Are There Limits to Lincoln Idolatry?

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The answer to the question posed in the title of this article is: No. There are no limits to the lies and misrepresentations about Lincoln’s political legacy — and about those who question the Official Version of it — that are spread by what I call the Lincoln cult. It almost seems congenital. As soon as The Real Lincoln was published in 2002, the Lincoln cult swung into action with outlandish and outrageous misrepresentations of what I say in the book in an obvious attempt to keep people from reading it. I was surprised to learn from various hatchet men associated with the Claremont Institute, for example, that I am a Marxist; that there is not a single Lincoln quote in my book (a blatant lie, of course); that there is a defense of slavery in the book (another blatant lie); that there is sympathy for Nazi Germany in the book (the biggest lie of all); and on and on.

Various "Lincoln scholars" have stood up during debates with me to declare to audiences of laypersons such blatant falsehoods as: the Union Army never caused the death of a single Southern civilian; no private property was stolen during Sherman’s march; Lincoln never did a single thing that was unconstitutional or illegal; I supposedly wrote that it would have been fine had slavery lasted into the 20th century (this was actually Lincoln’s opinion, not mine); Virginia did not reserve the right to take back the powers it delegated to the central government at some future date as a condition of ratifying the Constitution; the king of England did not sign a peace treaty that named all the individual states; and myriad other lies that are easily researched by simply consulting the plain facts of history.

The latest example of such shenanigans is an article entitled "The Limits of Lincoln Bashing" by one Grant Havers, a Canadian philosophy professor, in the April 23 online edition of Taki’s Magazine. Havers apparently believes that pointing out how the actual facts of historical reality conflict with Harry Jaffa’s stylized interpretations of Lincoln’s rhetoric constitutes "bashing" as opposed to scholarship. He devotes only a paragraph to myself and my writings, and every single thing he says about me in the paragraph is false.

Havers identifies me as a "paleoconservative historian" despite the fact that I have never described myself in this way to anyone, either verbally or in writing. In fact, I don’t even know what a paleoconservative is. I know of several people who label themselves as such, but they seem to have differing views on many issues, which leads me to believe that there is not even one single definition of the term. Nor am I a historian (thank goodness) but an economist with an interest in history, especially economic history.

So much for the first half of Havers’ first sentence. The second half of his first sentence discussing me and my work contains the preposterous falsehood that I "have eagerly accepted Jaffa’s terms of discourse while disputing its moral implications." In reality, I think Harry Jaffa is a crackpot. I utterly reject his strange notion that Lincoln was a champion of equality, a myth that is at the heart of everything Jaffa has ever written on the subject. While it is true that Lincoln quoted Jefferson’s "all men are created equal" words from the Declaration on Independence on a few occasions, his entire adult life is a demonstration that he was in fact as opposed to equality as any white man in 19th century America was, North or South. "I will say then that I am not, nor ever have been in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races," he said in his September 18, 1858 debate with Stephen Douglas. He repeated this on many other occasions.

More importantly, his lifelong actions prove that this was indeed his true belief. He voted against black suffrage in Illinois; opposed allowing blacks to testify in court in Illinois; voted against abolishing the slave trade in Washington, D.C. during his one term in Congress; supported the Illinois "Black Codes" that deprived the small number of free blacks who resided in the state of any semblance of citizenship; supported the "Corwin Amendment" to the Constitution that would have formally enshrined slavery in the U.S. Constitution; and spent his entire adult life advocating "colonization" or the deportation of black people from the U.S. He was one of the "managers" of the Illinois Colonization Society which sought to use state tax dollars to deport free blacks out of the state.

Lincoln was a masterful politician who could use tongue-twisting rhetoric to deceive the public better than any American politician in history. In this regard he was Bill Clinton times ten thousand. For example, referring to the part of Declaration of Independence that mentions equality (while ignoring the fact that the entire document was a declaration of the right of secession), he said: "The African upon his own soil has all the natural rights that instrument vouchsafes to all mankind" (emphasis added). The italicized words are the key to understanding Lincoln on this point. He considered black people to be some kind of alien beings, which is why he called them "the Africans." More importantly, he believed that they could never be equal here in America, but only "upon their own soil" or "in their native clime," i.e., Africa, Haiti, Central America, etc., as he often stated. Moreover, he also clearly believed that it was undesirable to attempt to enforce racial equality in the U.S., as he stated in the above quotation from the Lincoln-Douglas debates. Harry Jaffa has spent his entire career spreading the Big Lie of Lincoln as a champion of "equality" in order to justify the Republican Party’s foreign policy agenda of military aggression and imperialism in the name of spreading equality around the globe. (Spreading "equality" around the globe at gunpoint sounds a lot like the professed goals of 20th-century communism, doesn’t it?).

Jaffa’s second Big Lie, one that was invented by Alexander Hamilton, repeated by Webster, Joseph Story, John Marshall and others, including Lincoln, was that there was never any such thing as state sovereignty in America. The Constitution was supposedly ratified by some kind of national election involving "the whole people." This lie was invented by Hamilton in his propaganda war for a centralized, monopolistic state. Of course, "the whole people" never had anything whatsoever to do with the founding or the ratification of the Constitution (women didn’t even have the right to vote until 1920). That was the job of the sovereign states, as is clearly stated in Article 7 of the Constitution.

The next falsehood about me and my work that Havers jams into one short paragraph in Taki’s Magazine is that I allegedly put "the responsibility for all American empire building on Abe’s shoulders alone"; I am supposedly unaware that "pre-Lincoln America" had certain "tendencies towards centralized power"; and that Lincoln was not "the first architect of Leviathan in America."

Havers has obviously not read my books. If there is one over-arching theme, it is that Lincoln, as I have written, was the "political son of Alexander Hamilton, the champion of a centralized governmental monarchy, or something like it, coupled with British-style mercantilistic economic policies (protectionist tariffs, central banking, corporate welfare) and an aggressive foreign policy. After the death of Hamilton and his nemesis Jefferson, this political mantle was carried on by the heirs of Hamilton’s Federalists, the Whigs, including Clay, Webster, and Lincoln. I tell this story of the struggle between the American advocates of Leviathan government (Hamilton-Clay-Lincoln) and their Jeffersonian opponents in my books, but as I said, Havers obviously did not bother to read them before posing as a legitimate critic of them.

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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