Civil War Make-Believe

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When James M. Buchanan was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1986 the first thing he said at his George Mason University press conference was that the award "does not make me an instant expert in everything." Buchanan was well aware — and amused — at how previous recipients of the award had made fools of themselves by viewing the award as a license to pontificate about anything and everything, whether they knew anything about the subject or not.

No such modesty and sense of reality occupies the mind of a more recent Nobel laureate, Paul Krugman. As a New York Times columnist he has always done what all New York Times columnists do — pretend that he does in fact know everything about everything. A case in point is his March 29 New York Times blog entitled "Road to Appomattox Blogging." After mentioning how the Times has a special "Disunion" blog to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the start of the war, Krugman gives a hilarious, elementary-schoolish rendition of his "take" on the "Civil War."

Krugman said he has always been infatuated by the "symbolism" of Lee's surrender at Appomattox, with "Lee the patrician in his dress uniform," compared to General Grant, who was "still muddy and disheveled from hard riding." Krugman is apparently unaware that by the late 1850s, on the eve of the war, Robert E. Lee was in his thirtieth year as an officer in the United States Army, performing mostly as a military engineer. He was hardly a "patrician" or member of a ruling class. Grant, by contrast, was the overseer of an 850-acre slave plantation owned by his wealthy father-in-law. The plantation, located near St. Louis, was known as "White Haven" (which sounds like it could have been named by the KKK) and is today a national park. (On the "White Haven" Web site the National Park Service euphemistically calls Grant the "manager" of the slave plantation rather than the more historically-accurate word "overseer").

In 1862 Lee freed the slaves that his wife had inherited, in compliance with his father-in-law's will. Grant's White Haven slaves were not freed until an 1865 Missouri emancipation law forced Grant and his father-in-law to do so. The fact that Lee changed clothes before formally surrendering did not instantly turn the 36-year army veteran into a "patrician," contrary to the "all-knowing" Krugman's assertion.

Krugman goes on to assert that the North's victory in the war was a victory in "manners" by a region that "excelled at the arts of peace." Well, not really. What the North "excelled" in was the waging of total war on the civilian population of the South. The Lincoln administration instituted the first federal military conscription law, and then ordered thousands of Northern men to their death in the savage and bloody Napoleonic charges that characterized the war. When tens of thousands of Northern men deserted, the Lincoln administration commenced the public execution of deserters on a daily basis. When New Yorkers rioted in protest of military conscription, Lincoln ordered 15,000 soldiers to the city where they murdered hundreds, and perhaps thousands of draft protesters (See Iver Bernstein, The New York City Draft Riots). It also recruited thousands of European mercenaries, many of whom did not even speak English, to arm themselves and march South to supposedly teach the descendants of James Madison, Patrick Henry, and Thomas Jefferson what it really meant to be an American. Lee Kennett, biographer of General William Tecumseh Sherman, wrote of how many of Lincoln's recruits were specially suited for pillaging, plundering and raping: "the New York regiments were . . . filled with big city criminals and foreigners fresh from the jails of the Old World" (Lee Kennett, Marching Through Georgia, p. 279).

The North waged war on Southern civilians for four long years, murdering at least 50,000 of them according to historian Jeffrey Rogers Hummel. It bombed cities like Atlanta for days at a time when they were occupied by no one but civilians, and U.S. Army soldiers looted, ransacked, and raped their way all throughout the South. The "arts of peace" indeed.

As for the war being a victory of "manners," as Krugman says, consider this: When the women of New Orleans refused to genuflect to U.S. Army troops who were occupying their city and killing their husbands, sons and brothers, General Benjamin "Beast" Butler issued an order that all the women of that city were to henceforth be treated as prostitutes. "As the officers and soldiers of the United States have been subject to repeated insults from the women . . . of New Orleans," Butler wrote in his General Order Number 28 on May 15, 1862, "it is ordered that thereafter when any female shall, by word, gesture, or movement, insult or show contempt for any officer or soldier of the United States, she shall be regarded and held liable to be treated as a woman of the town plying her avocation." Butler's order was widely construed as a license for rape, and he was condemned by the whole world. Ah, those Yankee "manners."

Krugman celebrates the victory of "a democratic nation" (the North) in his blog. But during the war the North was anything but "democratic": Lincoln illegally suspended the writ of Habeas Corpus and imprisoned tens of thousands of Northern political critics without any due process; shut down hundreds of opposition newspapers; deported Congressman Clement Vallandigham of Ohio for criticizing him; threatened to imprison Chief Justice Roger B. Taney for issuing the (correct) opinion that Lincoln's suspension of Habeas Corpus was unconstitutional; censored all telegraphs; rigged elections; imprisoned duly elected members of the Maryland legislature along with Congressman Henry May of Baltimore and the mayor of Baltimore; illegally orchestrated the secession of West Virginia to give the Republican Party two more U.S. senators; confiscated firearms in the border states in violation of the Second Amendment; and committed a grand act of treason by invading the sovereign states of the South (Article 3, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution defines treason as "only" levying war against the states, or giving aid and comfort to their enemies).

Krugman is right about democracy in a sense: Democracy is essentially one big organized act of bullying whereby a larger group bullies a smaller group in order to plunder it with taxes. The "Civil War" proved that whenever a smaller group has finally had enough, and attempts to leave the game, the larger group will resort to anything — even the mass murder of hundreds of thousands and the bombing and burning of entire cities — to get its way. After all, in his first inaugural address Lincoln literally threatened "force," "invasion" and "bloodshed" (his exact words) in any state that refused to pay the federal tariff, which had just been more than doubled two days earlier. He followed through with his threat. This is "the kind of nation I believe in," says Paul Krugman.

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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