DiLorenzo Is Right About Lincoln

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In
1831, long before the War between the States, South Carolina Senator
John C. Calhoun said, "Stripped of all its covering, the naked
question is, whether ours is a federal or consolidated government;
a constitutional or absolute one; a government resting solidly on
the basis of the sovereignty of the States, or on the unrestrained
will of a majority; a form of government, as in all other unlimited
ones, in which injustice, violence, and force must ultimately prevail."
The War between the States answered that question and produced the
foundation for the kind of government we have today: consolidated
and absolute, based on the unrestrained will of the majority, with
force, threats, and intimidation being the order of the day.

Today's
federal government is considerably at odds with that envisioned
by the framers of the Constitution. Thomas J. DiLorenzo gives an
account of how this came about in The Real Lincoln: A New Look
at Abraham Lincoln, His Agenda, and an Unnecessary War.

As DiLorenzo
documents – contrary to conventional wisdom, books about Lincoln,
and the lessons taught in schools and colleges – the War between
the States was not fought to end slavery; Even if it were, a natural
question arises: Why was a costly war fought to end it? African
slavery existed in many parts of the Western world, but it did not
take warfare to end it. Dozens of countries, including the territorial
possessions of the British, French, Portuguese, and Spanish, ended
slavery peacefully during the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
Countries such as Venezuela and Colombia experienced conflict because
slave emancipation was simply a ruse for revolutionaries who were
seeking state power and were not motivated by emancipation per se.

Abraham
Lincoln's direct statements indicated his support for slavery; He
defended slave owners' right to own their property, saying that
"when they remind us of their constitutional rights [to own
slaves], I acknowledge them, not grudgingly but fully and fairly;
and I would give them any legislation for the claiming of their
fugitives" (in indicating support for the Fugitive Slave Act
of 1850).

Abraham
Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation was little more than a political
gimmick, and he admitted so in a letter to Treasury Secretary Salmon
P. Chase: "The original proclamation has no…legal justification,
except as a military measure." Secretary of State William Seward
said, "We show our sympathy with slavery by emancipating slaves
where we cannot reach them and holding them in bondage where we
can set them free. " Seward was acknowledging the fact that
the Emancipation Proclamation applied only to slaves in states in
rebellion against the United States and not to slaves in states
not in rebellion.

The true
costs of the War between the States were not the 620,000 battlefield-related
deaths, out of a national population of 30 million (were we to control
for population growth, that would be equivalent to roughly 5 million
battlefield deaths today). The true costs were a change in the character
of our government into one feared by the likes of Jefferson, Madison,
Monroe, Jackson, and Calhoun – one where states lost most of
their sovereignty to the central government. Thomas Jefferson saw
as the most important safeguard of the liberties of the people "the
support of the state governments in all their rights, as the most
competent administrations for our domestic concerns and the surest
bulwarks against anti-republican tendencies."

If the
federal government makes encroachments on the constitutional rights
of the people and the states, what are their options? In a word,
their right to secede. Most of today's Americans believe, as did
Abraham Lincoln, that states do not have a right to secession, but
that is false. DiLorenzo marshals numerous proofs that from the
very founding of our nation the right of secession was seen as a
natural right of the people and a last check on abuse by the central
government. For example, at Virginia's ratification convention,
the delegates affirmed "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 injury or oppression."
In Thomas Jefferson's First Inaugural Address (1801), he declared,
"If there be any among us who would wish to dissolve this Union
or to change its republican form, let them stand undisturbed as
monuments of the safety with which error of opinion may be tolerated
where reason is left free to combat it." Jefferson was defending
the rights of free speech and of secession. Alexis de Tocqueville
observed in Democracy in America, "The Union was formed
by the voluntary agreement of the States; in uniting together they
have not forfeited their nationality, nor have they been reduced
to the condition of one and the same people. If one of the states
chooses to withdraw from the compact, it would be difficult to disapprove
its right of doing so, and the Federal Government would have no
means of maintaining its claims directly either by force or right."
The right to secession was popularly held as well. DiLorenzo lists
newspaper after newspaper editorial arguing the right of secession.
Most significantly, these were Northern newspapers. In fact, the
first secession movement started in the North, long before shots
were fired at Fort Sumter. The New England states debated the idea
of secession during the Hartford Convention of 1814–1815.

Lincoln's
intentions, as well as those of many Northern politicians, were
summarized by Stephen Douglas during the senatorial debates. Douglas
accused Lincoln of wanting to "impose on the nation a uniformity
of local laws and institutions and a moral homogeneity dictated
by the central government" that would "place at defiance
the intentions of the republic's founders." Douglas was right,
and Lincoln's vision for our nation has now been accomplished beyond
anything he could have possibly dreamed.

The War
between the States settled by force whether states could secede.
Once it was established that states cannot secede, the federal government,
abetted by a Supreme Court unwilling to hold it to its constitutional
restraints, was able to run amok over states' rights, so much so
that the protections of the Ninth and Tenth Amendments mean little
or nothing today. Not only did the war lay the foundation for eventual
nullification or weakening of basic constitutional protections against
central government abuses, but it also laid to rest the great principle
enunciated in the Declaration of Independence that "Governments
are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent
of the governed."

The
Real Lincoln contains irrefutable evidence that a more appropriate
title for Abraham Lincoln is not the Great Emancipator, but the
Great Centralizer.

March
22, 2005

Walter
E. Williams is the John M. Olin distinguished professor of economics
at George Mason University, and a nationally syndicated columnist.

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