Lincolnís Pyrrhic Victory
week Americans celebrate the birth of Abraham Lincoln. The true
legacy of Lincoln usually gets drowned in the perennial gush about
a president whose name is synonymous with freedom and the end of
slavery. Lincolnís role in bringing to an end the Jeffersonian ideal
of a limited, constitutional government, with powers vested in sovereign
states, remains relatively unexamined.
direction in which Lincoln took America is not without significance
for Canadians. For one, the current vilification of the Canadian
West resembles in tenor the vilification of the American South.
Westerners and Quebecers have grown accustomed to the boorish responses
from government when they speak of exercising freedom of association
by peaceful secession. The seeds of the assorted libel they confront
can be traced to the Lincoln legacy.
a chronicler of Lincoln, Professor Tom DiLorenzo notes: "in
1861 most Americans North and South still believed that the right
of secession was fundamental to preserving freedom and self government."
There were the stirrings of the New England secessionists in 1803,
as well as a secessionist movement of the Middle Atlantic States
in 1861. The Southís battle, very plainly, was for its constitutionally
guaranteed independence, framed by the Founding Fathersí vision
of a limited central government with little jurisdiction over state
view of secession as the bulwark of liberty was widely echoed among
prominent intellectuals and editorialists of the day. Lord Acton,
the great classical liberal, viewed Southern secession as an attempt
to preserve a constitutional liberty. Abolitionists in the North
generally agreed that the South had a right to peacefully secede,
as did they claim this right for themselves.
would be ironic if this werenít the case. After all, the American
Revolution was born of secession from empire. The Constitution was
a pact between sovereign states with which the ultimate power lay,
and these states devolved to the central government its limited
powers. With this "confederation of sovereign states",
the Founders intended to curb the overreach of a central government.
only 15 percent of Southerners being slave owners, the South was
no more fighting to preserve slavery than the North was fighting
to abolish it. But letís accept for the sake of argument Lincolnís
facade, and grant that slavery was the reason he waged the War Between
the States, thus violating the Constitution.
in order to redeem him, itís essential to establish at the very
least that to this alleged end, Lincoln was morally justified in
causing the death of more than 620,000 people, the maiming of thousands,
and "the near destruction of 40 percent of the nationís economy?"
To Mises Institute scholar David Gordon, the answer is clear: "The
costs of an action," writes Gordon in Secession, State &
Liberty, "cannot be dismissed as irrelevant to morality."
Lincoln vision can certainly be gleaned from views such as the one
he expressed in an 1862 letter to the New York Daily Tribune: "My
paramount object...is to save the union, and is not either to save
or to destroy slavery. If I could save the union without freeing
any slave I would do it..." The imperative of keeping the races
apart is another reoccurrence in Lincolnís addresses.
he have held these racist views, the kind that made him a onetime
supporter of a scheme advocating the shipping of slaves back to
"their own native land," and still wage war solely to
free the objects of his derision? Perhaps, but unlikely given his
one, Lincolnís Emancipation Proclamation guaranteed that slaves
were freed only in the parts of the Confederacy inaccessible to
the union army. Union soldiers, for their part, were permitted to
confiscate slaves in rebel territory and put them to work for the
union army. In areas loyal to the union, slaves were not emancipated.
After the war, Lincoln offered little land to the freed men; most
of the land was parceled off to his constituent power-base, the
railroad and mining companies.
economic undertow offers better insight into the Lincoln mission.
The South, which supplied 75 percent of exports, was on the cusp
of becoming a low tariff, free trade zone. Lincoln feared this would
disadvantage the North, and in particular his rich industrialist
supporters. Much like the Canadian equalization payments through
which the government plunders the West, Lincoln imposed punitive
tariffs as a means to distribute wealth from the South to northern
course, a less malevolent lot than Lincolnís republicans could have
instead edged the nation towards a peaceful prosperity by joining
with England, France, other European countries, and the Confederate
states between which free trade was underway. But for this, they
would have to scale back tariffs and the political patronage these
schemes afforded. Such a requirement would have been inimical to
Lincolnís Whig Party philosophical underpinnings, namely, protectionist
tariffs, corporate welfare and fiat money, the essential building
blocks of a centralized power.
in the gaps in the Lincoln lore would not be complete without his
rap sheet of civil liberties abuses. Like Bill Clinton, Lincoln
conducted a war without the consent of Congress. He declared martial
law, confiscated private property, suspended habeas corpus, imprisoning
about 30,000 Northern citizens and 31 legislators without trial,
censored telegraph lines, and shut down newspapers for opposing
ignoble institute of slavery dissolved relatively uneventfully in
most slave societies around that time, with only Haiti and the U.S.
resorting to violence. This makes Lincolnís victory a pyrrhic one
Mercer is a freelance writer based in Vancouver, Canada.