According to the neocon Manhattan Institute, the answer to the question posed in the title of this article is . . . . . drum roll please . . . . . Lincoln. For those Christians who are skeptical of the notion that they should abandon their faith and embrace their new savior, "Father Abraham," it is all explained to them in an October 23 City Journal online article entitled "How Lincoln Saved the World" by Michael Knox Beran.
Just how did the atheistic railroad industry lawyer/lobbyist/pork barrel politician from Springfield, Illinois, save the world, according to Beran? For one thing, he pandered more than any other Northern politician to the white supremacists of the North in promising to keep the new territories the exclusive domain of (in his words) "free white people." The North in the 1860s was a "pervasive racist society," University of Virginia historian Michael Holt wrote in Fate of Their Country, and Northerners wanted to exclude both free blacks and slaves from the new territories. And Lincoln, who advocated the deportation of all black people from America ("colonization") for his entire adult life, was their man.
As Lincoln said in one of his debates with Stephen Douglas, "The African upon his own soil has all the natural rights that instrument [the Declaration of Independence] vouchsafes to all mankind" (emphasis added). That is, translating from Lincolnese, black people — who Lincoln referred to as "the Africans," as though they were from another planet — should only be able to enjoy human rights in Africa, not anywhere in the U.S. This statement gives the lie to the notion that Lincoln believed in natural rights for all people.
Beran ignores the reasons Lincoln himself gave for opposing the extension of slavery into the new territories (but not in the South), and instead repeats the phony excuse that that exclusion would somehow magically lead to an end of slavery everywhere. He also repeats the historical lie that Lincoln believed that "all human beings possess a fundamental dignity."
As Bill Clinton — and Abe Lincoln — would say, it depends on the meaning of the word "dignity." In his first inaugural address Lincoln supported a constitutional amendment (the Corwin Amendment) that would have prohibited the federal government from ever interfering with Southern slavery. He even orchestrated the maneuvering of the amendment through the Senate with the assistance of William Seward.
He voted against black suffrage in Illinois; opposed allowing blacks to testify in court in that state; voted against abolishing the slave trade in Washington, D.C. during his one term in Congress; supported the Illinois Black Codes that deprived the few free blacks in that state any semblance of citizenship; supported the Illinois Constitution which prohibited the immigration of black people into the state; was a "manager" of the Illinois Colonization Society, which sought to use state tax revenues to deport blacks out of the state; and his occasional talk of compensated emancipation was always tied to immediate deportation. His rhetoric spoke of "human dignity," but his actions proved that he was lying.
Like all neocons whose views of American history have been distorted and rendered absurd by Harry Jaffa’s hermeneutical reinterpretations of bits and pieces of Lincoln’s prettier-sounding speeches, Beran makes his Lincoln-worshipping pronouncements based on only a few lines of Abe’s speeches while ignoring historical reality. He repeats Lincoln’s rhetorical scare tactic, for example, that Southern plantation owners somehow planned on reintroducing slavery into Maine, New York and Massachusetts despite the fact that those states decided in the early nineteenth century that the institution was unprofitable there (and then took more than half a century to phase it out).
Beran gets American history exactly backwards when he makes the preposterous statement that it was the South in 1860, and not the Republican Party of the North, that was motivated by "militant nationalism," defined as a desire to "impose their wills on other (inferior) peoples." It was Lincoln, he says, who fought against a "philosophy of coercion."
Let’s try to add a few facts to Beran’s fanciful repetition of The Great Deceiver’s rhetoric. Lincoln and the U.S. Congress declared to the world in 1861 that the reason they were invading their own country and murdering their own citizens by the thousands was to keep the union together by force of arms. Southerners (and many, perhaps most Northerners) agreed with Jefferson that the union was a voluntary compact between the states, not a one-way Venus flytrap from which there could never be any escape. Jefferson would never have dreamed of invading Massachusetts, bombing its cities, murdering thousands of civilians, and killing one out of four men of military age in response to that state’s secession — which New Englanders threatened repeatedly for more than a decade after Jefferson’s election. It was Lincoln’s philosophy that was the philosophy of coercion, exactly the opposite of Beran’s absurdly Orwellian statement to the contrary.
After South Carolinians gave advance warning to the troops at Fort Sumter, the subsequent bombardment injured or killed no one. The federal troops were then permitted to go home peacefully. Lincoln responded to this incident with a full-scale invasion of all the Southern states that would eventually kill 300,000 combatants and at least 50,000 Southern civilians (according to James McPherson’s estimate). But it was the South, says Beran, that was consumed with "militant nationalism" and "a philosophy of coercion."
Beran’s notion that Lincoln was not a nationalist is also absurd. He was the political son of Hamilton, the original champion of nationalism, whose political mantle was picked up by Henry Clay, Lincoln’s professed idol and role model. It was Lincoln who falsified American history in The Gettysburg Address by inventing the notion that the founders created "a new nation" when in fact they merely created a voluntary compact of the free, independent and sovereign states. It was Lincoln who argued that the states were never sovereign (the biggest lie in American political history) to "justify" the nationalization of governmental power, the pipe dream of Hamilton and Clay.
Each paragraph of Beran’s article is more ridiculous than the preceding one. As Paul Gottfried has noted in his books and other writings, a prerequisite for being a neocon in good standing is an expression of sheer, unmitigated hatred of the South and its people. Thus, Beran claims that had the South been able to secede peacefully, it would have naturally joined forces with the Nazis ("the successors of Otto von Bismarck," as Beran puts it) to wage war against America.
What Beran is saying here is that the descendants and political heirs of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, Andrew Jackson, John Tyler, Patrick Henry, Zachary Taylor, and other prominent Southerners, would have joined forces with European fascists to wage war on their own people. Only a moron could believe such a thing.
In fact, it was Lincoln’s own philosophy of coercion that was completely in sync with the political philosophy of Bismarck. Bismarck all but destroyed the principle of states’ rights and federalism in Germany, just as Lincoln’s war did in the U.S. Hitler himself praised Bismarck — and Lincoln — in Mein Kampf for providing precedents for the consolidation of all political power in the central governments of the two countries. (I describe Hitler’s praise for Lincoln’s anti-state sovereignty statements in his first inaugural address in my book, Lincoln Unmasked).
Lincoln did not restrict his philosophy of coercion to Southerners. He tyrannized the North as well by illegally suspending the writ of habeas corpus and mass arresting and imprisoning tens of thousands of political dissenters without due process; shut down hundreds of opposition newspapers; started the war without congressional approval; deported an outspoken member of the opposition party, Clement Vallandigham of Ohio; issued an arrest warrant for the Chief Justice after the jurist wrote an opinion on the unconstitutionality of his suspension of habeas corpus; confiscated firearms; imprisoned much of the Maryland legislature; illegally orchestrated the secession of West Virginia; censored all telegraph communication; used soldiers to rig Northern elections; and adopted the slavery of military conscription and income taxation.
To this day, politicians and their court historians who want to abolish constitutional liberties in America routinely point to Lincoln as their "justification." Even foreign despots such as the current president of Pakistan cite Lincoln as they suspend constitutional liberties in their own countries. But to Beran, Lincoln "preserved the liberties of America."
It has apparently never occurred to Beran (or any other Lincoln-worshipping neocon) to ask himself why all the other countries of the world that ended slavery in the nineteenth century — England, Spain, France, Denmark, The Netherlands — did so peacefully through compensated emancipation. Not to mention New England and New York, which finally ended slavery in the 1850s.
Was it really necessary to use the slaves as political pawns, as Lincoln always admitted to doing, in order to achieve his real objective, — destroying the system of states’ rights and federalism (including the rights of secession and nullification) that was created by the founding generation? Well, yes, if the main purpose was to achieve Hamilton’s original agenda, as he expressed it at the constitutional convention, of a dictatorial chief executive (a "permanent president"), the abolition of state sovereignty, and a government that would pursue "imperial glory" (Hamilton’s words) instead of merely protecting life, liberty and property, as the Jeffersonians believed it should do. The forceful imposition of Hamiltonian nationalism, which had morphed into Whig and Republican Party nationalism by the 1850s, was the purpose of Lincoln’s war.
The war was not necessary to end slavery. That could have been achieved in the same way the rest of the world achieved it — peacefully, through compensated emancipation, and it could have been done quickly. The North’s monetary cost of the war alone would have been enough to purchase the freedom of all the slaves in the South, something that both sections would have agreed to as an alternative to the war.
In the last sentence of his article Beran reveals the reason why he and all other Lincoln-worshipping neocons go to such great lengths to misinform Americans about their own history. It is to support American military and foreign policy imperialism under the guise of "vindicating the freedom of peoples around the world." The implication is that just as Lincoln supposedly "saved the world," so too can the neocon foreign policy establishment of today. On to Iran!
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).