A Fitting Tribute to a Corrupt Tyrant

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The August 25 Washington Times reported that an outfit called the " United States Historical Society," which had donated a statue of Abe Lincoln to the city of Richmond, Virginia in 2003, was stripped of its tax-exempt status by the IRS. It seems that the main activity of the Society was marketing $875 miniature replicas of the statue and pocketing the profits.

The reason the Society lost its tax exemption is that the erection of a Lincoln statue in Richmond was considered by many Richmonders to be akin to putting up a statue of Hitler in Tel Aviv or of Stalin in the Ukraine. Several affluent and influential Richmonders made it a point to bring to the attention of the IRS the real activities of the U.S. Historical Society. They waged a four-year campaign against the organization and its spit-in-your-face gesture of placing the Lincoln statue in their home town, and they won.

The statue remains, of course, and is managed by the National Park Service, which partnered with the United States Historical Society. The statue is a fitting tribute to Dishonest Abe, now that the sponsors of the statue have been revealed to be, let us say, less than honest and straightforward. After all, enriching oneself and one’s friends while hiding behind a smokescreen of "humanitarian" propaganda is a major part of the Lincoln legacy. (The U.S. Historical Society claimed that the statue would "promote healing" in Richmond!)

Lincoln himself was a corrupt corporate insider and a lifelong mercantilist. The economic policies that he spent his entire adult life championing — protectionist tariffs, corporate welfare for railroad and road-building corporations, and inflationary central banking — were nothing but an Americanized version of the corrupt British mercantilist system that the American Revolution was fought to discard. They were all designed to use the powers of the state to benefit a small, politically powerful cabal of (mostly Northern) manufacturers, bankers, and politicians at the expense of the rest of society. They were also designed to enlarge the state by tying all of these powerful interests to it politically. They were all finally adopted, after some seventy years of political debate over them, during the Lincoln regime.

Lincoln was personally corrupt as well. In Lincoln and the Railroads John W. Starr recounts how Lincoln presented the Illinois Central with a $5,000 bill in the 1850s for a single tax case, an incredible sum at the time. The vice president of the Illinois Central was one George B. McClellan, who would become Lincoln’s commanding general early in the war. McClellan refused to pay, so Lincoln sued his own client. When he came to court the Illinois Central’s attorneys failed to appear and he won the judgment by default. Starr strongly suggests that it was a corrupt scheme concocted by McClellan and Lincoln since the Illinois Central, under McClellan’s direction, continued to employ him.

Dishonest Abe invested in land in Council Bluffs, Iowa, of all places, in 1857. To this day this piece of land is known as "Lincoln’s Hill." When he became president one of his first official acts was to call a special session of Congress to begin work on the Pacific Railway Act that would shower railroad corporations with government subsidies while they built a transcontinental railroad line. When Congress finally passed the bill in 1862 it gave the president the right to decide the eastern terminus of the line. And guess what? Dishonest Abe chose Council Bluffs, Iowa. What a coincidence, and what a good example of political insider trading.

All the big Republican Party gasbags of Lincoln’s time had their fingers in the governmental pie of railroad subsidies. The hate-filled and odious Thaddeus Stevens "received a block of [Union Pacific] stock in exchange for his vote on the railroad bill, writes Dee Brown in his classic history of the transcontinental railroads, Hear That Lonesome Whistle Blow. Republican congressman Oakes Ames guided the bill through congress in return for contracts to supply all the shovels for digging railroad beds from Iowa to California. William Tecumseh Sherman was sold land near the railroad line at below-market prices. The massive government subsidies, wrote Dee Brown, "assured the fortunes of a dynasty of American families . . ." They also led to one of the biggest scandals in American political history just a few years later — the Credit Mobilier scandal during the Grant administration. It was all an inevitable consequence of the triumph of Lincolnian mercantilism.

If you ever travel to Richmond and catch a glimpse of this particular piece of government propaganda, think of it as a fitting tribute to a corrupt and brutal tyrant who micromanaged the murder of hundreds of innocent civilians in and around the very city that now is forced to honor him with a life-size bronze statue. All to "promote healing," of course.

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 latest book 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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