The Call of the Tyrant

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Clyde Wilson makes an important distinction between nationalism and patriotism: A patriot is someone who loves his country and its people. A nationalist, on the other hand, loves government and all its powers. He worships "national glory," "national greatness," and myriad other governmental schemes and crimes. All nationalists who assume political office are tyrants to some degree, since they aspire to use the coercive powers of the state to regulate, control, direct, punish, brainwash, conscript, or kill the citizens whom they rule. There is a scale of tyranny, ranging from the mere welfare/warfare statist who taxes half of his citizens’ income to keep himself and his friends in power with the help of the poverty and war industries, respectively, to the mass-murdering tyrants like Stalin, Hitler (the National Socialist), Mao, and Pol Pot.

One thing that all tyrants have in common is that they all claim that what they are doing, no matter how heinous, is all done in the name of "national unity." Of course, they get to define what goals the entire nation is supposed to be "unified" over, whether it be communism, fascism, or democracy in Iraq.

Of course, "national unity" is a myth, for it implies unanimity. No modern society could ever be unanimously in favor of anything. "National unity" is merely a propaganda tool that has long been successfully used to dupe the public into acquiescing in tyranny for the benefit of the political class. Its purpose is to convince a gullible public that what is in the self-interest of only a small political cabal is really in the best interest of the entire nation.

Tremendous resources have been devoted to creating and spreading this myth through the government-run schools, the media, churches, and elsewhere in many countries around the world. America began as a "league of friendship" among the thirteen original states who formed a loose confederacy for their mutual benefit. The purpose of the confederacy was indeed to be unified but for only a very few purposes. The delegated powers of the Constitution that are in Article I, Section 8 are mostly for foreign policy purposes, for example; the Tenth Amendment left all other powers in the hands of the people or the states.

The system of federalism that was enshrined in the original Constitution did not call for "national unity" for anything but a few very carefully defined and very limited functions. This was all but abolished in 1865 when federalism or "states rights" was swept away. Without the rights of secession and nullification, and with the federal government, through the Supreme Court, becoming the sole decision maker regarding what the limits of governmental powers were to be, government in America became monopolistic and essentially unlimited. Indeed, the Republican Party held a virtual monopoly of political power at the federal level for almost all of the period from 1861 to 1913.

The myth of "national unity" had to be invented in order to disguise this monopoly of power and its tyrannical implications. Furthermore, this myth had to become part of America’s new "civil religion" along with the legend of Abraham Lincoln and various other tall tales that would be taught to generations of school children. The very first effort with regard to the creation of the myth of national unity was to write the Official History of America in the 1860s in a way that suggested there was national unity in the Northern states when they waged total war on their fellow citizens in the Southern states, killing some 350,000 of them, including 50,000 civilians according to James McPherson. After 150 years this myth had become so ingrained in the American mind that when the Washington Post reviewed the Martin Scorsese movie "Gangs of New York," which included a scene about the New York City draft riots of 1863, the reviewer expressed astonishment to learn that this was actually a real event. "We were all taught in school that there was national unity during the civil war," he said in amazement.

Well, yes we all were. But it doesn’t take much digging to destroy the myth. As a start, I would recommend the book Desertion During the Civil War by Ella Lonn, first published in 1928 and re-published in 1998 by Bison Books. In the 1998 introduction the author, William Blair, writes that "public memory considers the war largely a popular one, with a united public supporting its loyal fighting men who sacrificed all for the cause." But Professor Lonn, who taught at Goucher College in Baltimore, proves that this "public memory" is all a lie by documenting that some 200,000 Northern men, one out of seven in the entire U.S. Army, deserted. Her "perfect source," says Blair, was the U.S. government publication, The War of the Rebellion: Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies.

Professor Lonn caused quite a stink in her day, as one would expect. Not only did she document massive desertion in the Union army, but she also portrayed "the Southern cause as attempting to win independence from an oppressive, centralized government," writes William Blair. Nevertheless, her book was still very well received. Totalitarian political correctness had not yet infected all of American society as it does today.

How and why tens of thousands of Northern men said "no" to Lincoln’s military invasion of his own country in the name of "national unity" is told in chapter and verse. Some men "deliberately enlisted in the Union forces in order to be carried South on to Confederate soil in order more easily to cross the lines and join the Confederates." In the border states about half of the men in the U.S. Army deserted. Many took advantage of sick leave and furloughs to leave the army for good. An entire Pennsylvania regiment simply refused to go to West Virginia when ordered. After being coerced onto a train, over 100 of them jumped off. Many Northern men refused to cross their state lines, seeing it as a violation of their enlistment agreements, and eventually deserted.

There were thousands of "bounty jumpers" who, because of "the large and numerous bounties given to volunteers," were induced "to desert for the purpose of reenlisting, or to enlist when the recruit knew that he had no intention of remaining in the field." Many of the bounty jumpers were from "the large Eastern cities" where many of the men in the Union Army were "raked in" by the Lincoln regime despite the fact that they were "criminals, bullies, pickpockets, and vagrants." A great many of them "enlisted under fictitious names, such as Abe Lincoln, Johnny Boker, or Jim Crow."

There were also secret organizations in the Northern states that discouraged enlistment (Lincoln’s abolition of free speech in the North required secrecy of all dissenters to the war). "The existence of disloyal organizations through the North is notorious," wrote Professor Lonn. The massive desertions by Union solders were "disgusting to the rebels themselves," wrote one Union soldier.

Although General McClellan had 180,000 men on his official roster prior to the Battle of Antietam (a.k.a., Sharpsburg), he had no more than 90,000 during the battle itself, Professor Lonn remarks. General Sherman reported 70,000 men missing during the Battle of Shiloh.

In June of 1862 General Buell reported from Tennessee that 14,000 officers and soldiers were "absent" from his command. When General Hooker took command of the Army of the Potomac in January of 1863, "desertions were occurring at the rate of several hundred a day." About 25 percent of his army was "absent" according to the Official Records. There was still massive desertion taking place as late as the spring of 1865.

"Tender-hearted" Lincoln oversaw a government in which "executions [of deserters] were taking place almost daily in the Army of the Potomac." General Halleck complained to Lincoln that "hundreds of officers were almost continually absent from their commands" and that about 200 more were absent without leave every month.

According to the Official Records there were 100,000 deserters from the Union Army in 1862 alone. When General Hooker took control of the army he found that 2,923 commissioned officers were missing along with 82,188 non-commissioned officers and privates. General Halleck computed that one-third of the entire army was "absent." The largest numbers of deserters were from New York, followed by Pennsylvania, Ohio and New Jersey.

Among the methods used by Union soldiers to desert were: taking advantage of the confusion of battle; purposeful capture by the Confederates; escaping while on the march; jumping from trains; riding off on their cavalry horses; deserting the picket line; hiding in suttler’s wagons; pretending to be teamsters; and posing as telegraph repairmen.

Once the conscription law was passed and enforced in 1863, draftees were "held like veritable prisoners . . . so as to prevent their untimely departure." They were enslaved, in other words. The kind, gentle, tender-hearted, and long-suffering Lincoln ruled over a government "that had no compunctions about shooting or hanging deserters" who "resisted arrest." After a cabinet meeting on February 3, 1863 at which desertion was discussed, General Hooker temporarily "repressed desertion" with mass executions of deserters in front of the troops. "Why did they not begin this process long ago?" questioned General Meade.

The mass murder of deserters apparently achieved Nazi-like efficiency. "A gallows and shooting-ground were provided in each corps and scarcely a Friday passed during the winter of 1863—64 that some wretched deserter did not suffer the death penalty in the Army of the Potomac." Moreover, "the death penalty was so unsparingly used that executions were almost daily occurrences in most of the armies."

Soldiers were forced to watch these daily executions of their friends and comrades in the form of an official ceremony. "The condemned men marched out between the two ranks of the regiment, preceded by the musicians, playing a funeral march. The provost guard, as an escort, carried the coffin. The victim was conducted to the edge of the grave, which had already been dug. After the sentence was read, he was seated, blindfolded, and placed upon a board at the foot of the open coffin, into which he fell backwards when the firing squad had discharged its sad duty." The "method of execution" was "generally shooting [but] hanging seems to have been used occasionally."

Even Professor Lonn herself was apparently deceived during her education by the myth of national unity. "It is hard for us today to realize," she wrote, "how much disunion and division of sentiment there was in the North during the war."

Thomas J. DiLorenzo [send him mail] is professor of economics at Loyola College in Maryland and the author of The Real Lincoln; Lincoln Unmasked: What You’re Not Supposed To Know about Dishonest Abe and How Capitalism Saved America. His latest book, Hamilton’s Curse, will be published on October 21.

Thomas DiLorenzo Archives at LRC

Thomas DiLorenzo Archives at Mises.org

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