Getting Lincoln Half Right and Half Wrong

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his new book, What
Lincoln Believed: The Values and Convictions of America’s Greatest President
Michael Lind gets it about half right and half wrong. Lind correctly portrays
Lincoln as "the wealthy railroad lawyer" who was a political water carrier
for the Whigs, the "party of the educated and economic elites." He lived
in a "disturbingly big house in which he and his family were waited on by
a series of white and black maids." His legal clients were "giant corporations,
millionaires, real estate speculators, and corporate executives."

was "a faithful adherent to [Henry] Clay’s American system" of protectionist
tariffs, corporate welfare, and a nationalization of the money supply. Lind incorrectly
labels this system as "industrial capitalism," however, when in fact
it was old-fashioned mercantilism, the corrupt system of special favors granted
by the state to selected political supporters in the business world. As with all
forms of mercantilism, it was essentially a combination of government policies
that benefited politically-active producers at the expense of consumers and the
rest of society. It is this system that Lind, a worshipper of Hamilton, Clay’s
predecessor in this mercantilist tradition, champions in his book.

my lead in The
Real Lincoln
(which Lind does not cite), the author notes that Lincoln
was essentially the political disciple of Hamilton in that he spent his entire
political career promoting the Hamilton/Clay/Lincoln mercantilist system primarily
for the benefit of "the educated and economic elites." Clay’s "disciple
Abraham Lincoln adopted Clay’s entire nation-building program as his own."
This of course is another inaccurate and silly description of Lincolnian mercantilism:
protectionism, corporate welfare, and nationalized money "build" on
government interventionism and enhance the power and scope of the state,
which Lind incorrectly equates with "the nation."

gets many facts about Lincoln right, but is almost universally wrong every time
he comments on economic issues. He claims that Britain owed its "lead in
manufacturing" not to entrepreneurship but "by skillful use of protectionism."
Indeed, at least half of Lind’s book is one big post hoc, ergo propter hoc
("after this, therefore because of this") fallacy: "Britain successfully
developed manufacturing; some protectionism existed; therefore, the protectionism
caused the development of manufacturing!" He makes no effort to prove
such "causation"; he simply asserts it.

world is not that simplistic. As economists Nathan Rosenberg and L.E. Birdzell
write in their outstanding history of world commerce, How
the West Grew Rich: The Economic Transformation of the Industrial World
among the ingredients for the success of capitalism first in England and then
elsewhere were the development of moral and religious beliefs "compatible
with the needs and values of capitalism"; competition among governments for
the patronage of merchants; the development of commercial law and commercial courts;
the advent of insurance to reduce the risks of international commerce; deposit
banking; the ideology of freedom, beginning with the Magna Carta, that gave businessmen
the confidence that states would not simply confiscate their property; the factory
system; the increased sophistication of capital markets; the corporate form of
business organization and corporate law; and double-entry bookkeeping that made
economic calculation possible, among other things. Not to mention the importance
of technology.

led the way with many of these developments. "English courts and law"
were "a factor contributing positively to the development of English commerce"
and enabled London to become "a world financial center, and of British trade
generally. . . ." Moreover, "Other Western countries sought to emulate
these advantages . . . ."

fact, protectionism was a disaster for the British Empire — perhaps its
biggest disaster. It was various forms of protectionism, such as the Navigation
Acts, that so angered the American colonists that they revolted and seceded from
the British Empire. To a large extent, the American Revolution was a revolt against
the attempt by King George, III of England to plunder the Americans through the
vehicle of British mercantilism, a system that the likes of Hamilton, Clay and
Lincoln would later crusade for in America in the post-revolutionary era. In this
sense, these men were all traitors to the ideals of the American Revolution.

displays no knowledge of the history of commerce, yet he poses as a Johnny-one-note
"expert" on the topic. All capitalist success, says Lind, is owed to
protectionism and other mercantilist policies. "If America had paid attention
to Adam Smith," he ludicrously declares, "the United States never would
have become the world’s greatest industrial economy."

a devoted neo-mercantilist, Lind does a good job of describing the mercantilist
cabal that, from the time of Hamilton, wanted to import British mercantilism to
America. He begins with Hamilton and Clay, and then the Pennsylvania steel industry
publicist Henry C. Carey ("who became one of Lincoln’s advisors"), who
was so influential with Lincoln and his fellow Republicans, along with the German
theorist Frederick List. Karl Marx, writes Lind, "considered Carey the most
important economist the United States had produced."

does not cite me, or any other contemporary Lincoln critic with the lone exception
of Lerone Bennett, Jr., the managing editor of Ebony magazine and author
of Forced
into Glory: Abraham Lincoln’s White Dream
, despite the fact that he constantly
refers to all Lincoln critics as "Confederate apologists." In 632 footnotes
and a "bibliographic note" there is not one reference to any
of the "critics" he constantly alludes to in the text of the book. This
is an odd, if not dishonest practice, as it makes it easy for an author to simply
attack a non-existent straw man.

the labeling of Lincoln critics as "Confederate apologists" is not in
the spirit of pursuing truth or accuracy but of character assassination and censorship
("they must secretly defend slavery"). It makes as much sense to label
all Lincoln critics as "Confederate apologists" as it does to label
all FDR critics as Nazis. Criticizing FDR does not make one a Nazi any more than
criticizing Lincoln makes one a Confederate sympathizer. (This dishonest tactic
was also employed by one John Majewski in a "review" of The Real
Lincoln that appeared in Ideas on Liberty).

the other hand, Lind does a fine job of portraying the real Lincoln as a cold-hearted,
ego-maniacal politician. "Lincoln did not invite any members of his family
to his marriage to Mary Todd in 1842" and "He refused his dying father’s
request for a final visit."

also conducts a brief survey of books that Lincoln, who had no formal education
to speak of, likely read. Interestingly, the books listed by Lind include almost
nothing of substance with regard to history, philosophy, government, and economics,
and are almost entirely on the subject of speech making and the use of rhetoric.

also quotes Lincoln as admitting, "I am not a Christian," and quotes
one of his law partners as describing him as "an avowed and open infidel"
who "sometimes bordered on atheism" and who "went further against
Christian beliefs and doctrines and principles than any man I ever heard."
This is one quotation that your typical Lincoln cultist would never reveal, and
Lind deserves credit for his pursuit of truthfulness on this subject.

also writes of the book Lincoln wrote "in his youth" in which he questioned
the divinity of Christ. When he entered politics his advisors made sure that the
book was burned. "In private, however, Lincoln continued to scoff at Christian
clerics." (He must have also spent a lot of time scoffing at the northern
public, which fell for all the religious rhetoric in his political speeches).

also points out that Lincoln was fascinated with military technology and "frequently
and enthusiastically took part in tests of new weapons in the Washington Navy
Yard or, sometimes, on the White House lawn." A less charitable way of saying
this is that he fiendishly experimented with bigger and bigger weapons of mass
destruction that he hoped would be used not on foreign invaders but on his
fellow citizens, including the women and children of the South who were sitting
ducks when their towns and cities were bombed and burned out by Lincoln’s armies.

is also forthright in his description of Lincoln as an extreme white supremacist.
As early as 1840 he "denounced the Democratic presidential candidate Martin
Van Buren for supporting black voting rights in New York." In a newspaper
that he co-edited, Lincoln condemned Van Buren for supporting the right of "FREE
NEGROES and SLAVES to swear in Courts against WHITE MEN!" "I will to
the very last stand by the law of this State [Illinois], which forbids the marrying
of white people with Negroes," Lincoln once declared, as cited by Lind.

also notes Lincoln’s leadership in the Illinois Colonization Society and his lifelong
obsession with "colonization," or deportation of all black people from
America. "He regarded a mixed race as eminently anti-republican," writes
Lind, and so he favored the creation of an all-white America. That, of course,
is one of the main reasons Lincoln gave for his opposition to the extension of
slavery into the Territories — to keep them all white. It was his well-known white-supremacist
views, says Lind, that "explains the meteoric rise of Lincoln in national
politics . . . as a leader of the Free Soil movement whose goal was a white West."

assured his northern audiences near the end of the war that, even if the slaves
were freed they should fear not, for the northern states had the power to outlaw
the immigration of black people into their regions, just as Illinois had done.
Had he lived, Lind speculates that he would have devoted much of his time to carrying
out his lifelong goal of deporting all the black people out of America to create
and all-white republic.

pinpoints what I believe to be a key to understanding Lincoln’s rhetoric on race,
although I don’t think Lind himself understands the importance of the following
passage in which Lincoln said: "Negroes have natural rights, however, as
other men have, although they cannot enjoy them here . . ." This was always
Lincoln’s position: "Negroes" could have natural rights in theory,
in the abstract; but he was opposed to actually giving them natural rights!
Lincoln frequently quoted "Clay’s distinction between abstract and actual
rights," writes Lind. Generations of "Lincoln scholars" have either
ignored this plain language, lied about it, or covered it up with myriad elaborate
excuses and rationales.

is at his worst when discussing constitutional issues surrounding the War to Prevent
Southern Independence. The South was the only region of the U.S. to ever challenge
the authority of the central state, and for that the central state killed some
300,000 southerners, one-fourth of the adult male population, and destroyed its
economy. That, it seems to me, is a pretty big deterrent to future secessions.
But to Lind, "proof" that the South’s secession was illegal is the fact
that no other region as ever attempted secession since then by means of introducing
a constitutional amendment! He cites the "authority" of the Supreme
Court of 1869 that declared secession to be illegal, as though it should be taken
seriously by any one. The absence of secession movements since 1865, says Lind,
"proves" that southern secession was motivated solely by the "protection
of slavery." (Next to this discussion in the book I penciled in the margin,
"pure B.S.").

also hilariously makes the two-wrongs-make-a-right argument to defend Lincoln’s
suspension of habeas corpus, arrest of tens of thousands of political opponents,
and the shutting down of hundreds of opposition newspapers by pointing out that
the Confederate government also suspended habeas corpus. What makes this "reasoning"
so absurd is that it is Lincoln who the court historians have made out
as some kind of hero of the Constitution, not Jefferson Davis. It is important
to point out such facts because they contradict the false history that Americans
have been exposed to for generations. Americans have not been taught that
Jefferson Davis was a constitutional hero. Two wrongs do not make a right,
no matter how many times Michael Lind repeats it. (John Majewski made same lame
argument in his Ideas on Liberty "review" of my book.)

funniest line in the entire book is on page 183: "Denounced as a tyrant by
critics, Lincoln did not think of himself as a dictator." Of course not!
No politician ever does!

most inaccurate statement in the book appears on page 233, where Lind writes that
"the formal structure of the United States following the Civil War was the
same as it had been before the Conflict. This would have pleased Lincoln . . ."
But this statement is in sharp conflict with the opinions of generations of scholars,
who have noted that the system of states’ rights and federalism that was created
by the founders was overthrown by the war. The rights of nullification and secession
were integral parts of that system, but were destroyed by force of arms. It is
hard to imagine a bigger change in "the formal structure of the United
States." (See, for example, Forrest McDonald, States’
Rights and the Union.

ends his book by declaring Lincoln to have been "a great democrat" despite
all his faults. The ends justify the means, he says, if the ends are "democracy."
But Lincoln’s actions belie the fact that he believed in democracy as heartily
as Lind claims. What kind of democracy can exist where tens of thousands of political
opponents are jailed, opposition newspapers shut down by the hundreds, telegraph
communication is censored, elections are rigged, and new states are created illegally
to add to the incumbent government’s electoral college vote count? And what kind
of "democracy" is it where ten percent of the population is appointed
by one man to rule over the other 90 percent, as was Lincoln’s plan for "reconstruction"?
It’s "Lincolnian democracy," of course, but not the kind of democracy
that most Americans would be familiar with.

Mencken was right when he wrote that Lincoln’s war overthrew the most important
feature of American democracy: the Jeffersonian dictum that government’s just
powers are derived from the consent of the governed. The South no longer consented
to being governed by Washington, D.C., and so it seceded. Lincoln waged war against
consent of the governed, not for it, despite his flowery rhetoric at Gettysburg.

does not challenge Mencken’s argument directly; rather, he wildly speculates that
had peaceful secession been permitted, the entire country would have spun into
"anarchy" with perhaps dozens of other secession movements. This was
Lincoln’s novel theory, too, but it is without any historical basis. Besides,
Jefferson himself believed that America was too big to be governed by one single
government and envisioned three of four confederacies — democratic confederacies
— for the future. There would be nothing "undemocratic" about that.
Indeed, democracy works better with smaller political units. But the Michael
Linds of the world are "nationalists" who worship "national power,"
i.e., centralized governmental power, and are therefore opposed to the genuine
federalism of the original founding fathers. They call Lincoln "America’s
greatest president" precisely because he destroyed that Jeffersonian system.

late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were a period of governmental consolidation
that, in the worst cases, produced communism, fascism, and welfarism. The South’s
victory or peaceful secession could have provided a lesson for the world that
such "nationalism" was not inevitable; that decentralized federalism
could work, and work better than large, centralized, monopolistic government.
This was the opinion of the great historian of liberty, Lord Acton.

does not even address this argument, but revels in Lincoln’s "Hamiltonian
Revolution." He makes a case against his own thesis, however, when he writes
approvingly of how the "empires’ of Japan and Germany adopted their own versions
of Lincolnite "economic nationalism" in the late nineteenth and early
twentieth centuries. These corrupt mercantilist regimes easily evolved into fascism,
one of he scourges of the twentieth century. Hitler himself invoked Lincoln’s
first inaugural address in Mein Kampf, when he made the case for destroying states’
rights and federalism in Germany. He was also an ardent protectionist, advocate
of a centralized banking monopoly, and of corporations that were closely associated
with and subsequently controlled by the state. Mussolini adopted essentially the
same policies, as did imperial Japan. This worldwide "Lincolnian revolution"
is something for which the world should be grateful, says Michael Lind.

17, 2005

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).

DiLorenzo Archives at LRC

DiLorenzo Archives at

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