The Latest New York Times Nonsense About Lincoln

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At the outset
of the War to Prevent Southern Independence both Abraham Lincoln
and the U.S. Congress declared publicly that the sole purpose of
the war was to save the union and not to interfere with Southern
slavery. Lincoln himself stated this very clearly in his first inaugural
address and in many other places. This fact bothers the court historians
of the Lincoln cult who have in the past forty years rewritten American
history to suggest that slavery was the sole cause of the war. (A
generation ago, if one took a college course on "the Civil
War" it was likely that one would have read The
Causes of the Civil War
by Kenneth Stampp, a former president
of the American Historical Association.)

The latest
attempt to rewrite or whitewash history comes from one Richard Striner
in a December 13 New York Times article entitled "How
Lincoln Undid the Union." The gist of Striner's argument is
that: 1) a compromise to save the union was in the works in Washington
in December of 1860; but 2) Lincoln persuaded key members of the
Republican Party to oppose it because it might not have prohibited
the extension of slavery into the new territories,
a key feature of the 1860 Republican Party platform. Lincoln wanted
to save the union, says Striner, but he wanted a union that would
put slavery "on the path to extinction."

What rubbish.
The notion that prohibiting the extension of slavery would somehow
magically cause the end of Southern slavery has always been
totally nonsensical. As University of Virginia Historian Michael
Holt wrote in his book, Fate
of Their Country
(p. 27), "Modern economic historians
have demonstrated that this assumption was false." It is every
bit as nonsensical as Lincoln's crazy assertion that the extension
of slavery into the Territories would have somehow led to the re-introduction
of slavery into Maine, Massachusetts, and other states that had
legally abolished slavery! (He ludicrously said that a nation "could
not exist" half slave and half free). It is hard to believe
that rational human beings ever believed such things. It is unlikely
that many Americans of Lincoln's time did.

Striner pretends
to be able to read Lincoln's mind when he speculates that his motivation
was to put slavery "on the road to extinction." He does
not quote Lincoln himself as saying that this was his motivation;
he merely speculates and fabricates a story. But Lincoln and other
prominent Republicans did in fact state very clearly what their
motivation was. There is no need to speculate. As Professor Holt,
the history profession's preeminent expert on the politics of the
antebellum era wrote: "Many northern whites also wanted to
keep slaves out of the West in order to keep blacks out. The North
was a pervasively racist society where free blacks suffered social,
economic, and political discrimination . . . . Bigots, they sought
to bar African-American slaves from the West." Lincoln himself
clearly stated that "we" want the Territories "for
free white labor."

Thus, part
of Lincoln's motivation for opposing the extension of slavery —
but making an ironclad defense of Southern slavery in his
first inaugural address — was pandering to northern white supremacist
voters (like himself) who did not want any blacks — free or slave
— living among them. There was also a protectionist motivation,
as the Republican Party wanted to prohibit competition for jobs
from all blacks, free or slave. Illinois — Land of Lincoln — even
amended its Constitution in 1848 to prohibit the emigration of black
people into the state, a position that was endorsed by Lincoln.
(Lincoln was also a "manager" of the Illinois Colonization
Society, which sought to use state tax funds to deport the small
number of free blacks who resided in the state.)

A third motivation
for Lincoln's opposition to slavery extension was purely political.
If slaves entered the Territories, they would inflate the congressional
representation of the Democratic Party when the Territories became
states because of the Three-Fifths Clause of the Constitution. That
in turn — and most importantly — would block the Republican Party's
economic agenda. Professor Holt quotes Ohio Congressman Joshua
R. Giddings (p. 28) on this point: "To give the south the preponderance
of political power would be itself a surrender of our tariff, our
internal improvements, our distribution of proceeds of public lands
. . . . It is the most abominable proposition with which a free
people were ever insulted." It would destroy everything the
Republican Party claimed to stand for, in other words, i.e., mercantilist
economics. This is the real reason why Lincoln was so adamant
about opposing the extension of slavery into the territories.

Besides his
demonstrably false, speculative fantasies about Lincoln's supposedly
saintly motivations, Striner presents a very distorted and misleading
account of the events of late 1860–early 1861. He quotes a private
letter from Lincoln expressing his opposition to the particular
compromise to save the union that was being sponsored by Senator
John J. Crittenden of Kentucky at the time, but makes no mention
of Lincoln's own "compromise" that was also in the works.
The high priestess of the Lincoln Cult, Doris Kearns-Goodwin, describes
Lincoln's compromise on page 296 of her book, Team
of Rivals
. As soon as he was elected, Lincoln "instructed
[William] Seward to introduce [the Corwin Amendment to the Constitution]
in the Senate Committee of Thirteen without indicating they issued
from Springfield." The Corwin Amendment, which did pass the
House and Senate, would have prohibited the federal government from
ever interfering with Southern slavery. As Goodwin writes,
Lincoln instructed Seward to make sure that the amendment said that
"the Constitution should never be altered so as to authorize
Congress to abolish or interfere with slavery in the states"
where it existed. In addition, writes Goodwin, Lincoln instructed
Seward, who would become his Secretary of State, to get a federal
law introduced that would have made various personal liberty laws
that existed in some Northern states illegal. These state laws were
meant to nullify the federal Fugitive Slave Act, an act that Lincoln
very strongly supported. Far from putting slavery "on the path
to extinction," these actions of Lincoln's would have granted
it more powerful government support than ever. Thus, Lincoln's actions
in late 1860–early 1861 were exactly the opposite of how Professor
Striner portrays them as being with regard to the issue of slavery.

The white supremacists
of the North were very pleased indeed with Lincoln's assurances
that he would do all that he could to prohibit black people from
ever living among them, first by keeping them out of the Territories,
and second by enshrining Southern slavery explicitly in the Constitution.
He effectively promised to keep black people far away from such
places as Boston, Massachusetts. Goodwin writes that when Seward
went public and announced these actions to a Boston audience he
was met with "thunderous applause."

On March 4,
1861, Lincoln praised the Corwin Amendment in his first inaugural
address, offered his support of it, and said that while he believed
slavery to already be constitutional, he had no reservations about
making it "express and irrevocable" in the text of the
U.S. Constitution.

These
actual historical facts paint a very different picture of Lincoln's
machinations from the one based on Professor Striner's baseless
speculations and historical distortions. More disturbingly, Professor
Striner, like all other Lincoln cultists, makes no mention at all
of the fact that Lincoln's actions led to the mass murder of some
350,000 fellow American citizens, including more than 50,000 Southern
civilians, along with an equivalent number of Northern war deaths.
While virtually all the rest of the world had ended — or was in
the process of ending — slavery peacefully, Lincoln cultists
actually praise Lincoln for eschewing that well-charted peaceful
route to emancipation while plunging his country into the bloodiest
war in human history up to that point to supposedly "save the
union." There is something awfully sick (and sickening) about
this.

December
16, 2010

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
.

The
Best of Thomas DiLorenzo at LRC

Thomas
DiLorenzo Archives at Mises.org

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