Lincoln's 'Second American Revolution'
James McPherson and other prominent historians sometimes speak of Abraham Lincoln's "Second American Revolution" (the title of one of McPherson's books). They are correct to portray Lincoln as a revolutionary, but the reasons they give for this are incomplete or inaccurate. He led a revolution all right, but it was an anti-American revolution against virtually all the founding principles of this country. It was a revolution against: free-market capitalism (Lincoln was a devoted mercantilist); the principles of the Declaration of Independence; the Constitution; the system of states' rights and federalism that was created by the founders; and the prohibitions against waging war on civilians embodied in the international law of the time as well as the canons of Western Christian civilization.
LINCOLN VERSUS THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE
One of the most absurd Lincoln myths is that he was devoted to the principles of the Declaration of Independence. Harry Jaffa and his followers have perpetuated this myth for decades based on their own stylized interpretations of a few lines of Lincoln's speeches. In reality, however, Lincoln's words and actions thoroughly and completely repudiated every one of the main principles of the Declaration.
The Jaffaites usually dwell only on the "all men are created equal" line of the Declaration and ignore the rest of it. Not only is this selective reading of the Declaration intellectually dishonest; it is wrong. Lincoln denounced racial equality over and over again throughout his entire adult life. He did not believe that all men are created equal. In his August 21, 1858 debate with Stephen Douglas he said "I have no purpose to introduce political and social equality between the white and black races" and that "I, as well as Judge Douglas, am in favor of the race to which I belong having the superior position. I have never said anything to the contrary."
"Anything that argues me into his idea of perfect social and political equality with the Negro," he said in the same speech, "is but a specious and fantastic arrangement of words, by which a man can prove a horse chestnut to be a chestnut horse."
"Free them and make them politically and socially our equals?" he continued. "My own feelings will not admit of this . . . . We cannot, then make them equals."
In his book, Forced into Glory: Abraham Lincoln's White Dream, Ebony magazine editor Lerone Bennett, Jr. writes that "On at least fourteen occasions between 1854 and 1860 Lincoln said unambiguously that he believed the Negro race was inferior to the White race. In Galesburg, he referred to ‘the inferior races.' Who were ‘the inferior races'? African Americans, he said, Mexicans, who he called mongrels . . ."
For his entire adult life Lincoln advocated deporting all the black people in America to Africa, Central America, or Haiti ("colonization") and was a member of the American Colonization Society. "There is a moral fitness in the idea of returning to Africa her children," he said in his 1852 eulogy to Henry Clay. Ten years later, in his December 1, 1862 message to Congress, he said, "I cannot make it better known than it already is, that I strongly favor colonization." He held these views until the day he died. As Joe Sobran has remarked, Lincoln's position was that black people could be "equal" all right, but not here in the U.S.
Lincoln supported the Illinois constitution, which prohibited the emigration of black people into the state; he supported the Illinois Black Codes, which deprived free blacks of any semblance of citizenship or economic freedom; in his First Inaugural he supported a proposed constitutional amendment that would have prohibited the federal government from interfering with slavery; and he was a staunch supporter of the Fugitive Slave Act which coerced the Northern states to round up runaway slaves and return them to slavery. He did denounce slavery in principle, as did most political, military, and business leaders of the era. But as historian Robert Johannsen explained in Lincoln, the South, and Slavery, his position was opposition to slavery in principle, toleration of it in practice, and a vigorous hostility to the abolition movement. The notion that Lincoln was a champion of equality is an Orwellian absurdity.
LINCOLN'S WAR AGAINST CONSENT OF THE GOVERNED
A most important principle of the Declaration is the idea that governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed. In 1861 nearly every opinion maker in the country, North and South, held this as a cherished belief and, as such, thought that using military force to coerce any state to remain in the Union would be an act of tyranny and a repudiation of the Declaration of Independence. As the Bangor Daily Union wrote on November 13, 1860, the Union "depends for its continuance on the free consent and will of the sovereign people of each state, and when that consent and will is withdrawn on either part, their Union is gone." A state coerced into the Union is "a subject province" and may never be "a co-equal member of the American Union."
The New York Journal of Commerce editorialized on January 12, 1861, that opposing secession changes the nature of government "from a voluntary one, in which the people are sovereigns, to a despotism where one part of the people are slaves" to the federal government. This was the view of the majority of Northern newspapers at the time according to Howard Cecil Perkins, editor of the two-volume book, Northern Editorials on Secession.
After Thomas Jefferson was elected president the New England Federalists plotted for over a decade to secede from the Union. Their efforts culminated in the Hartford Secession Convention of 1814, where they decided against secession. The movement was led by George Washington's Secretary of War and Secretary of State, Massachusetts Senator Timothy Pickering. All during this time, no one questioned the right of any state to secede because this was the Revolutionary generation, and they revered the Jeffersonian dictum that governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed. Senator Pickering announced that, because of this belief, secession was "the" principle of the American Revolution. The Declaration of Independence was, after all, a Declaration of Secession from the British Empire. Lincoln's war destroyed this fundamental tenet of the Declaration.
There was also a vigorous secession movement in the "middle states" — Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and New York — in the late 1850s, as described by William C. Wright in The Secession Movement in the Middle Atlantic States.
As H. L. Mencken sagely pointed out in an essay on Abraham Lincoln, it was the Confederates who were fighting for consent of the governed; they no longer consented to being governed by Washington, D.C., and Lincoln waged war to deprive them of that consent. And it is important to keep in mind that neither Lincoln nor the U.S. Congress ever said that they were launching and invasion of the Southern states for any reason having to do with Southern slavery. They did not launch an invasion because the slaves were deprived of consent. Lincoln declared his purpose in the war in his famous August 22, 1862 letter to New York Tribune editor Horace Greeley, which was published in the Tribune: "My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and it is not either to save or destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union."
Of course, Lincoln only "saved" the Union geographically; he destroyed the Union philosophically by destroying its voluntary nature. His version of "saving the Union" is analogous to the situation where a woman leaves her husband because he has been abusing her. The husband drags his wife back into the home, chains her to the bedpost, and threatens to shoot her and burn the house down with her in it if she leaves again. The Union has been restored! But what kind of Union is it? It is the kind of coercive Union that has existed in the U.S. since 1865.
The U.S. Congress also declared on July 22, 1861 that the purpose of the war was to destroy the secession movement (i.e., the voluntary Union) and nothing more:
Resolved: . . . That this war is not prosecuted upon our part in any spirit of oppression, nor for any purpose of conquest or subjugation, nor purpose of overthrowing or interfering with the rights or established institutions of those states, but to defend and maintain the supremacy of the Constitution and all laws made in pursuance thereof and to preserve the Union, with all the dignity, equality and rights of the several states unimpaired; and that as soon as these objects are accomplished the war ought to cease.
Thus, the official purpose of the war, as explained to the entire world by Lincoln and the U.S. Congress, was not to interfere with "the rights or established institutions" of the Southern states, i.e., slavery, but to "preserve the Union." This was a clever euphemism for "destroying once and for all the system of states' rights and federalism designed by the founding fathers." And as will be seen shortly, Lincoln eviscerated constitutional liberties in the North, which permanently weakened the constitutional protections of liberty for all Americans.
The Constitution was created by the states, who routinely referred to themselves as "free and independent states." They created the federal government as their agent, and Virginia, Rhode Island and New York explicitly reserved the right to withdraw from the Union if it ever became destructive of their liberties. Virginia's constitutional ratification convention stated that "the powers granted under the Constitution being derived from the People of the United States may be resumed by them whensoever the same shall be perverted to their injury or oppression." The New York and Rhode Island delegations made almost identical statements.
The Tenth Amendment includes a right of secession, since it reserves all rights not granted to the federal government to the people, respectively, or to the States. This includes the right of secession.
Lincoln knew that the Confederates had constitutional history on their side and so, as a slick trial lawyer, he decided to rewrite history by claiming that the Union was older than the states, and that there was never any such thing as state sovereignty over the federal government. He claimed that the government was really created by the Declaration of Independence, which of course had no force of law like the Constitution did. The Declaration was a Declaration of Secession, period, which makes Lincoln's claim even more bizarre. It is also a colossal absurdity: It is impossible for the union of two things to be older than either thing that it is a union of. This makes as much sense as saying that a marriage can be older than either spouse.
Lincoln's rewriting of history also repudiated the constitutionalist thinking of James Madison and other founders, who held that "a more perfect Union" was created by the Constitution, not the Declaration. Lincoln "proved" his false history "correct" by force of arms, not by logic and debate. Generations of court historians have repeated this spectacular lie, so that it has become part of the Lincoln legend.
Harry Jaffa and his followers go even farther than Lincoln did in rewriting history. They relegate both the Constitution and the Declaration to the political speeches of one man, Lincoln. "Above the Constitution, even above the Declaration, as an expression of American principles, is the magnanimous figure of Lincoln," wrote Jaffa's colleague Charles Kessler in National Review (July 6, 1979). Jaffa and his followers have somewhat of a Führer complex when it comes to Lincoln, which of course is patently un-American. Placing any one man above the Constitution is a repudiation of the whole idea of constitutional government.
LINCOLN'S TRAIN OF ABUSES
The third major set of principles in the Declaration is contained in the "Train of Abuses" where Jefferson condemned the tyrannical King George, III. As I document in The Real Lincoln, every single one of these abuses was as bad or worse during the Lincoln administration. King George "dissolved Representative Houses"; Lincoln and his party governed the occupied South as a military dictatorship during the war and Reconstruction. King George "has made Judges dependent on his Will alone" and was guilty of "depriving us in many cases, of the right of Trial by jury"; Lincoln suspended the writ of habeas corpus and had his military imprison tens of thousands of Northern political opponents. King George "has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the consent of our legislatures." The Party of Lincoln did this during Reconstruction. King George was condemned "for cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world." Lincoln put into place a naval blockade of the Southern states.
King George declared Americans "out of his Protection" and was "waging war against us. He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coast, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people. He is at this time transporting large Armies, of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny." Every single one of these things was the policy of the Lincoln administration.
As a master politician Lincoln was clever enough to pay lip service to the Declaration of Independence, but his words and, more importantly, his actions, thoroughly and completely repudiated every single principle of the Declaration. This was indeed revolutionary.
LINCOLN VERSUS THE CONSTITUTION
The U.S. Constitution does not allow for a dictator, but generations of historians have described Lincoln as such. In his book, Constitutional Dictatorship, Clinton Rossiter wrote that "Dictatorship played a decisive role in the North's successful effort to maintain the Union by force of arms . . . one man was the government of the United States . . . Lincoln was a great dictator . . . and a true democrat."
"Lincoln's amazing disregard for the Constitution," Rossiter wrote, "was considered by nobody as legal." "Never had the power of a dictator fallen into safer and nobler hands," James Ford Rhodes wrote in his History of the United States. And James G. Randall wrote in Constitutional Problems Under Lincoln that "If Lincoln was a dictator, it must be admitted that he was a benevolent dictator." Why it "must be" was not explained.
The reasons why all these distinguished (and pro-Lincoln) scholars have labeled him a dictator can be found in the above-mentioned books, along with Freedom Under Lincoln by Dean Sprague, Fate of Liberty by Mark Neely, Jr., and Emancipating Slaves, Enslaving Free Men by Jeffrey Hummel, to name just a few references.
These books detail how Lincoln launched a military invasion without the consent of Congress and blockaded Southern ports without first declaring war. He unilaterally suspended the writ of habeas corpus for the duration of his administration and had his military arrest tens of thousands of Northern political opponents. A secret police force under the direction of the secretary of state carried this out.
The chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, Roger B. Taney, ruled Lincoln's suspension of habeas corpus to be unconstitutional (only Congress has such power), but he was ignored by Lincoln as the mass arrests of political dissenters continued. As described by Dean Sprague in Freedom Under Lincoln (p. 161): "The laws were silent, indictments were not found, testimony was not taken, judges did not sit, juries were not impaneled, convictions were not obtained and sentences were not pronounced. The Anglo-Saxon concept of due process, perhaps the greatest political triumph of the ages and the best guardian of freedom, was abandoned." Thousands of political prisoners languished in Fort Lafayette in New York harbor, which came to be known as "The American Bastille."
Dozens of Northern newspapers were shut down and their editors and owners were imprisoned if they opposed the Lincoln administration. On May 18, 1864 Lincoln sent the following order to General John Dix: "You will take possession by military force, of the printing establishments of the New York World and Journal of Commerce . . . and prohibit any further publication thereof . . . you are therefore commanded forthwith to arrest and imprison . . . the editors, proprietors and publishers of the aforesaid newspapers."
All telegraph communication was censored, the railroads were nationalized, and federal troops were ordered to interfere with Northern elections to ensure Republican victories. Lincoln won New York state by 7000 votes "with the help of federal bayonets," wrote Pulitzer Prize—winning Lincoln biographer David Donald in Lincoln Reconsidered. Several dozen members of the Maryland legislature were thrown into military prison along with the mayor of Baltimore and Congressman Henry May of Maryland so that they could not meet to discuss secession.
The most outspoken member of the Democratic Party opposition, Congressman Clement L. Vallandigham, was deported after 67 armed federal soldiers broke into his Dayton, Ohio home and arrested him. He had been vehemently protesting the suspension of habeas corpus and other constitutional infringements on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives, and Lincoln apparently could not tolerate such talk. The Ohio Democratic Party made Vallandigham its gubernatorial nominee even though he had fled to Canada.
The border states were systematically disarmed, and two "confiscation acts" were written into law in which any U.S. citizen could have all of his private property confiscated by the government for such "crimes" as "falsely exalting the motives of the traitors"; "overstating the success of our adversaries"; and "inflaming party spirit among ourselves." Informers who turned in their neighbors could keep 50 percent of their neighbors' property; the other half when to the U.S. treasury.
For decades, leftist historians have been praising Lincoln's evisceration of the Constitution precisely because it established a precedent for the kind of executive branch usurpation of constitutional liberties that the founders gravely warned against. In Constitutional Problems Under Lincoln James G. Randall painstakingly details all of these attacks on constitutional liberty, and more, but then praises Lincoln for it by writing that "great social purposes " can be promoted by "abandoning constitutional barriers." One must look at the Constitution, says Randall, as "a vehicle of life" and a "matter of growth, development, and interpretation." He denigrated the founders by saying that we should not tolerate "excessive reliance upon the political wisdom of a bygone generation."
More recently, George P. Fletcher praises "Lincoln's casual attitude toward formal constitutional institutions" because it has aided the cause of generations of leftists who have transformed the purpose of American government from the defense of individual liberty to "nationalism, egalitarianism, and democracy."
This — and Lincoln's actions with regard to the Constitution — was a repudiation of the wisdom of the founding fathers, specifically of George Washington. In his Farewell Address Washington noted that if the Constitution is to be altered "let it be corrected by an amendment in the way in which the Constitution designates. But let there be no change by usurpation; for though this, in one instance, may be the instrument of good, it is the customary weapon by which free governments are destroyed."
Lincoln's "change by usurpation," paved the way for so many other usurpations of constitutional liberty by the executive and judicial branches that today the Constitution is almost a dead letter altogether. Dean Sprague noted the significance of Lincoln's "usurpations" by commenting that at the outbreak of the war "the federal government was not a real source of power." But once it demonstrated that it could abolish the opposition press and mass arrest any and all opponents of the ruling party "without any recourse to law," this established that the executive "had real power." Such an exhibition laid the groundwork for such unprecedented coercive measures as military conscription (which was loudly denounced in the North as "slavery") and income taxation.
WAGING WAR ON CIVILIANS
On April 24, 1863, Lincoln issued General Order No. 100, known as the Lieber Code, which reiterated the accepted conventions of international law that existed at the time and which prohibited the intentional targeting of civilians in wartime. Those who did so were considered to be war criminals and should be prosecuted as such.
But from the very beginning, the Lincoln administration ignored its own Code as its armies pillaged, plundered, raped, and burned their way through the Southern states. In 1862 the entire town of Randolph, Tennessee, was burned to the ground by General Sherman even though there were no enemy combatants there. In 1863 Sherman burned Jackson and Meridian, Mississippi to the ground, again after the Confederate army had left. In a letter to General Grant, Sherman boasted that "for five days, ten thousand of our men worked hard and with a will, in that work of destruction, with axes, sledges, crowbars, clawbars, and with fire, and I have no hesitation in pronouncing the work well done. Meridian . . . no longer exists."
Ninety percent of the buildings in Atlanta were destroyed despite the fact that there were no Confederate soldiers there, either. After the bombardment of Atlanta, an act that was prohibited by international law, Sherman evicted the remaining 2000 residents just as winter was arriving.
General Sheridan burned the entire Shenandoah Valley and his army stole or destroyed virtually all the private property there in the fall of 1864. Dozens of towns in Georgia and South Carolina were incinerated during "Sherman's march," during which Sherman claimed in his memoirs that his soldiers destroyed $100 million in private property and stole another $20 million worth.
The pillaging and plundering of private property and the murder and rape of civilians was so widespread that even the pro-Sherman biographer Lee Kennett wrote in Marching through Georgia (page 286) that "had the Confederates somehow won . . . they would have found themselves justified . . . in stringing up President Lincoln and the entire Union high command for violation of the laws of war, specifically for waging war against noncombatants."
LINCOLN THE MERCANTILIST
When Lincoln first ran for public office in Illinois in 1832 he announced that "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." Lincoln was the political "son" of Alexander Hamilton, who first championed these mercantilist policies.
Mercantilism was the economic and political system that prevailed in Europe in the sixteenth through eighteenth centuries under which special privileges were granted by kings and parliaments to a merchant elite in return for the political and economic support of that elite. It is the system that Adam Smith railed against in his magnum opus, The Wealth of Nations. Many of the pilgrims who came to America fled this corrupt system. King George's attempt to impose this system on the American colonists, with all its state-sponsored monopolies and high taxes, led to the American Revolution.
There was always a group of ambitious politicians in America who wanted to bring this corrupt system across the Atlantic because, as corrupt and impoverishing as it was, it was a convenient tool for the accumulation of political power. First there was Hamilton and the Federalists, then Henry Clay and the Whigs, and then Lincoln and the Republicans. They all championed high protectionist tariffs that would plunder consumers for the benefit of manufacturers, corporate welfare for railroad and road-building corporations, and a central bank that could print money that was not redeemable in gold or silver that could finance all these adventures. They had almost no success at all until the entire agenda was imposed on the nation at gunpoint during Lincoln's war.
Senator John Sherman, the chairman of the U.S Senate Finance Committee during the Lincoln administration and the brother of General William Tecumseh Sherman, announced the reason why the Republican Party chose Lincoln as its presidential nominee:
Those who elected Mr. Lincoln expect him...to secure to free labor its just right to the territories of the United States; to protect…by wise revenue laws, the labor of our people; to secure the public lands to actual settlers...; to develop the internal resources of the country by opening new means of communications between the Atlantic and Pacific.
David Donald interprets this statement "from the politician's idiom" in Lincoln Reconsidered to mean: "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."
The Federalist/Whig/Republican policy of mercantilism was finally put into place during the first eighteen months of the Lincoln administration. The average tariff rate was tripled, and would remain that high or higher for decades after the war. The building of the government-subsidized transcontinental railroad (in California) was commenced even though a desperate war was being waged. The National Currency Acts and the Legal Tender Act finally created a central bank that could issue currency (greenbacks) that was not immediately redeemable in gold or silver. An income tax was adopted for the first time ever, as was military conscription, pervasive excise taxation, and the internal revenue bureaucracy was created. It was the triumph of American mercantilism and the beginning of the end of laissez faire capitalism in America.
REPUDIATING PEACEFUL EMANCIPATION
Lincoln also repudiated the means by which slavery was ended in every other country on earth during the first 55 years of the nineteenth century: peacefully, through compensated emancipation. The U.S. was the only country in the entire world during that time where war was associated with emancipation. The British and Spanish empires, and the French and Danish colonies all chose the peaceful route to emancipation, which occurred in Argentina, Columbia, Chile, all of Central America, Mexico, Bolivia, Uruguay, Ecuador, Peru, Venezuela, and elsewhere prior to Lincoln's war. Brazil ended slavery peacefully after the war. Ninety-four percent of all the slaves that were brought to the Western Hemisphere were brought to these countries; about 6 percent ended up in the United States. The former group was emancipated peacefully. Lincoln never utilized his legendary political skills to do what the rest of the world did with regard to slavery, and end it peacefully.
This is bound to be one reason why the great nineteenth century natural rights theorist, the Massachusetts abolitionist Lysander Spooner, wrote in 1870 that
All these cries of having "abolished slavery," of having "saved the country," of having "preserved the union," of establishing a "government of consent," and of "maintaining the national honor" are all gross, shameless, transparent cheats — so transparent that they ought to deceive no one.
Perhaps they ought not to deceive, but generations of court historians have seen to it that they have.
November 23, 2002
This paper is based on a talk given at the annual Christmas banquet of the Richmond Civil War Roundtable in Richmond, Virginia, on November 12, 2002. Thomas J. DiLorenzo [send him mail] is the author of the LRC #1 bestseller, The Real Lincoln: A New Look at Abraham Lincoln, His Agenda, and an Unnecessary War (Forum/Random House, 2002) and professor of economics at Loyola College in Maryland.
Copyright © 2002 LewRockwell.com