In an earlier article entitled "Abolitionist Defends the South" I described how the famous Massachusetts abolitionist, Lysander Spooner, excoriated the Lincoln regime for destroying the voluntary union of the founders, waging an unnecessary war, and above all else, failing to end slavery peacefully as all other nations where slavery existed in the nineteenth century had done. Spooner said these things in his 1870 essay, No Treason. I recently discovered, however, that his criticisms of the Lincoln regime were even harsher at the beginning of the war! The great libertarian icon was a fierce and steadfast opponent of Lincoln and the Republican Party cabal from the very beginning. (Thanks to Phil Magness for bringing this to my attention.)
If one searches through the collected papers of Spooner one will find a January 22, 1860 letter to William Seward, who was to become Lincoln’s secretary of state and enforcer of the secret police force that would imprison tens of thousands of Northern political dissenters once habeas corpus was (illegally) suspended.
Like other Republicans, Seward had spent the previous decade bloviating about what a great champion of "liberty" he was, but Spooner saw through his transparent political rhetoric. Actions speak louder than words, and Spooner understood that the actions of Seward, Lincoln, and the rest blatantly belied their sweet-sounding odes to liberty.
Spooner’s letter to Seward starts out with a fireball of a sentence, speaking of "evidence of your [Seward's] unfaithfulness to freedom" and a pledge to "embarrass the plans of the Chases, and Sumners, and Wilsons, and Hales, and the other jesuitical leaders of the Republican Party, who profess that they can aid liberty, without injuring slavery." (Spooner’s use of the word "jesuitical" is telling: it means "crafty and equivocating.")
At this point in time, the U.S. House of Representatives was about to pass a proposed constitutional amendment prohibiting the federal government from ever interfering with southern slavery. This "first Thirteenth Amendment" eventually passed both the House and Senate, dominated by Republicans, and Lincoln himself pledged his support for it in his first inaugural address. Despite all of the "anti-slavery" rhetoric by Lincoln, Seward, and others, these actions proved to Spooner that these men were all quite diabolical liars, connivers, and political manipulators. He excoriated them for believing that they could "ride into power on the two horses of Liberty and Slavery." In his letter he literally called Seward and all the rest of the Republican cabal "double-faced demagogues."
Spooner was the author of the brilliant 1845 book, The Unconstitutionality of Slavery, which had never been refuted. He reminded Seward of this, going so far as to point out that Senator Brown of Mississippi had publicly admitted Spooner’s arguments to be irrefutable, whereas he (Seward), a supposed champion of liberty, had not. "Thus an open advocate of slavery from Mississippi virtually makes more concessions to the anti-slavery character of the constitution, than a professed advocate of liberty from New York . . ."
Spooner closed his letter to Seward by saying that he intended to make their correspondence public, despite Seward’s wishes, so that it may possibly "serve any purpose towards defeating yourself and the Republicans," upon which time "I shall be gratified."
Two years — and thousands of war-related deaths — later, Spooner focused his ire on another Republican Party luminary, Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts, who was known to have admitted in public that Spooner’s argument for the unconstitutionality of slavery was irrefutable. "Why, then, in Heaven’s name, do you not take that position?," he boomed in a letter to Sumner. As with Lincoln, Seward, and others, Sumner only "opposed" slavery in the abstract, not in reality and not practically. Consequently, wrote Spooner, "while for a dozen years, you have been making the most bombastic pretensions of zeal for freedom, you have really been, all that time, a deliberately perjured traitor to the constitution, to liberty, and to truth." He then accused Sumner of "treason" to the constitution.
Spooner strongly believed that, had the case been publicly made that slavery was unconstitutional, then world opinion would have pressured honorable southern leaders like Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee to work towards doing what the British, Spanish, Dutch, French, and other slave-owning societies had done in the nineteenth century, and end the institutional peacefully. In his own words, from the letter to Sumner:
Had all those men at the North, who believed these ideas [i.e., the unconstitutionality of slavery] to be true, promulgated them, as was their plain and obvious duty to do, it is reasonable to suppose that we should long since have had freedom, without shedding one drop of blood . . . . The South could, consistently with honor, and probably would, long before this time, and without a conflict, have surrendered their slavery to the demand of the constitution . . . and to the moral sentiment of the world. . . . You, and others like you have done more, according to your abilities, to prevent the peaceful abolition of slavery, than any other men in the nation . . .(emphasis in original).
Spooner was not yet finished. He continued that "in your pretended zeal for liberty, you have been urging on the nation to the most frightful destruction of human life" and "through a series of years, betrayed the very citadel of liberty, which you were under oath to defend." There has been, said Spooner, "no other treason at all comparable with this."
Now that is how to talk to a politician. Being a classical liberal steeped in the tradition of harboring great suspicion towards politics and politicians, Spooner believed that it was imperative to compare the actions of all politicians with their rhetoric. This is how he came to accumulate what he called "proof" of the disastrous hypocrisy of the entire Lincoln regime.
It is not an accident that this same regime has become saintly in the eyes of most Americans; it has been my experience that the vast majority of all the Lincoln literature obsesses over a relatively small number of his nicer-sounding political speeches while steadfastly ignoring or making lame excuses for his behavior. Indeed, the entire Straussian enterprise of Lincoln idolatry is based almost exclusively on interpreting and re-interpreting Lincoln’s political rhetoric while largely ignoring actual historical facts and events, especially when the facts are in sharp contrast with Lincoln’s rhetoric. In Harry Jaffa’s latest book on Lincoln, for example, there is barely any mention at all of the costs of war — the 600,00 deaths, more than a million maimed for life, the destruction of entire cities, etc. — let alone the fact that, in the eyes of the rest of the world at the time, war was unnecessary to end slavery.
Judging from the above letters to Seward and Sumner, it is not hard to imagine what the fiery Spooner’s opinion would be of the Jaffas, McPhersons, Holzers, and the entire contemporary cabal of Lincoln idolaters and court historians.
Thomas J. DiLorenzo [send him mail] is the author of The Real Lincoln: A New Look at Abraham Lincoln, His Agenda, and an Unnecessary War, (Three Rivers Press/Random House). His latest book is How Capitalism Saved America: The Untold Story of Our Country’s History, from the Pilgrims to the Present (Crown Forum/Random House, August 2004).