AEI Is Still Fighting the 'Civil War'

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There’s no confusing the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) with another conservative organization, the Fox News Channel, with its "fair and balanced" theme. AEI recently devoted most of an issue of its little magazine, The American Enterprise, to a "reexamination" of the War Between the States. About 10,000 words are devoted to critiques of the "new debate" over Lincoln and his war that has been started by my book, The Real Lincoln, Charles Adams’s When in the Course of Human Events, and other works. The magazine’s senior editor, Eli Lehrer, "encouraged" me to submit a letter to the editor (they’re usually about 100 words) as a response to this entire issue. Rather than being the sucker that Mr. Lehrer would like to make of me, I thought I’d respond instead on LRC — especially since hardly anyone reads The American Enterprise anyway, especially the letters-to-the-editor.

Jay Winik, author of the book April 1865: The Month that Saved America, contributed an article entitled "Bending Fate to a Higher Purpose" in which he claims to address a new breed of "harsh critics" of Lincoln. He accuses us of "ignoring contrary findings" in our work, although he doesn’t supply a single example of this in his article. Worse yet, he totally ignores some of the most important new Lincoln critics, such as Jeffrey Hummel, author of Emancipating Slaves, Enslaving Free Men, Charles Adams, Emory University’s Donald Livingston, Ronald and Donald Kennedy, and others. He not only ignores some of the "contrary findings"; he ignores many of us altogether. This is hardly scholarly, despite all of Winik’s pretentiousness.

The only critics that he does mention are myself, Ebony magazine editor Lerone Bennett, Jr., author of Forced into Glory: Abraham Lincoln’s White Dream, Professor Clyde Wilson of the University of South Carolina, editor of The John C. Calhoun Papers, and "libertarian polemicist Lew Rockwell." He devotes one short paragraph to what Bennett says, one short paragraph to one of my conclusions, and nothing at all that has been written by Clyde Wilson or Lew Rockwell. Like I said, he steadfastly ignores almost all of our arguments and evidence and instead composes a breezy string of Lincoln quotes, some of which have been proven to be fake, and a recitation of all the usual excuses for Lincoln’s dictatorial behavior and his waging war on innocent civilians.

Winik is naturally on the defensive, apparently believing that I must have been including him when I wrote of "court historians" who have perpetuated "countless Lincoln myths." I was, actually, but I am by no means the first to write of Lincoln’s court historians. In his 1961 book, Lincoln Reconsidered, Pulitzer prize-winning Lincoln biographer David Donald wrote about the fog of myths and superstitions that had long surrounded the Lincoln Legend. In 1993 Webb Garrison, the author of over fifty books on the War between the States, published The Lincoln No One Knows, documenting from primary sources "38 mysteries" about Lincoln that have been studiously kept out of the public school books for generations.

After quoting part of a concluding paragraph from The Real Lincoln he asks, "is any of it true?" How generous of him to concede that perhaps one-half of one percent of my book might possibly be accurate. Although he does not appear to be very well read at all in the literature of the Lincoln critics, he admits that such views "are at times worthy of being considered." These comments comprise about 10 percent of Winik’s article; the other 90 percent reads like a defense lawyer’s brief at the War Crimes Trial of Abraham Lincoln.

Yes, it must be admitted, says Winik, that Lincoln was "not above manipulating opinions" in his political career. That’s a bit of an understatement. In May 1861 the New York Journal of Commerce published a list of 100 Northern newspapers that opposed the Lincoln administration. Lincoln ordered the Postmaster General and the army to shut them all down. A few of them reopened only after promising not to criticize the Lincoln administration. Dozens of newspaper editors and owners were thrown into military prisons without the issuance of a warrant or formal charges made since Lincoln had unilaterally suspended the writ of Habeas Corpus. Roaming gangs of federal soldiers and Republican Party activists literally demolished the printing presses of some of the opposition newspapers. Other editors and newspaper owners were tarred and feathered by the same mobs.

One example of Lincoln’s gentle "manipulation" of opinions was a May 18, 1864, order that he directly issued to General John Dix: "You will take possession by military force, of the printing establishments of the New York World and Journal of Commerce . . . and prohibit any further publication thereof . . . you are therefore commanded forthwith to arrest and imprison . . . the editors, proprietors and publishers of the aforesaid newspapers." For good measure, all telegraph communication in the North was censored as well.

Hundreds of newspapers were shut down, overall, and dozens of editors and owners imprisoned. This was enough tyranny to create total censorship. No paper would dare criticize the Lincoln administration after this demonstration of despotism. Yet Winik writes that Lincoln was only guilty of "occasionally closing newspapers."

Winik also writes that "A good republican, Lincoln was loathe to tamper with the Constitution, which permitted slavery." But he was not too "loathe" to suspend Habeas Corpus and have the military arrest literally tens of thousands of political opponents and throw them into "the American Bastille," Fort Lafayette in New York Harbor. He launched a military invasion without the consent of Congress, blockaded Southern ports without first declaring war, ordered federal troops to interfere with Northern elections to guarantee Republican victories, confiscated private property, including firearms, unconstitutionally created a new state, West Virginia, and generally declared himself dictator. As the distinguished Cornell University historian Clinton Rossiter stated in his book, Constitutional Dictatorship, "Dictatorship played a decisive role in the North’s successful effort to maintain the Union by force of arms . . . one man was the government of the United States . . . . Lincoln was a great dictator . . . and a true democrat." And his "amazing disregard for the . . . Constitution was considered by nobody as legal." Yet to Winik, he was always a "republican" with a small "r."

Another part of Winik’s "defense" is to argue that there have been other presidents who have trashed civil liberties, such as FDR’s imprisonment of Japanese Americans during World War II. The fact is totally lost on him that it was Lincoln who established this despotic precedent and proved to future presidents that they could possibly get away with declaring themselves dictator, in violation of the Constitution they are sworn to uphold. James G. Randall was refreshingly honest when he wrote in Constitutional Problems Under Lincoln of how Lincoln showed us how we must supposedly "broaden" our view of the Constitution and look at it as "a vehicle of life" and not as a "straight jacket." As a "progressive," Randall was celebrating the fact that it was Lincoln who first had the audacity to essentially rip up the Constitution for the duration of his administration. Today, left-wing commentators such as Garry Wills and Columbia University law professor George P. Fletcher openly praise Lincoln for trashing the constitution because the precedents he established in doing so have made it that much easier to pursue "an egalitarian society," i.e., socialism.

Winik spends much of his space reciting some of Lincoln’s prettier-sounding speeches in constructing his "defense." At times he relies on fake quotes, however. He writes that in his presidential campaign Lincoln "hit slavery" and "hit it hard." But in his 1989 book, They Never Said it: A Book of Fake Quotes, Misquotes, and Misleading Attributions (Oxford University Press), Professor Paul F. Boller proves that this "hit it hard" quote is a total fabrication.

Winik claims that Lincoln wanted the war "the way a felon wants a hangman’s noose." That’s a nice turn of phrase, but it is contradicted by reams of evidence. In "Lincoln and the First Shot" (in Reassessing the Presidency, edited by John Denson), John Denson painstakingly shows how Lincoln maneuvered the Confederates into firing the first shot at Fort Sumter. Northern newspapers all recognized this at the time, but Winik seems to know nothing at all about it. As the Providence Daily Post wrote on April 13, 1861, "Mr. Lincoln saw an opportunity to inaugurate civil war without appearing in the character of an aggressor" by reprovisioning Fort Sumter. On the day before that the Jersey City American Statesman wrote that "This unarmed vessel, it is well understood, is a mere decoy to draw the first fire from the people of the South." Lincoln’s personal secretaries, John Nicolay and John Hay, clearly stated after the war that Lincoln successfully duped the Confederates into firing on Fort Sumter. And as Shelby Foote wrote in The Civil War, "Lincoln had maneuvered [the Confederates] into the position of having either to back down on their threats or else to fire the first shot of the war."

After Fort Sumter Lincoln wrote to his naval commander Gustavus Fox thanking him for his assistance in drawing the first shot.

Winik also ignores one of the main arguments of my book, the documented fact that, as of early 1861, the big majority of opinion makers in the North believed that the Union was a voluntary union and that using military force to coerce a state to remain in the Union was an act of tyranny that would destroy the Union as a voluntary association of states. Instead, he repeats the hoary slogan that Lincoln "saved the Union." He may have "saved" it geographically, but he destroyed it philosophically, which is much more important. Winik completely ignores all of my arguments and evidence, including dozens of statements about the virtues of a voluntary union in Northern newspapers, and he has the arrogance to accuse Lincoln critics of "ignoring contrary evidence."

Winik attempts to appear objective and scholarly by mentioning the New York City draft riots of July, 1863, in which anti-Lincoln draft protesters in the city went on a week-long rampage and killed about 100 people, mostly hapless blacks who were unfortunate enough to be caught up in the riots. He abandons his scholarly pretense, however, when he fails to mention that Lincoln ordered some 15,000 federal troops to fire indiscriminately into the mostly unarmed mob, killing hundreds, perhaps thousands of them, as is portrayed in the contemporary movie, "The Gangs of New York."

James Randall catalogued all of Lincoln’s dictatorial behavior and his abandonment of the Constitution, but then made a string of excuses for it, including what I call the "Hitler/Stalin/Mussolini Defense." Lincoln may have been a brutal dictator, Randall argued, but he wasn’t nearly as bad as Hitler, Stalin or Mussolini. Of course, by that standard even Pol Pot and Idi Amin would appear moderate.

Winik "updates" this argument by admitting that, yes, Lincoln micromanaged the pillaging, plundering, and burning of Southern cities, including the killing of civilians (some 50,000 according to Jeffrey Hummel’s estimates), but there have been others, such as Truman and Roosevelt, who "firebombed Dresden and Tokyo and then dropped two atomic bombs." So, Southerners, what are you complaining about: You got off easy!

Winik also argues that Lincoln’s plan for Reconstruction was to not have the federal government run the Southern state governments. "We can’t undertake to run state governments," he claims Lincoln said. But at the same time, Lincoln also said that he did want the federal government to run the state governments by finding ten percent of the population that was "union men" and see to it that they ran the state governments. His plan for Southern "democracy" was 10 percent minority rule. Some "republican." (I’ll have to flip through that book of fake quotes again).

The second article to supposedly address the new Lincoln critics is one by Dinesh D’Souza, who offers his usual transparent, slogan-filled treatment of the issue. In "A True Philosophical Statesman" he claims to criticize "neo-Confederates," but the only author he mentions is Charles Adams, a retired Canadian tax lawyer and historian who now lives in California.

D’Souza starts off with a few quotations about slavery that support the "philosophical statesman" view of Lincoln, but ignores such things as Lincoln’s promise in his First Inaugural to support the recently proposed constitutional amendment to prohibit the federal government from ever interfering with Southern slavery (passed by both houses of Congress two days before the inaugural).

He then claims that the average Confederate soldier fought "to protect white privilege," which is ludicrous on its face. The average Confederate soldier was a yeoman farmer who was not at all privileged but harmed by the slave system. James McPherson surveyed thousands of letters and diaries of Confederate and Union soldiers on the question of what motivated to fight in his book, What They Fought For: 1861-1865. The average Confederate soldier, according to McPherson, believed he was fighting against an oppressive federal government that was invading his "country" and his home. D’Souza shows no evidence that he is familiar with any of the literature on the war apart, perhaps, from Harry Jaffa’s recent book. In fact, he frequently uses Jaffa’s favorite phrases in describing Lincoln: "prudence and moderation." Yes, the mass killing of Southern civilians was "prudent" and "moderate," as was the imprisonment of thousands of political prisoners in the North and the shutting down of the opposition press, essentially destroying the First Amendment.

Even Winik admits that the thousands of Northern citizens who were thrown into Lincoln’s "American Bastille" were mostly innocent civilians, but D’Souza says they were "Southern sympathizers." He offers no proof or citations to back up this assertion.

D’Souza attacks a straw-man agument by demanding, "Where is the evidence . . . that Lincoln can be blamed for the bloated welfare state?" First of all, no one that I know of has made this argument. Second, the argument that has been made by myself, Jeffrey Hummel, Charles Adams, Richard Bensel, author of Yankee Leviathan, and others, is that the war was a turning point in American history after which government became more and more interventionist. Bensel claims that Lincoln’s war is the appropriate starting point for any study of American statism. Hummel shows how free men became increasingly "enslaved" by big government in the years after the war; and I catalogue the myriad interventions that were adopted during and shortly after the war. Moreover the abolition of states’ rights as a check on the tyrannical proclivities of the central government was destroyed — as was Lincoln’s goal all along — and this, more than anything else, has led to the bloated government that we slave under today (see Forrest McDonald, States’ Rights and the Union).

D’Souza accuses un-named "neo-Confederates" of accusing Lincoln of being "too aggressively anti-slavery." I have never heard this charge myself. What I do criticize Lincoln for is not doing what the entire rest of the world, including the British and Spanish empires, did with regard to slavery in the nineteenth century and end it peacefully through compensated emancipation.

On the issue of Lincoln and race, D’Souza’s comments are simply absurd. He says, for example, that Lincoln "never acknowledges black inferiority." But in his August 21, 1858 debate with Stephan Douglas Lincoln said: "I have no purpose to introduce political and social equality between the white and black races. There is a physical difference between the two, which, in my judgment, will probably forever forbid their living together upon the footing of perfect equality; and inasmuch as it becomes a necessity that there must be a difference, I, as well as Judge Douglas, am in favor of the race to which I belong having the superior position."

In the same speech he added: "Anything that argues me into his idea of perfect social and political equality with the Negro is but a specious and fantastic arrangement of words, by which a man can prove a horse chestnut to be a chestnut horse." And, "free them, and make them politically and socially our equals? My own feelings will not admit of this . . . . We cannot, then, make them equals." He also advocated deporting all blacks to Africa, central America, or Haiti ("colonization). Some believer in "equality." D’Souza obviously hasn’t the foggiest idea of what he is talking about here.

Finally, AEI also contracted with an employee of the federal military establishment, one Victor Hanson, a visiting professor at the U.S. Naval Academy, to compose an essay that attempts to defend Lincoln’s intentional waging of war on Southern civilians, including the killing of tens of thousands of them. The premise of Hanson’s article is that Sherman and his soldiers were motivated to do what they did because they resented the racial inequality in the South and were driven, "by an ideological furor, to destroy the nature of Southern aristocracy." This thesis is ironic, if not hilarious, in light of the fact that Lincoln himself was part of the Northern aristocracy. He was a wealthy trial lawyer married to a woman who came from wealth — which she inherited — that was created by a Kentucky slave-owning family.

Hanson’s premise is ridiculous because at the time the Northern states treated the very few free blacks who were allowed to live among them worse than third-class citizens. Tocqueville noted in Democracy in America that "the problem of race" was worse in the North than in the South. Northern Black Codes existed in the North long before they came into being in the South. Indiana was typical. Its Black Codes prohibited all blacks and mulattos from: entering the state, entering into contracts, voting, marrying a white person, testifying in court against whites, sending their children to public schools, or holding political office. Illinois prohibited the emigration of black people into the state, as did many other Northern states at the time. As Eugene Berwanger wrote in North of Slavery:

"In virtually every phase of existence [in the North], Negroes found themselves systematically separated from whites. They were either excluded from railway cars, omnibuses, stagecoaches, and steamboats or assigned to special ‘Jim Crow’ sections . . . . They could not enter most hotels, restaurants, and resorts, except as servants; they prayed in ‘Negro pews’ in the white churches [and were] educated in segregated schools, punished in segregated prisons . . . and buried in segregated cemeteries . . . racial prejudice haunts its victim wherever he goes.”

In light of these facts, Hanson’s tales of how federal soldiers were supposedly outraged at the sight of special pews in Southern churches reserved for "the aristocracy" are cartoonish. The vast majority of them were brutally cruel to any black people that could be found in their own Northern states. And as I discuss in The Real Lincoln, Sherman’s pillagers and plunderers (known as "bummers") pillaged and plundered the slave quarters as much as any other property. As Mark Grimsley writes of Sherman’s soldiers in The Hard Hand of War, "With the utter disregard for blacks that was the norm among Union troops, the soldiers ransacked the slave cabins, taking whatever they liked." They also became quite adept at hanging any blacks they could find by the neck until they revealed to the soldiers where the family valuables were hidden. In one instance, hundreds of starving slaves were following Sherman’s army, begging for food. Not wanting to be delayed, Sherman ordered pontoon bridges to be lifted, leaving the starving horde high and dry and without any means of acquiring food in the burnt out countryside. Yet Winik, like Hanson, waxes eloquently about Sherman’s alleged benevolence. They also fail to mention that it was Sherman who got General Grant to issue an order evicting all Jews from the officer corps, whereas Jefferson Davis’s secretary of war, Judah P. Benjamin, was Jewish, as were many other Confederates. (There is an entire book about it entitled The Jewish Confederates).

In sum, the AEI "Civil War" issue is a "whistling past the graveyard" kind of exercise. D’Souza concludes that Lincoln "was simply the greatest practitioner of democratic statesmanship that America and the world have yet produced," a phrase that could have been take directly from any number of Harry Jaffa’s writings. And "all of the Lilliputian arrows hurled at him bounce harmlessly to the ground." But if this is true, why all the effort and expense at publishing all of these articles and (pretending to) address the "new round" of Lincoln critics? The answer to this question is that more and more Americans are learning that they have in fact been sold a false bill of goods by Lincolnian court historians. They are waking up to the realization that in war, the victors always write the history and that such history should be taken with a large grain of salt. These articles are further evidence of this dictum.

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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