A President's Mission To Destroy the Press

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Of all the silly fabrications of American history that have come from the High Priest of the Lincoln Cult, Harry Jaffa, and have been repeated by his cult followers at the Claremont Institute and elsewhere, perhaps the most absurd is the notion that Abraham Lincoln was a Jeffersonian. (For an amusing example of this false history see "Lincoln the Jeffersonian" in the April 2002 issue of Liberty magazine by one Timothy Sandefur, a former "Lincoln Fellow" at the Claremont Institute and a card-carrying Cult member.)

Lincoln was in fact the anti-Jefferson. Jefferson’s famous "Principles of ’98," including his Kentucky Resolve of 1798, establish him as the foremost American architect of the states’ rights philosophy. Lincoln commanded an army that killed 300,000 fellow citizens to assure the destruction of that philosophy.

Jefferson opposed central banking and the use of tax dollars to subsidize corporations, especially the hated Bank of the United States; Lincoln championed the Bank throughout his political career, resurrected it with his National Currency Acts, and spent thirty years of his life battling for corporate welfare subsidies to his political supporters in the railroad and road-building industries.

Jefferson was the author of America’s first declaration of secession — the Declaration of Independence — a declaration of secession from the British empire. Lincoln denied that such a right even existed and waged war to destroy the most important principle of the Declaration of Independence.

Jefferson championed the view that the citizens of the states were sovereign, that the central government was merely their agent, and that the union was a compact among the states. Lincoln denied every one of these facts, and waged the bloodiest war in history up to that point to "prove" himself right and Jefferson wrong.

Jefferson’s philosophy of government was one of decentralization; Lincoln did more than any other human being to bring to America the centralized, bureaucratic leviathan state that we all slave under today.

Jefferson was a great champion of free speech; his Kentucky Resolve of 1798 announced that not all American citizens intended to comply with the Sedition Act, which made it a crime to criticize the federal government. In his First Inaugural Address he said, "If there be any among us who would wish to dissolve this Union . . . 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."

Lincoln, on the other hand, was the First Amendment’s worst enemy, orchestrating the shutting down of literally hundreds of opposition newspapers in the northern states during the war, along with the destruction of printing presses and the imprisonment of newspaper editors and owners.

Jefferson was a southerner and an agrarian; Lincoln was a corporate trial lawyer from a northern state whose clients included much of the northern business elite, especially the railroad and banking industries. He traveled throughout the mid-west in a private train car accompanied by an entourage of Illinois Central executives.

Jefferson was a founding father and an extraordinarily well-educated man; Lincoln had less than a year of formal education, suffered from mental illness, and probably never even read The Federalist Papers. His library was almost entirely comprised of books on rhetoric and speech making.

Everything Jaffa has ever written on the subject of Lincoln is merely a re-hash of Lincoln’s own political rhetoric and arguments, which themselves were not always original. Lincoln did use Jeffersonian rhetoric, which Jaffa and his echo chamber acolytes like Sandefur and Dinesh D’Souza have often repeated, but such rhetoric should not be taken seriously. One writer who has seen through this charade is Michael Lind, author of Hamilton’s Republic and, more recently, What Lincoln Believed. Lind calls Lincoln "America’s Greatest President," and praises him precisely because he was not a Jeffersonian, but just the opposite (a Hamiltonian). As he explains on page 121 of Hamilton’s Republic:

Lincoln himself contributed to later misunderstandings by his rhetorical appropriation of the words and image of Thomas Jefferson . . . . There was not a single element of the Jeffersonian program — states’ rights, agrarianism, strict construction of the federal constitution — that Lincoln, as a Whig and then as a Republican politician, did not reject with passion. Nevertheless, he realized that if the Republican party was to be more successful than the failed Whigs, it had to recruit Democratic voters in the West and the border South who idolized Thomas Jefferson . . . . Lincoln’s solution was to turn Jeffersonian rhetoric against Jefferson’s own Southern Democratic political heirs, by a kind of intellectual ju-jitsu . . . . Lincoln turned the Declaration of Independence, a manifesto of secession, into a symbol of Unionism, arguing that the preservation of the Union was necessary to achieve the goal of the Declaration: equality. This was sophistry of the highest order. Thus did Lincoln, one of the most cunning debaters in American history, enlist Jeffersonian rhetoric for Hamiltonian ends” (emphasis added).

Thanks to the efforts of the Lincoln Cult, which includes more than just the eccentric Harry Jaffa and his followers, Americans know very little about Lincoln’s repudiation and destruction of the Jeffersonian ideal. For example, they know little if anything about such things as Lincoln’s demolition of constitutional liberties in the northern states during his reign. But the truth is slowly seeping out, after all these years, thanks to the internet, among other things.

The latest example of such truthful revelations is the book Lincoln’s Wrath: Fierce Mobs, Brilliant Scoundrels and a President’s Mission to Destroy the Press, by historians Jeffrey Manber and Neil Dahlstrom. Manber and Dahlstrom are not the first to do so, but they catalogue ten years of research into how Lincoln orchestrated the abolition of free speech in the Northern states from the beginning to the end of his administration (See also Freedom under Lincoln by Dean Sprague; Lincoln’s Critics by Frank L. Klement; and Constitutional Problems under Lincoln by James Randall). Lincoln’s abolition of free speech was designed to establish a one-party monopoly in the U.S. government, which the Republican Party enjoyed for some fifty years after the war.

Whereas Jefferson worshipped free speech as the lynchpin of a free society, Lincoln set out to destroy it almost from his first day in office. His administration shut down hundreds of opposition newspapers while subsidizing friendly ones, and imprisoned tens of thousands of political dissenters without due process. Manber and Dahlstrom prove that Lincoln was indeed the string puller behind all of this tyranny even though his subordinates, such as William Seward, actually enforced and implemented all the dirty deeds.

Lincoln’s Wrath is "the recounting of the u2018Summer of Rage’ of 1861, when the Republicans around Lincoln systemically shut down all dissenting voices. Editors and writers of antiwar newspapers were subjected to myriad punishments. Some were tarred and feathered, some were thrown into federal prisons and held without trial for months at a time. Others were forced to change their opinions and publish only glowing praise of government actions" (p. 2 of the introduction). Afterwards, the Republican Party’s monopoly status enabled it to essentially eliminate these facts of history, creating "a forgotten generation of editors, writers, and publishers" who dared to express "their anger that the Constitution was being trampled" by Lincoln. These heroic men (none of whom were traitors or secessionists) were spitting mad at "Lincoln’s willingness to shut down any loyal opposition."

One question for the Lincoln Cultists who have defended these actions as somehow being constitutional is: Why didn’t James Madison, the "father of the Constitution," think that similar actions were necessary during the War of 1812, when the British occupied Washington, D.C. and set fire to the White House itself? The obvious answer is that Madison, unlike Lincoln, was not a power-mad tyrant hell-bent on creating a monopoly government.

A large section of Lincoln’s Wrath is devoted to telling the story of how the Lincoln administration shut down and destroyed The Jeffersonian newspaper in West Chester, Pennsylvania. It serves as an illustration of the kind of thing that went on all throughout the North during the war. The Jeffersonian’s "subscription lists were destroyed, the printing type thrown out of the window, and the huge printing press broken . . ." (p. 7).

A most interesting aspect of the book is its discussion of how intimately related the Republican Party powers were to the newspaper industry, either as owners and editors themselves, or as close political and business associates of newspaper owners. Lincoln himself secretly purchased German language newspapers in the 1850s to help bolster his political support in the Midwest from the burgeoning German immigrant population there. It was newspaper editors such as Joseph Medill, editor of the Chicago Tribune, who worked diligently to get Lincoln the Republican Party nomination in 1860. During his administration numerous friendly editors were given choice appointments as U.S. ambassadors and their papers subsidized with government advertising revenue. "Republican editors have been well taken care of by the present administration," the Brooklyn Eagle’s editor Thomas Kinsella wrote in August of 1861 (p. 60). "At least twenty editors received appointments from Lincoln within a month of his inauguration." Democratic editors, on the other hand, were harassed or shut down because they "clung to what many saw as the suddenly out of fashion principles of the Constitution" (p. 63).

The owner of The Jeffersonian was a man named John Hodgson. His newspaper was targeted for destruction, write Manber and Dahlstrom, because of his editorial positions that were "diametrically opposed to the centralization of the federal government . . . . [He] opposed the issue of federally imposed taxes, most especially to pay for war." He was opposed in general to "the intrusion of the federal government," which is what he saw as "the decisive and underlying purpose of Lincoln’s war" (p. 44).

For a while, opposition newspapers bravely dissented and protested Lincoln’s dictatorial and unconstitutional acts. Dozens of them met in New York City at the outset of the war and issued a set of resolutions condemning Lincoln for undertaking "actions that were far beyond the powers given the president . . . under the Constitution" (p. 112) and further condemned his administration for its "attempt to muzzle the Democratic Press by mobs and terrorism, to prevent citizens from expressing their honest opinions . . ."(p. 112). Lincoln’s real purpose, the editors surmised, was to create "a despotic consolidated system of government . . ." (p. 113). These men were also disgusted at the sheer sleaze of the new Republican Party, comprised of "men like [Thurlow] Weed and [Simon] Cameron who were more interested in the next huge government contract than the so-called principles that were openly being espoused by pious politicians sending tens of thousands of boys off to war" (p. 114).

Such open dissent did not last long, however, for the Lincoln administration considered "anyone who dared speak against the Union cause" to be a "traitor" (p. 119). And Lincoln obviously thought of himself as "the Union cause." Anyone who disagreed with him was a traitor and subject to immediate imprisonment without due process. "The message was clear," write Manber and Dahlstrom: "Democratic opposition to the president’s war would not be tolerated — no matter the legality." Opposition to the war was a crime.

The supposedly "renowned" Edward Everett, who gave a long-winded, bloviating speech prior to Lincoln’s address at Gettysburg, publicly urged mobs of Republican Party hacks to literally destroy all opposition newspapers (p. 133), and was supported by the administration in his efforts. "Speech should only be free when it is loyal," wrote the Republican Party mouthpiece, the New York Times (p. 133). Loyal to the Republican Party, that is. Could anyone imagine James Madison, or Thomas Jefferson, or George Washington associating themselves with such a statement, even in wartime?

Mobs of soldiers were recruited by the Republican Party to destroy the opposition press, and "at no time did [Lincoln] speak out against the mobs . . . . Nor did he speak out in favor of freedom of the press or maintaining America’s core values during wartime" (p. 141). "Dozens of newspapers had been destroyed forever, the victims of mob justice . . . . The brutal tactics of the administration had won — many dissenting voices were silenced" (p. 204). Republican Party mobs also routinely shouted down public speakers who questioned administration policies. Such intimidation was a common practice.

The legal rationale that was invented by the Lincoln administration to "justify" its abolition of freedom of the press was a "Confiscation Act" which held that any citizen who was known to criticize the administration’s policies was guilty of treason and would have all of his personal property confiscated by the state. Informers who informed on fellow citizens who were subsequently found guilty would be given 50 percent of the guilty party’s property. It was Soviet-style "justice."

The opposition press editors saw through the phony, pious rhetoric of Republican politicians like Lincoln. They believed the purpose of the war was to destroy the decentralized system of government created by the founders and to put in its place a monopolistic, consolidated, monopoly government with one-party rule (the Republican Party, of course). The Republicans would then become "the most effective manipulators of the greatest patronage administration of the nation’s history" who "could look forward to extraordinary riches and power for the rest of their lives" (p. 260). This of course was always the agenda of the Whig Party, and no one championed that agenda more than Abraham Lincoln did. The Whig agenda of protectionist tariffs, corporate welfare, and central banking had no other purpose than to create a massive political patronage system for the benefit of whichever party was able to hand out all the governmental goodies. "The Republicans strove," the opposition editors believed, "to become the one party of the Union" (p. 261), and they succeeded. The abolition of free speech, moreover, was an essential ingredient of their success, something that does not seem to be lost on today’s Republican Party.

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).

Thomas DiLorenzo Archives at LRC

Thomas DiLorenzo Archives at Mises.org

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