America's Temple to Political Plunder

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"If democracy can be said to have temples, the Lincoln Memorial is our most sacred."

~ Bill Moyers (tompaine.com, Oct. 6)

"The state is indeed divine, as being the great incarnation of a nation’s rights, privileges, honor, and life."

~ Unitarian Minister Henry Bellows (1866),
on the meaning of the North’s victory in the War to Prevent Southern Independence

The Lincoln Memorial is to PBS journalist Bill Moyers what Mecca and Medina are to devout Muslims. In an October 6 article entitled "Lincoln Weeps" on the web site tompaine.com (financially supported by Moyers) the state-run television personality reminisced about how "Back in 1954 . . . I made my first visit to the Lincoln Memorial. . . . I have returned many times since . . . silently contemplating the words" of Lincoln. (Replace the word "visit" with "pilgrimage" and you can see the Moyers/Muslim analogy. It is his "sacred temple").

On his latest visit/pilgrimage to film a television show about Republican Party corruption, Moyers says he was "overcome by a sense of melancholy" (defined by Webster’s Dictionary as ("gloomy state of mind . . . dejection . . . a condition of depression and irritability. . ."). And why is Moyers so gloomy, dejected, depressed, and irritable? Because, says Moyers, Tom DeLay, Jack Abramoff, Ralph Reed and Grover Norquist have "turned the conservative revolution into a racket" that makes of mockery of "Lincoln’s words." "This is no longer his city," opines Moyers, because it has become "a subservient subsidiary of richly endowed patrons," by which he means corporate lobbyists. Bill Moyers is depressed over the fact that "special interests" are influential in a democracy.

Moyers has a nave child’s view of government. More than two hundred years ago James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, and other American founders proclaimed that their preeminent concern was to "restrain the violence of faction," which they knew was always a threat to civilization under democracy. "Violence of faction" was their synonym for democracy. They were not so foolish to believe that it could ever be eliminated, but only minimized — hopefully.

There is no such thing as "democracy" that is not controlled to a large degree (or completely) by special-interest politics, and there never has been in the history of the world. The study of government, going back many centuries, has catalogued how it has always been born of conquest, and then used by one group ("the majority" under democracy) to exploit and plunder politically weaker groups. (See Franz Oppenheimer, The State; Murray Rothbard’s essay on "The State" in For a New Liberty; Albert Jay Nock’s classic, Our Enemy, The State; and Hans-Hermann Hoppe’s Democracy: The God That Failed.) The bigger government becomes, and the more resources it controls, the greater will be the efforts of lobbyists to plunder the treasury and (legally) rob their neighbors through its auspices. This is ancient wisdom, but liberals like Moyers are oblivious to it.

The most charitable one could be towards Moyers is to assume that what really upsets him is that the wrong special interests are exerting too much influence. After all, when he was in the Johnson administration one of his primary responsibilities was to rally various special interests in support of the welfare/warfare state.

Moyers’ view of Lincoln is even more childish, amateurish, and uninformed than are his views of government. Washington, D.C., with all of its lies, deceptions, corruption, perversions, and legal plunder is indeed Lincoln’s town more than anyone else’s. The Lincoln Memorial — the Zeus-like image of a corporate lobbyist in an armchair — is the perfect symbol of that corrupt den of thievery. (My new book, Lincoln Unmasked, includes an entire chapter on "The Great Railroad Lobbyist," which Lincoln certainly was.)

Lincoln was a corporate lobbyist long before the term lobbyist was even invented. When he began his political career in 1832 he announced that, as a Whig, his goal was to promote policies that would benefit the country’s wealthy corporate elite at the expense of the rest of the nation: protectionism, corporate welfare for "internal improvements," and legalized counterfeiting by a bank operated by politicians in Washington, D.C. He and his fellow Whigs were the political sons of Alexander Hamilton, who spent all of his political life after the Revolution trying to introduce British mercantilism — the very system the revolutionaries fought a war against — to America. Hamilton’s Federalists, then later the Whigs, and then the Republicans, always believed that the corrupt British mercantilist system was not so bad after all, as long as they could be the ones pulling the strings and benefiting from it. They always viewed it as a means to perpetual political power and wealth for the ruling party and its wealthy, ruling class supporters.

No one was more slavishly devoted to the mercantilist Whig agenda than Abraham Lincoln was in the first half of the nineteenth century. Dishonest Abe waxed eloquently about his devotion to Henry Clay and his "American System," the misleading phrase that Clay gave for his Americanized version of British mercantilism. Edgar Lee Masters of Illinois, the poet, playwright, and law partner of Clarence Darrow, offered a precise definition of the Hamilton/Clay/Lincoln political agenda in his classic book, Lincoln the Man (p. 27):

Clay was the champion of that political system which doles favors to the strong in order to win and to keep their adherence to the government. His system offered shelter to devious schemes and corrupt enterprises . . . . He was the beloved son of Alexander Hamilton with his corrupt funding schemes, his superstitions concerning the advantage of a public debt, and a people taxed to make profits for enterprises that cannot stand alone. His example and his doctrines led to the creation of a party that had no platform to announce, because its principles were plunder and nothing else.

This is what Lincoln devoted his political career to, first as a Whig (for some twenty years), then as a Republican. Bill Moyers would understand this if he knew anything more about Lincoln than a few phrases from two or three of his more famous political stump speeches, such as the one he gave in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

The Great Railroad Lobbyist

The real Lincoln was a well-connected railroad industry trial lawyer/lobbyist who lived in the biggest house in what is today called "Old Aristocracy Hill" in Springfield, Illinois. He represented the Illinois Central Railroad, along with the Chicago and Alton, Ohio and Mississippi, Rock Island, and Chicago and Mississippi Railroads, among others. He was such a prominent railroad industry insider that New York financier Erastus Corning offered him the position of general counsel of the New York Central Railroad in 1857. "Lincoln’s close relations with powerful special interests" were "always potent and present in political counsels," wrote John W. Starr in Lincoln and the Railroads. He traveled throughout the Mid-West in a private train car courtesy of the Illinois Central, accompanied by an entourage of railroad industry executives.

Lincoln turned down Erastus Corning’s job offer around the same time he invested in real estate in Council Bluffs, Iowa (a part of town that, to this day, is known as "Lincoln’s Hill"). Then, just three months after taking office he called a special session of Congress to propose "emergency" legislation to create the taxpayer-subsidized Union Pacific Railroad. Although the war was a much larger emergency, Lincoln believed that it was imperative to begin building a railroad line to California. "There was no firmer friend of the Union Pacific bill than the president himself," writes Starr.

The bill finally passed in 1862 and it gave the president the power to "fix the point of commencement" of the Union Pacific. Lincoln chose Council Bluffs, Iowa, of all places. What a coincidence.

From an economic perspective it was completely unnecessary for government to subsidize a transcontinental railroad. Entrepreneur James J. Hill proved this by building the enormously successful Great Northern Railroad without a dime of government subsidy and no land grants. But the Pacific Railroad bill was the Mother of All Government Boondoggles and enriched many of Lincoln’s friends and political supporters. As Dee Brown wrote in his history of the transcontinental railroads, Hear That Lonesome Whistle Blow, when Lincoln signed the bill he "assured the fortunes of a dynasty of American families . . . the Brewsters, Bushnells, Olcotts, Harkers, Harrisons, Trowbridges, Lanworthys, Reids, Ogdens, Bradfords, Noyeses, Brooks, Cornells, and dozens of others."

The Party of Lincoln was thick with political thieves and connivers. Congressman Thadeus Stevens "received a block of [Union Pacific] stock in exchange for his vote" on the Pacific Railroad bill, writes Starr. Stevens, a Pennsylvania iron-maker, also demanded (and got) a clause in the law requiring that all steel used in the building of the railroad by "of American manufacture."

Republican congressman Oakes Ames, a shovel manufacturer from Massachusetts, became a supporter of the bill when he was promised shovel contracts. (It must have taken a lot of shovels to dig railroad beds from Iowa to California). Starr offers numerous other examples of the inherent corruption, from the very beginning, of the Party of Lincoln.

The Party of Legal Plunder

Lincoln was also a protectionist for his entire career, so much so that he sent his friend, Judge David Davis, to Pennsylvania prior to being nominated as the Republican presidential candidate with original copies of all of his protectionist speeches to convince the Pennsylvania delegation that he was their man. He claimed that he made more speeches on behalf of protectionism than on any other topic. When running for president the official campaign poster had photographs of Lincoln and his running mate, Hannibal Hamlin, below which it said, "Protection for Home Industry." That was their main campaign theme, at least according to their campaign poster.

There were ten tariff-increasing bills during the Lincoln administration. The Republican Party began as the party of protectionism, and succeeded in increasing the average tariff rate in America from a relatively modest rate of 15% in 1857 to near 50% from 1862 until 1913, when the federal income tax was ratified. Moreover, in Lincoln’s time it was well understood by anyone who had ever studied international trade that protectionist tariffs were simply a tool of political plunder, robbing consumers for the benefit of "protected" industries. These industries were Lincoln’s (and the Republican Party’s) political constituency, as they are today. It is hard to think of a worse example of political corruption that benefits what Bill Moyers calls "richly endowed patrons" at the expense of the common citizen than protectionism. If Lincoln was anything, he was The Great Protectionist.

The Great Inflationist

The Whig Party had always schemed to finance its massive, pie-in-the-sky pork barrel spending schemes (government subsidies to road-, canal-, and railroad-building companies) with a government-run bank that could print paper money that was not redeemable in gold or silver. Monetary historian Richard Timberlake wrote in his treatise, Monetary History of the United States, that to the Whigs like Lincoln, a national bank was nothing less than their reason for existing as a political party. Having failed for decades to enact protectionist tariffs, their only hope for financing the patronage schemes that they hoped would keep them in power forever was a government-run central bank.

No one was a more vociferous proponent of a central bank than Lincoln was, throughout his political career. And why was he (and his party) so doggedly determined to create a bank that could "suspend specie payments," or issue paper money that was not redeemable in gold or silver? The economist Murray Rothbard explained in his book, What Has Government Done to Our Money (p. 78):

The bluntest way for government to foster . . . inflation is to grant banks the special privilege of refusing to pay their obligations, while yet continuing in their operation. While everyone else must pay their debts or go bankrupt, the banks are permitted to refuse redemption of their receipts, at the same time forcing their own debtors to pay when their loans fall due. The usual name for this is “a suspension of specie payment.” A more accurate name would be “license for theft,” for what else can we call a government permission to continue business without fulfilling one’s contract?

Thus, in addition to being The Great Railroad Lobbyist, The Great Protectionist, and The Great Centralizer, Lincoln should also be thought of as The Great Inflationist. The old Whig pipe dream of a massive, legalized counterfeiting operation, operated by themselves, was finally realized by the Lincoln regime’s Legal Tender Acts and National Currency Acts of 1863 and 1864.

So it was no mere coincidence that, in the years after Lincoln’s death, the Party of Lincoln became the Party of Political Plunder. It financially ravaged the South for a decade and longer after the war with its "Reconstruction" policies; waged a campaign of genocide against the Plains Indians, killing thousands of them, women and children included, and placing the rest in concentration camps, primarily for the benefit of the government-subsidized transcontinental railroads; and wallowed in illegality, corruption and scandal during the Grant administrations with the Credit Mobilier and other scandals.

All of this is why it is entirely fitting and proper that The Great Railroad Lobbyist now sits upon his throne in Washington, D.C., in his Zeus-like temple, overlooking (with an approving eye) all of the political plunder that naïve and ill-educated liberals like Bill Moyers become so "melancholy" over.

Thomas J. DiLorenzo [send him mail] professor of economics at Loyola College in Maryland and the author of The Real Lincoln: A New Look at Abraham Lincoln, His Agenda, and an Unnecessary War, (Three Rivers Press/Random House). His next book, to be published in October, is Lincoln Unmasked: What You’re Not Supposed To Know about Dishonest Abe (Crown Forum/Random House).

Thomas DiLorenzo Archives at LRC

Thomas DiLorenzo Archives at Mises.org

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