Grand Ole Tyrants

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I am humble Abraham Lincoln. I have been solicited by many friends to become a candidate for the legislature. My politics are short and sweet, like the old woman’s dance. I am in favor of a national bank . . . in favor of the internal improvements system and a high protective tariff.

~ Abraham Lincoln, 1832

Lincoln and the Republicans u201Cintended to enact a high protective tariff that mothered monopoly, to pass a homestead law that invited speculators to loot the public domain, and to subsidize a transcontinental railroad that afforded infinite opportunities for jobbery.

~ David Donald, Lincoln Reconsidered

[T]he Thirty-seventh Congress [1861-63] ushered in four decades of neo-Hamiltonianism: government for the benefit of the privileged few.

~ Leondard Curry, Blueprint for Modern America: Nonmilitary Legislation of the First Civil War Congress

The very first public statement that Abraham Lincoln made after being inaugurated as the sixteenth president was an ironclad defense of slavery: u201CI 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.u201D He then quoted the Republican Party platform of 1860 that said essentially the same thing; pledged his support for the Fugitive Slave Clause of the Constitution u201Cwith no mental reservationsu201D; and supported a proposed constitutional amendment (the u201CCorwin Amendmentu201D) that would have prohibited the federal government from ever interfering with slavery. In fact, it was Lincoln who instructed William Seward to see that the Corwin Amendment made it through the U.S. Senate, which it did (and the House of Representatives as well).

In the same speech, Lincoln promised a military invasion and u201Cbloodshedu201D in any state that refused to collect the federal tariff on imports, which had just been more than doubled two days before his inauguration. u201C[T]here needs to be no bloodshed or violence, and there shall be none unless it be forced upon the national authority,u201D he continued. Thus, mere minutes after taking an oath to protect the constitutional liberties of American citizens, Abraham Lincoln threatened to orchestrate the murder of many of those same citizens.

What on earth was he talking about? What would cause a president to wage war on his own citizens whose liberties he had just pledged to protect? Lincoln explained in the very next sentence: u201CThe power confided to me will be used to hold, occupy, and possess the property and places belonging to the Government and to collect the duties and imposts; but beyond what may be necessary for these objects, there will be no invasion, no using force against or among the people anywhereu201D (emphasis added). He promised to murder American citizens over tax collection.

This was necessary, in the mind of Lincoln, if he was to deliver on what his party elected him to do, as stated in the quotations at the beginning of this article: to enact a high protective tariff, give away public lands mostly to mining, railroad, and timber corporations, and lavish the railroad corporations, among others, with corporate welfare. This was the old u201CAmerican Systemu201D of Alexander Hamilton, which was endorsed for decades by Lincoln’s Whig Party, and finally the Republicans. The overwhelming majority of Southern congressmen had for decades been ardently opposed to all of these things. But now, they must be forced into it, or so Lincoln thought, for the sake of revenue collection. (At the time, the tariff on imports accounted for more than 90 percent of all federal tax revenues.)

Southerners (as well as Northerners) needed to be forced to pay for the empire of corporate welfare that the Republican Party hoped would keep it in power for decades. (It did: the Republican Party essentially monopolized national politics for the next half century.) That is why there had to be a war, in the minds of Lincoln and the Republican Party. They were perfectly willing to enshrine slavery explicitly in the Constitution, but there would be no compromise over collecting the newly doubled tariff.

This is also why opposition to war in the North had to be brutally repressed, as it was, and a myth of u201Cnational unityu201D invented. Much of the story of how the Republican Party engaged in a Stalinist spasm of political repression is told by historian William Marvel in his book, Lincoln’s Darkest Year: The War in 1862, which I highly recommend. (Marvel is a renowned Lincoln scholar, winner of the Lincoln Prize and the Douglas Southall Freeman Award.)

The Republican Party’s first act of political chicanery was to begin kicking out of the U.S. Senate men like Democratic Senator Jesse Bright of Indiana, who u201Clacked enthusiasm for Abraham Lincoln’s war against the South,u201D writes Marvel. Using the excuse that, in the years before the war, Senator Bright u201Chad known and admired [fellow Senator] Jefferson Davis of Mississippi, the Republican Party accused Senator Bright, one of the most senior members of the Senate, of u201Cretroactive treasonu201D and expelled him with a bare two-thirds majority vote.

The Congressional Globe propagandized that u201Conly a traitor would advocate peace,u201D and newspapers all over the North that were openly affiliated with the Republican Party (as was common during that period of time) quoted this statement. As for Northern newspapers that did not support the waging of war on their fellow Americans, the government had already begun to u201Csquelch the most effective . . . criticism by stopping distribution, seizing equipment, and arresting publishers. Unionist mobs had collaborated in that suppression of free speech during the summer of 1861, destroying the offices of antiwar journals and attacking the editors.u201D

Even u201CFrancis Scott Key’s own grandson understood how dangerous it had become to utter an unpopular opinion in the Land of the Free,u201D Marvel sarcastically writes. The grandson of the author of u201CThe Star Spangled Banneru201D was a Baltimore newspaper editor who had been thrown into u201Cthe bowels of a coastal fortu201D without any due process for editorializing against the Lincoln administration’s suppression of free speech.

u201CThe party that dominated the United States Senate intended to formalize the concept that meaningful dissent [to the political agenda of the Republican Party] amounted to treason.u201D After kicking Senator Bright out of office the leaders of the u201CGrand Ole Partyu201D then u201Cwished to end their day early in order to prepare for a grand party that had occupied Mary Lincoln’s attention for some weeks.u201D Marvel writes that White House employees quickly began calling Mrs. Lincoln u201Cthe American Queenu201D who, according to one senator, appeared at the party u201Clooking like she was wearing a flower pot on her head.u201D Many of the generals, admirals, Supreme Court justices, and foreign counsels who attended the party, writes Marvel, considered Lincoln to be u201Ca vulgar provincial lacking in either sincerity or statesmanlike qualities.u201D

Without bothering to amend the Constitution, the Republican Party in 1861 invented a brand new definition of u201Ctreason.u201D Treason, to Lincoln and the Republican Party, meant opposition to them. This was very different from the actual definition of treason in Article I, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution: u201CTreason against the United States shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfortu201D (emphasis added). As with all of the founding documents, u201CUnited Statesu201D is in the plural, signifying that the free and independent states (as they are called in the Declaration of Independence) are united in forming a compact of states for their own mutual benefit. The central government was to be their agent.

Treason under the Constitution consists of levying war against u201Cthem,u201D the states. This of course is exactly what Lincoln and the Republican Party did. Their war on the South was the very definition of treason under the U.S. Constitution. Long before George Orwell’s time, they distorted the meaning of the word to mean exactly the opposite of what the founding fathers intended it to mean. As the perpetrators of treason as defined by the Constitution, they accused their political opponents — those who opposed the levying of waru201D on the states — of treason.

Marvel writes that on his very first day in office as Lincoln’s Secretary of War Edwin Stanton u201Cwould exercise a cool, dictatorial demeanoru201D as he commenced to enforce the new definition of treason. The U.S. government was failing to recruit enough soldiers for its war despite the fact that it was offering enlistment u201Cbountiesu201D of as much as $415. Despite the totalitarian crackdown on Northern antiwar newspapers, there was still pervasive verbal opposition to the war in Northern cities. Consequently, Stanton u201Cunilaterally abolishedu201D that freedom of speech on August 8, 1862, writes Marvel. Having enacted a policy of military conscription, Stanton u201Cappointed a special judge advocate to deal with dissent and issued instructions for local and federal law officers to imprison anyone who u2018may be engaged, by act, speech, or writing, in discouraging volunteer enlistments, or in any way giving aid and comfort to the enemy . . .’u201D The vagueness of this order allowed the government to imprison anyone who said anything negative about Lincoln, the Republican Party, or their war on fellow citizens.

u201CWith renewed vigor,u201D writes Marvel, u201CU.S. marshals of predominantly Republican pedigree started rounding up malcontents almost all of them Democrats on the excuse that their vocal disagreement with presidential policies discouraged men from volunteering.u201D Any Northern newspaper writers who dared to criticize the u201CGrand Ole Partyu201D were treated very roughly. u201CIn August of 1861 . . . a mob of Granite State soldiers attacked the editors of a Democratic Concord [New Hampshire] newspaper and destroyed their office.u201D u201COn August 14 Dennis Mahony, the Irish editor of the Dubuque Herald, was arrested by Iowa’s U.S. marshal, H.M. Hoxie a crony of Republican governor Samuel Kirkwood . . . . Mahony had been preaching peace for months . . .u201D u201CIn jail Mahony met David Sheward, his counterpart at the Constitution and Union, of Fairfield, Iowa.u201D These men joined in prison u201Cthe editors of Illinois newspapers, some Illinois judges, and a few other celebrity dissidents for the long journey to Washington,u201D where they were thrown into u201Cthe Old Capitol Prison.u201D Apparently, administration critics from u201CThe Land of Lincolnu201D had to be imprisoned in Washington, D.C. where they could be especially carefully watched.

Newspapers affiliated with the Republican Party u201Ccrowed over the administration’s latest assault on free speech,u201D which speaks volumes about the rotten, totalitarian mindset of the scoundrels who ran the Republican Party of the 1860s. Marvel writes of how u201Cprominent Democratsu201D all throughout the North were jailed for such things as advising voters to vote for peace candidates; laughing at a local u201CHome Guardu201D company; or making u201Csaucyu201D comments about Lincoln.

Even Democrats running for Congress were imprisoned before election day, as was the case of William J. Allen, a u201Cpeace Democrat from southern Illinoisu201D who u201Cwent to jail in that mid-August orgy of repression because of opinions expressed during a political campaign.u201D Allen was running for reelection. Many of his fellow Democrats u201Cwere not released [from one of Lincoln's gulags] until after the fall elections.u201D Some of them languished in prison u201Cuntil they relinquished . . . the right to sue their arresting officers for false imprisonment.u201D Thousands of Northern citizens u201Cfelt the hand of some sheriff or provost marshal clutching their shouldersu201D [figuratively speaking], writes Marvel.

Republican Party thugs were not above beatings and murder of Northern civilians who dissented from the u201CGrand Ole Partyu201D line. A group of Republican u201Cvolunteers in the town of Troy [Kansas] severely beat a citizen whose political observations they resented,u201D says Marvel. u201CPolitical animosity led to the murder of another man in southeastern Missouri.u201D The local Republican Party-affiliated newspaper editorialized in favor of the murder, writing that the man u201Chad no right to be disloyal to the governmentu201D by advocating peace, equating the Republican Party with u201Cgovernment.u201D The paper also named other local citizens who would make for u201Cacceptable targets.u201D Such were the origins of the u201CGrand Ole Party.u201D

All of this occurred in just the first few months of the war. During the next several years hundreds of thousands of Northern men would be enslaved by conscription; hundreds of thousands of European mercenaries would be paid to wage war on Americans from the Southern states; hundreds of opposition newspapers would be shut down; a dissenting member of Congress, Clement Vallandigham of Ohio, would be deported; hundreds of draft protesters in New York City would be shot and killed in the streets by Union army soldiers; and the entire Constitution would be ignored.

All of this u201Cantidraft, antiwar, antiadministration sentimentu201D led the Republican Party to form u201Csecret societies,u201D writes Marvel, that would produce a deluge of pro-Republican propaganda for years and years after the war was over. The u201CUnion Leagueu201D was one such society. One of the things the Republican Party propaganda machine did was to manufacture the myth (i.e., lie) of u201Cnational unityu201D during the war, suggesting that Northerners were united in waging total war on their fellow citizens. The truth is that it was the Republican Party that waged war on the South, not a u201Cunitedu201D Northern population. (I have written elsewhere of how there was such a desertion crisis in the Union Army that entire regiments frequently deserted on the eve of battle.) The myth of u201Cnational unityu201D is a Grand Ole Lie.u201D

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.

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