Lincoln's Spectacular Lie

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cornerstone of the Lincoln Legend is a spectacular lie. As eloquently
stated by former syndicated columnist James J. Kilpatrick
in his 1957 book, The Sovereign States: "The delusion
that sovereignty is vested in the whole people of the United States
is one of the strangest misconceptions of our public life" (p.
15). Lincoln espoused this fable in order to make the preposterous
argument that no such thing as state sovereignty ever existed;
the states were never at any time free and independent of the federal
government; they did not in fact create the federal government
by ratifying the Constitution; and that, therefore, no group of
citizens could ever secede from the federal government.

As Emory University philosopher Donald Livingston has said, this
is not only a lie, but a spectacular lie. It is still widely believed,
however, thanks in part to the efforts of such propagandists as
Harry Jaffa and his fellow Lincoln cultists at the Claremont Institute,
the Declaration Foundation, and other state-worshipping propaganda

Lincoln claimed that the federal government was really created
by the Declaration of Independence, not the Constitution, despite
the fact that the former document does not have the legal authority
that the Constitution has. But the Declaration itself is an expression
of state sovereignty, a fact which contradicts Lincoln’s whole
thesis. The concluding paragraph declares to the world that the
colonists were seceding from the British Empire as citizens
of the free and independent American states, not as the people
as a whole. "These colonies are, and of Right ought to be
Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance
to the British Crown . . . and that as Free and Independent States,
they have full power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances,
establish commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent
States may of right do."

the Revolution ended the King of England entered into a peace
treaty not with "the United States" or "the
people as a whole" but with the individual states. (In my
2002 Independent Institute debate
with Harry Jaffa he made
quite the buffoon of himself by angrily denying this plain historical
fact). Article 1 of the Treaty
with Great Britain states:

Britannic Majesty acknowledges the said United States, vis,
New Hampshire,
Bay, Rhode Island, and Providence
Plantations, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania,
Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina,
and Georgia to be free, sovereign and independent States; that
he treats with them as such, and for himself, his heirs and successors,
Relinquishes all claims to the Government, proprietary and territorial
rights of
The same, and every part thereof.

When the sovereign
states created a federal government as their agent with the Articles
of Confederation they made a point of maintaining
their independent status. As defined in Article 1, Section II: "Each
State retains its sovereignty, freedom and independence, and every
power, jurisdiction and right, which is not by this confederation
expressly delegated to the United States, in Congress assembled."

It is
important to note that certain powers were delegated to
the federal government but not abandoned. Sovereignty always rested
in the citizens of the free and independent states.

Although the
state delegations that adopted the Articles hoped that the Union
by them
would be perpetual, they seceded
from the Articles after just six years and dropped the phrase "perpetual
Union" from the new Constitution.

for centralized governmental power dishonestly dwell on the preamble
of the Constitution
which reads, "We the People
of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union . .
." They do this in order to argue that the government formed
by the Constitution was created by "the whole people" and
not the sovereign states. But the reason why the states were not
listed individually in the Preamble is that when it was written
it was not known which states would ratify the Constitution. Thus,
it was left as a generalized "We the People . . ." It
is nothing more than a semantic artifact.

No less a figure than James Madison, the Father of the Constitution, explained
in Federalist 39 that the Constitution was to be ratified by the people "not
as individuals composing one entire nation, but as composing the distinct and
independent States to which they respectively belong" (emphasis added).
He also stated that the federal government gets all of its authority
from the sovereign states and not the "whole people." The "whole people" who
resided in the states stretching from Maine to Georgia at the time had nothing
at all to do with the ratification of the Constitution. It was ratified by state
political conventions (not state legislatures). Madison continued on to say that
each state ratifying the Constitution "is considered as a sovereign body,
independent of all others, and only to be bound by its own voluntary act."

New York and Rhode Island specifically reserved the right to
the Union if it ever became "destructive
of our liberties." (This is another plain historical fact
that the delusional Jaffa angrily denied during my debate with
him). Here’s what the Virginia delegation to the Constitutional
Convention put in writing:

We the delegates of the people of Virginia . . . Do, in the name
and behalf of the people of Virginia, declare and make known that
the powers granted under the Constitution being derived from the
people of the United States may be resumed by them whensoever the
same shall be perverted to their injury or oppression, and that
every power not granted thereby remains with them at their will
. . .

York and Rhode Island made almost identical statements as conditions
of ratifying the Constitution.

The phrase "united States" is
always in the plural in the Constitution, signifying not one
consolidated government but
that the independent and sovereign states were united in forming
the federal government as their agent with only narrowly
defined, delegated powers.

The president
is not elected by "the whole people" according
to the Constitution but by an electoral college that consists of
appointees from each state, chosen by the state legislatures.

Nor may any
new state be formed "within the Jurisdiction
of any other State; nor any State be formed by the Junction of
two or more States, or Parts of States, without the Consent of
the Legislatures of the States concerned as well as Congress." (Lincoln
clearly ignored this when he orchestrated the secession of Western
Virginia from Virginia). Amending the Constitution still requires
ratification by three-fourths of the states, not the "whole

Thus, all
three of these founding documents — the Declaration
of Independence, Articles of Confederation, and the Constitution — declare
the states to be free and independent. Sovereignty lies in the
citizens of the free and independent states, not the people as
a whole. The founders feared mass democracy and sought to
strictly limit its domain. It is patently absurd to argue that
the government they created was meant to be a mass democracy of "the
whole people."

Lincoln’s theory of the non-existence of state sovereignty never
came to be accepted by the strength of the argument, for the argument
has no strength and no factual basis. Instead, he waged the bloodiest
war in world history up to that point to "prove" himself

myth serves the purpose of making sure that the American people
can never regain true sovereignty over their government. It should
not be surprising to anyone that the modern-day neoconservative
propagandists who perpetuate this myth are all advocates of an
even more activist, centralized state (in pursuit of "national
greatness," they say). Their latest crusade involves invoking
the sainted Lincoln, time and again, to urge President Bush to
invade and occupy much of the Middle East. They are advocates of
national power, an imperial worldwide empire, and unlimited democracy.
They are the enemies of limited, constitutional government although
they cynically invoke the founding fathers in much of their propaganda.
These are people whose entire careers are based on the perpetuation
of a spectacular lie, which is why they become so apoplectic whenever
anyone threatens to expose the real Lincoln to the American public.

25, 2003

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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