to introduce political and social equality between the white and black races," he said in the August 21, 1858, debate with Stephan Douglas. "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," he continued.

Lincoln opposed making jurors or voters of "Negroes;" he supported the Illinois constitutional amendment to prohibit the immigration of black people into the state; he supported a proposed amendment to the constitution (in March of 1861) that would have prohibited the federal government from ever interfering with Southern slavery; and was a strong supporter of colonization or deportation, as noted above. As Joe Sobran has remarked, his position was that black people could be "equal" all right, but not in the US. And yet Jaffa and his acolytes implausibly claim that Lincoln was somehow devoted to natural rights.

In The Real Lincoln I also go step-by-step through Jefferson’s "train of abuses" in the Declaration and prove how every one of the abuses he was accusing King George III of was as bad or worse during the Lincoln administration. Thus, judging by his behavior and not his political rhetoric alone, Lincoln thoroughly repudiated every one of the main principles of the Declaration of Independence. He denounced equality throughout his career; he waged a war against the consent of the governed; and he was a worse tyrant to his own people than was King George III. To the delusional Masugi, however, the principles of the Declaration were "sublimely articulated by Abraham Lincoln."

Masugi ludicrously claims that Lincoln was an advocate of limited government, based once again on a few words of a political speech. In reality (as opposed to the mind of Masugi), Lincoln essentially declared himself a dictator by suspending the writ of habeas corpus and having the military arrest tens of thousands of his Northern political critics and opponents; launched an invasion of the South without the consent of Congress; blockaded Southern ports without first declaring war; censored all telegraph communication; imprisoned dozens of opposition newspaper editors and owners; ordered federal troops to interfere with Northern elections; unconstitutionally created the state of West Virginia to shore up his electoral college vote count; confiscated firearms and other private property; deported the most outspoken member of the Democratic opposition, Congressman Clement L. Vallandigham of Ohio; and gutted the Ninth and Tenth Amendments. "This amazing disregard of the Constitution," wrote the distinguished historian Clinton Rossiter, "was considered by nobody as legal." Yet Masugi incredibly claims that Lincoln was "the greatest friend of the founder’s Constitution." He supposedly had to destroy the Constitution in order to save it.

Lincoln was not a religious man. Almost all of the ministers in Springfield, Illinois, opposed him; and some of his close associates believed he died an atheist. But as a master politician — perhaps the most masterful in all of American history — he knew how to invoke Scripture in his speeches. He did so in his Second Inaugural by taking credit for everything that was going right in the war, and blaming all that had gone wrong on God.

Like all other Jaffa followers, Masugi believes that two wrongs make a right. He criticizes me for ignoring the restrictions on personal liberties in the South during the war, but my book is about Abraham Lincoln, not Jefferson Davis. It is an attempt to judge Lincoln by his actions as well as his words. The fact that the Confederate government also suspended habeas corpus has no bearing on the argument of my book. (Although as a point of fact Jefferson Davis involved the Confederate Congress in his suspension, as was required by both the U.S. and Confederate constitutions at the time).

Masugi pathetically defends Lincoln’s micromanagement of the waging of war on civilians (mostly Southern women, children, and old men) for four long years by offering up the conspiracy theory that the "European powers" had "designs" on a weakened America. In Masugi’s mind, this justified the mass murder of civilians. But General Sherman had an incredibly difficult time maintaining his supply lines across a couple of hundred miles of Southern territory because of guerilla attacks by the likes of General Nathan Bedford Forrest and his cavalry. It is simply ridiculous to think that England or France were foolish enough to believe that they could supply an army all the way across the Atlantic Ocean in the mid-nineteenth century to fight a war against the largest and best equipped army the world had ever known. The reality is that it was the Europeans who feared that this large army in the field would not stop with its conquest of the South but would turn on them next.

Masugi very casually dismisses the killing of tens of thousand of innocent civilians in the South, the burning of entire cities populated by civilians, rendering thousands homeless in the middle of winter, and plundering hundreds of millions of dollars of private property during the war by quoting an obscure historian as saying that such mass murder of innocents is "sometimes very necessary." These are the words of a tyrant.

Masugi completely ignores my discussion of how all of this was in violation of international law, the US government’s own military code, and the canons of Western Christian civilization so that he can continue to call Lincoln a "great humanitarian."

Masugi also ignores my discussion in The Real Lincoln of how every other nation on earth that ended slavery in the nineteenth century did so peacefully through compensated emancipation. Only in the US was a war associated with emancipation.

Masugi does mention that Lincoln toyed with the idea of compensated emancipation, as do I, but he is misleading in his mention of it. He fails to mention that Lincoln’s proposal only would have applied to the border states, and, any slaves that might have been emancipated would have been immediately deported. He also fails to acknowledge that Lincoln failed to use his legendary political skills to achieve compensated emancipation.

Masugi is disingenuous when he throws out yet another falsehood, that my "true target" is George Washington, the "original unifier" of the nation. He dishonestly ignores the fact that in The Real Lincoln I noted that all the founding fathers, including George Washington, were Unionists in that they wanted the Union to thrive. But I also quote Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, John Quincy Adams, James Madison, and others as expressing the view that holding the Union together by military force would be an abomination and a colossal act of tyranny.

As a matter of fact, I invoke the words of George Washington in response to left-wing academics like George P. Fletcher of Columbia Law School, and journalist Garry Wills, who praise Lincoln precisely because he so severely perverted the Constitution that he paved the way for the "living constitution" (i.e., no constitution) that we have today. These leftist commentators praise Lincoln for establishing the precedent of arbitrarily trashing the Constitution to fit his own political purposes. But in his Farewell Address George Washington said that if the Constitution were ever changed in any way other than the formal amendment process, that would be "the customary weapon by which free governments are destroyed." Far from "attacking" George Washington, as Masugi dishonestly asserts, I invoke his greatest speech to make my case.

Masugi also lies about my treatment of the issue of slavery. In fact, every one of Jaffa’s cronies who has commented on my book — including Jaffa himself — has repeatedly lied about its contents. I clearly state in the book that a compelling case for invading the South could have been made if the purpose of the invasion was to free the slaves. Lincoln never made that case, however; his stated goal was always the destruction of states’ rights or, as he deceptively called it, "saving the Union." Of course, he only "saved" the Union geographically. He destroyed the Union as a voluntary association of states.

Masugi ignores the fact that is documented in my book, in Jeffrey Hummel’s Emancipating Slaves, Enslaving Free Men, Richard Bensel’s Yankee Leviathan, and elsewhere, that the death of states’ rights is what set the wheels of centralized governmental power in motion in America. The Lincoln administration gave us centralized banking, protectionism, income taxation, the internal revenue bureaucracy, corporate welfare, the military/industrial complex, and pervasive excise taxation, and transformed the government into an empire instead of a constitutional republic. I quote Edmund Wilson as pointing out that it was Lincoln, Lenin, and Bismarck who did more than anyone else to introduce centralized governmental power to their respective countries.

Masugi, Jaffa, and all the other Claremontistas are in denial over this. Masugi can only blame the centralized governmental tyranny of today on "the nihilistic universities and interest factions," whatever that might mean. Richard Bensel is correct when he writes in Yankee Leviathan that any study of the American state should begin in 1865.

As a final smear, Masugi ascribes to me even more views that I do not hold and that I did not express in my book. He claims that "some libertarians," (anonymous of course) believe in a "liberty" to own slaves, and says that I must be one of them. I’ve been a libertarian for thirty years and have never met, heard, or read about a libertarian who held such beliefs. This is simply another of Masugi’s hateful, lying statements.

A number of people have written me to say that, in light of all the hateful hysteria to come out of the Claremont Institute, there probably would have been less of a vitriolic response to my book had it been a critique of Jesus Christ. This is probably true, for as far as I know there is not a cabal of well-funded think tank employees who are subsidized by government and foundation grants to spin false tales about a Fantasy Jesus.

Claremont’s court historians have spent decades performing intellectual somersaults to "explain" why Lincoln supposedly had to destroy the Constitution in order to save it; why he opposed equality but believed that "all men are created equal"; how a "great humanitarian" could micromanage a vicious and bloody war on civilians for four long years; how he "saved" the Union by destroying its voluntary nature; and myriad other myths.

This perhaps explains the crazed reaction to The Real Lincoln on the part of the Claremont crowd. If the public ever becomes curious about Lincoln’s actual behavior, as documented in hundreds of references in my book, then it may well come to the conclusion that Harry Jaffa and all his minions are a pack of liars and frauds.

Thomas J. DiLorenzo [send him mail] is the author of the LRC #1 bestseller, The Real Lincoln: A New Look at Abraham Lincoln, His Agenda, and an Unnecessary War (Forum/Random House, 2002) and professor of economics at Loyola College in Maryland.

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