The political Left (which includes almost all journalists in America) just can’t make up its mind over whether Barack Obama most resembles Lincoln, FDR, Jesus Christ — or some combination thereof. All during his campaign many of his supporters kept referring to him as "The Messiah"; there is much talk of how he will immediately propose the re-adoption of many of FDR’s government interventions (that only made the Great Depression worse); and we are told (constantly) that he intends to make use of Lincoln’s rhetoric, especially in his first inaugural address. He has been studying Lincoln’s speeches, we are told by his handlers. If so, we are in for a lot of doubletalk and lies bordering on the psychotic.
There has been so much "spin" attached to Lincoln’s speeches by the Lincoln Cult, which often produces entire books instructing us all on how to "properly" interpret a single short speech, that it is almost impossible for the average person to understand what was actually said. (The speeches are all online, so all interested parties are able to read them for themselves without the spin.)
Lincoln’s White Supremacy Speech
The May 25, 2004 edition of the Washington Post included a story about how Hillary Clinton joined a number of neo-conservatives at the home of the Heritage Foundation’s James Swanson to "celebrate" a new book by Hillary pal Harold Holzer entitled "Lincoln at Cooper Union: The Speech that Made Abraham Lincoln President." I agree with these left-wing and right-wing neoconservatives that it did indeed provide a big boost to Lincoln’s candidacy. In order to understand why, one must understand that in the speech Lincoln promised to do all that he could, if elected, to keep black people out of the new territories and isolated in the Southern states. He pledged to keep them as far away as possible from the Northern population, in other words, which was very pervasively racist. That’s why the speech was so well received in New York City, which had just ended slavery in 1853 (see the book Slavery in New York). A key paragraph of the Cooper Union speech is one where Lincoln refers to the founding fathers:
As those fathers marked it [slavery], so let it be again marked, as an evil not to be tolerated and protected only because of and so far as its actual presence among us makes that toleration and protection a necessity. Let all the guarantees those fathers gave it, be, not grudgingly, but fully and fairly maintained. For this Republicans contend, and with this, so far as I know or believe, they will be content.
Speaking to a New York City audience, Lincoln stated here that the federal government’s protections of Southern slavery should be "fully" maintained. The reason for this, he said, was that, well, slavery exists! The audience reaction was reportedly quite enthusiastic, for most Northerners wanted slavery — and black people — to remain in the South.
In his October 16, 1854 speech in Peoria, Illinois, Lincoln first explained his (and the Republican Party’s) position on the extension of slavery into the new territories. "The whole nation is interested that the best use shall be made of these territories. We want them for the homes of free white people" (emphasis added). Lincoln’s secretary of state, William Seward, explained that "the motive of those who protested against the extension of slavery had always really been concern for the welfare of the white man, and not an unnatural sympathy for the Negro" (James McPherson, The Struggle for Equality, p. 24). Illinois Senator and Lincoln confidant Lyman Trumbull declared that "we, the Republican Party, are the white man’s party" (Eugene Berwanger, The Frontier Against Slavery, p. 133). Historian Eugene Berwanger noted in The Frontier Against Slavery (p. 154) that "Republicans [in 1860] made no pretense of being concerned with the fate of the Negro and insisted that theirs was a party of white labor. By introducing a note of white supremacy, they hoped to win the votes of the Negrophobes and the anti-abolitionists who were opposed to the extension of slavery." And Lincoln was the man they chose to accomplish this task.
The "spin" that the Lincoln Cult has put on Lincoln’s (and the Republican Party’s) opposition to the extension of slavery into the new territories is that that would somehow magically lead eventually to the destruction of slavery everywhere. They were "picking the low-hanging fruit" is how it is often explained. This of course is complete nonsense.
Lincoln’s Slavery Forever Speech
Lincoln’s first inaugural address may be considered his "slavery forever" speech because in it he goes to extremes to promise his everlasting support for Southern slavery. Quoting himself, he declared that "I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so." He then quoted the Republican Party platform of 1860 which made the exact same pledge. In what was the first Big Lie of his administration, which was barely one hour old, he repeated the statement from the Republican Party platform that said: "[W]e denounce the lawless invasion by armed force of the soil of any State or Territory, no matter what pretext, as among the gravest of crimes." Within a month he would prove himself, and his party, to be liars.
Lincoln then strongly supported the Fugitive Slave Clause of the Constitution, reminding his audience that every member of Congress had taken an oath to support this, and all other parts of the Constitution. All members of Congress, Lincoln assured his audience, agreed that runaway slaves "shall be delivered up" to their owners.
Near the end of the Slavery Forever speech Lincoln pledges his support for a constitutional amendment (the "Corwin Amendment") that would have prohibited the federal government from ever interfering with Southern slavery. In his words:
I understand a proposed amendment to the Constitution — which amendment, however, I have not seen — has passed Congress, to the effect that the Federal Government shall never interfere with the domestic institutions of the States, including that of persons held to service. To avoid minsconstruction of what I have said, I depart from my purpose not to speak of particular amendments so far as to say that, holding such a provision to now be implied constitutional law, I have no objection to its being made express and irrevocable.
The Corwin Amendment had just passed the House and Senate and, as Doris Kearns-Goodwin details in her book Team of Rivals, it was Lincoln who orchestrated the passing of the amendment by instructing William Seward to see to it that it made its way through the Senate. (This would suggest that Lincoln lied when he said "I have not seen" the amendment.)
Lincoln literally fabricated his own personal version of American history in the Slavery Forever speech when he argued that the states were never sovereign, that the "union" preceded them, and that no state, therefore, could withdraw from the union. This was not the understanding of the founding fathers. All one needs to do to understand this is to read Article 1 of the Treaty of Paris which ended the Revolutionary War (and was negotiated by John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and John Jay.) It says this:
His Brittanic Majesty acknowledges the said United States, viz., New Hampshire, Massachusetts Bay, Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia, to be free sovereign and independent states, that he treats them as such, and for himself, his heirs, and successors, relinquishes all claims to the government, propriety, and territorial rights of the same and every part thereof.
Thus, King George III recognized each state as being an independent and sovereign nation, just as Great Britain and France were independent nations. They were part of a union of "free sovereign and independent states" that had joined together for a common purpose. This of course is also how Adams, Franklin and Jay, and all the other founders, viewed it.
Moreover, Article 7 of the U.S. Constitution explains that the citizens of the sovereign states are to ratify (or not) the Constitution. They created the union, not the other way around as Lincoln’s theory proclaimed.
In the Slavery Forever speech Lincoln gets down to very ugly business when he threatens his fellow citizens with "bloodshed." He did not threaten a foreign power that might contemplate invading his country, but his fellow countrymen. "[T]here needs to be no bloodshed, and there shall be none unless it is forced upon the national authority," he said. What on earth was he talking about? What could cause of the "national authority" to murder its own citizens? Failure to collect taxes, said Dishonest Abe. It was his duty "to collect the duties and imposts," he said in the next sentence, and as long as the citizens of all states continued to pay these taxes, the most important of which, the tariff, had just been doubled, "there will be no invasion, no using of force against or among the people anywhere." (At the time, tariff revenues accounted for over 90 percent of all federal tax revenues.)
Of course, the Southern states that had already seceded had no intention of paying any more taxes to the government in Washington. Lincoln kept his promise and delivered "bloodshed" in the form of killing some 350,000 Southerners, including about 50,000 civilians.
Lincoln’s "Blame-It-All-On-God" Speech
Lincoln cultists have been very busy recently urging Barack Obama to emulate Lincoln’s second inaugural address where he uses Biblical language to "justify" his armies’ killing of hundreds of thousands of their own fellow citizens, the burning down and ransacking of entire cities, the mass murder of civilians, and the plundering of the Southern population. There is no record of Lincoln ever having become a Christian; he never joined a church and rarely set foot in one; he was famous for ridiculing and lampooning the religious; but he was very knowledgeable about the Bible, which he skillfully used to dupe the Northern public.
By March of 1865 Lincoln’s war had resulted in the death of more than half a million Americans on both sides and unbelievable destruction of Southern cities and towns. Like the master politician that he was, Lincoln found a scapegoat for the war that he had started with his invasion of his own country (no one was even hurt, let alone killed at Fort Sumter). The scapegoat was God. The war was God’s punishment of America for the sin of slavery, he said, pretending to know what was in the mind of God. He failed to explain, however, why God did not punish Great Britain, Spain, France, The Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, and other countries that were responsible for 96 percent of all the slaves that were brought to the Western Hemisphere from Africa. Only 4 percent ended up in the U.S. (Not to mention the fact that the Holy Scriptures make no mention of punishment for slavery).
The war just "came," said Dishonest Abe, as though he and his political party had nothing whatsoever to do with it. As Charles Adams wrote in When in the Course of Human Events (p. 205), "Not even the maddest of religious fanatics ever uttered words to equal Lincoln’s second inaugural address." Adams’s interpretation of the speech is that "Lincoln had to shift the blame and remove his own guilt, and he was quite willing to resort to reasoning more characteristic of a psychotic mind than a healthy mind . . . . Lincoln was guilt ridden and was close to being mentally ill at this time."
The Lincoln Cult does not even deny that Lincoln did in fact suffer from mental illness. In his very favorably-received book, Lincoln’s Melancholy, which was made into a History Channel documentary, Joshua Wolf Shenk described in detail how Lincoln suffered from manic depression his entire life; was so obsessed with suicide that his friends once removed all knives and razors from his home; wrote poems about suicide with titles like "The Suicide’s Soliloquy"; had several nervous breakdowns; took a primitive anti-depression drug that contained a heavy dose of mercury; brooded in misery his entire adult life worrying that he would die before becoming famous; and his friends claimed that he had "gone crazy."
The "spin" that Shenk and other Lincoln cultists put on Lincoln’s mental illnesses is that it proves him to be even greater than we believed he was, for he achieved what he did despite the fact that he was mentally ill. They always have numerous excuses for everything. That’s what it means to be a "Lincoln scholar."
Lincoln’s Lying-About-American-History Speech
The great H.L. Mencken was right when he wrote that the Gettysburg Address was good poetry but bad logic. It was Lincoln’s attempt to rewrite American history in a way that would serve the purposes of the Hamiltonian nationalists, who by his time had morphed into Republicans. Nearly every claim in the speech is false. The united states were not created by the Declaration of Independence "four score and seven years" before Gettysburg; the Constitution was ratified by the sovereign states in 1789. Our forefathers did not bring forth "a new nation" but a confederacy of free, independent, and sovereign states.
Americans were not "engaged in a great civil war," for a civil war is a contest for the takeover of a nation’s central government. Jefferson Davis did not want to be president of the United States any more than George Washington wanted to become King of Great Britain. It was a war to prevent Southern independence.
The U.S. government would have "endured" had the South prevailed, contrary to Lincoln’s rhetoric. It had managed to field the largest army in the history of the world despite Southern secession. The dead at Gettysburg did not give their lives "that the nation might live." The U.S. government was never in danger of disappearing. And as Mencken pointed out, it was the South that was fighting for the principle of consent of the governed. Through numerous popular votes, Southerners decided they no longer wanted to be ruled by Washington, D.C. Government "by the people . . ." would not have "perished from the earth" had the Republican Party lost its war. Democracy was alive and well in Europe and elsewhere, and would also have existed in the Confederate States of America as well as the United States of America.
Barack Obama will have a very long way to go indeed if he is ever to imitate the tongue-twisting, logic-attacking, a-historical, and sometimes psychotic rhetoric of Dishonest Abe. Let’s hope that he never tries.
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 is Hamilton’s Curse: How Jefferson’s Archenemy Betrayed the American Revolution — And What It Means for America Today.