Grand Ole Tyrants
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 “intended 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.
The very first public statement that Abraham Lincoln made after being inaugurated as the sixteenth president was an ironclad defense of slavery: “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 that said essentially the same thing; pledged his support for the Fugitive Slave Clause of the Constitution “with no mental reservations”; and supported a proposed constitutional amendment (the “Corwin Amendment”) 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 “bloodshed” in any state that refused to collect the federal tariff on imports, which had just been more than doubled two days before his inauguration. “[T]here needs to be no bloodshed or violence, and there shall be none unless it be forced upon the national authority,” 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: “The 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 anywhere” (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 “American System” 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 “national unity” 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 “lacked enthusiasm for Abraham Lincoln's war against the South,” writes Marvel. Using the excuse that, in the years before the war, Senator Bright “had 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 “retroactive treason” and expelled him with a bare two-thirds majority vote.
The Congressional Globe propagandized that “only a traitor would advocate peace,” 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 “squelch 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.”
Even “Francis Scott Key's own grandson understood how dangerous it had become to utter an unpopular opinion in the Land of the Free,” Marvel sarcastically writes. The grandson of the author of “The Star Spangled Banner” was a Baltimore newspaper editor who had been thrown into “the bowels of a coastal fort” without any due process for editorializing against the Lincoln administration's suppression of free speech.
“The 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.” After kicking Senator Bright out of office the leaders of the “Grand Ole Party” then “wished to end their day early in order to prepare for a grand party that had occupied Mary Lincoln's attention for some weeks.” Marvel writes that White House employees quickly began calling Mrs. Lincoln “the American Queen” who, according to one senator, appeared at the party “looking like she was wearing a flower pot on her head.” Many of the generals, admirals, Supreme Court justices, and foreign counsels who attended the party, writes Marvel, considered Lincoln to be “a vulgar provincial lacking in either sincerity or statesmanlike qualities.”
Without bothering to amend the Constitution, the Republican Party in 1861 invented a brand new definition of “treason.” 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: “Treason against the United States shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort” (emphasis added). As with all of the founding documents, “United States” 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 “them,” 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 war” on the states — of treason.
Marvel writes that on his very first day in office as Lincoln's Secretary of War Edwin Stanton “would exercise a cool, dictatorial demeanor” 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 “bounties” 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 “unilaterally abolished” that freedom of speech on August 8, 1862, writes Marvel. Having enacted a policy of military conscription, Stanton “appointed a special judge advocate to deal with dissent and issued instructions for local and federal law officers to imprison anyone who ‘may be engaged, by act, speech, or writing, in discouraging volunteer enlistments, or in any way giving aid and comfort to the enemy . . .'” 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.
“With renewed vigor,” writes Marvel, “U.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.” Any Northern newspaper writers who dared to criticize the “Grand Ole Party” were treated very roughly. “In August of 1861 . . . a mob of Granite State soldiers attacked the editors of a Democratic Concord [New Hampshire] newspaper and destroyed their office.” “On 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 . . .” “In jail Mahony met David Sheward, his counterpart at the Constitution and Union, of Fairfield, Iowa.” These men joined in prison “the editors of Illinois newspapers, some Illinois judges, and a few other celebrity dissidents for the long journey to Washington,” where they were thrown into “the Old Capitol Prison.” Apparently, administration critics from “The Land of Lincoln” had to be imprisoned in Washington, D.C. where they could be especially carefully watched.
Newspapers affiliated with the Republican Party “crowed over the administration's latest assault on free speech,” which speaks volumes about the rotten, totalitarian mindset of the scoundrels who ran the Republican Party of the 1860s. Marvel writes of how “prominent Democrats” all throughout the North were jailed for such things as advising voters to vote for peace candidates; laughing at a local “Home Guard” company; or making “saucy” comments about Lincoln.
Even Democrats running for Congress were imprisoned before election day, as was the case of William J. Allen, a “peace Democrat from southern Illinois” who “went to jail in that mid-August orgy of repression because of opinions expressed during a political campaign.” Allen was running for reelection. Many of his fellow Democrats “were not released [from one of Lincoln's gulags] until after the fall elections.” Some of them languished in prison “until they relinquished . . . the right to sue their arresting officers for false imprisonment.” Thousands of Northern citizens “felt the hand of some sheriff or provost marshal clutching their shoulders” [figuratively speaking], writes Marvel.
Republican Party thugs were not above beatings and murder of Northern civilians who dissented from the “Grand Ole Party” line. A group of Republican “volunteers in the town of Troy [Kansas] severely beat a citizen whose political observations they resented,” says Marvel. “Political animosity led to the murder of another man in southeastern Missouri.” The local Republican Party-affiliated newspaper editorialized in favor of the murder, writing that the man “had no right to be disloyal to the government” by advocating peace, equating the Republican Party with “government.” The paper also named other local citizens who would make for “acceptable targets.” Such were the origins of the “Grand Ole Party.”
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 “antidraft, antiwar, antiadministration sentiment” led the Republican Party to form “secret societies,” writes Marvel, that would produce a deluge of pro-Republican propaganda for years and years after the war was over. The “Union League” was one such society. One of the things the Republican Party propaganda machine did was to manufacture the myth (i.e., lie) of “national unity” 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 “united” 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 “national unity” is a Grand Ole Lie.”
November 21, 2009
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.
Copyright © 2009 by LewRockwell.com. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is gladly granted, provided full credit is given.