When You Know You're Doing Something Right

You know you’re doing something right when you are the object of cheap shots, lies, and smears by a paid agent of the state whose job is to make up excuses and "justifications" for all the state’s wars and other military misadventures. A case in point is a dishonest and quite hysterical "review" of my book, The Real Lincoln, by one Mackubin Thomas Owens, in the May 4 Washington Times. Owens identifies himself as a professor of defense economics at the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island.

He begins his "review" by charging that my book is based on "Marxist economic analysis," revealing a deep ignorance of economics on his part. For one thing, for more than twenty years I have been associated with the Austrian and Public Choice Schools of economics, the two most consistent anti-socialist schools of thought that exist. In my book I describe the seventy year economic debate between the Hamiltonians and Jeffersonians, with the former group lobbying relentlessly for protectionist tariffs, corporate welfare, and inflationism through central banking. They wanted centralized government in order to enact their central plan and accumulate political power by handing out patronage to protectionist and subsidy-seeking industries. Lincoln was the political heir of Alexander Hamilton and spent most of his twenty-eight year political career prior to becoming president promoting this economic agenda.

The Jeffersonians opposed all of this, and their opposition was ended during the War Between the States, when all of the previously-debated policies were adopted (in the first eighteen months of the Lincoln administration). The whole classical liberal tradition is one of condemning interventionist economic policies precisely because they are a means of "legally plundering" one group of citizens at the expense of another. This kind of analysis has its roots in Adam Smith, Jeremy Bentham (who spoke of "sinister interests), Frederic Bastiat, the British Manchester Schoool, and above all, the Austrian School of economics. It has nothing to do with Marx’s defunct theories of class warfare.

This is what many Southerners were complaining about for decades preceding the war — that they were especially being plundered by the protectionist tariff, which Lincoln and the Republican Party tripled as soon as he took office. There is no Marxian class analysis here, only traditional Public Choice analysis rooted in the classical liberal tradition.

Owens also tells several outright lies of the sort that, one would hope, would get any Naval Academy cadet kicked out of the Academy for violating its Honor Code. He writes that I say in my book that "slavery had nothing to do with the war." I unequivocally do not; I say just the opposite. This is a lie.

He is also deceptive and deceitful by quoting his hero, Harry Jaffa, as once remarking that the late Mel Bradford’s discussions of all of Lincoln’s many racist remarks — and there were many — were also highlighted by white supremacist "White Citizens Councils." He is implying that Bradford must have agreed with these characters, as must I. But these people quoted Lincoln’s racist remarks ("I . . . am in favor of the race to which I belong having the superior position. I have never said anything to the contrary," Ottawa Ill., Aug. 21, 1858) because they approved of them. I quoted them because they are an ugly side of Lincoln that has been well hidden from public view by state propagandists like Owens. That is the deceit that Owens attempts to perpetrate.

Owens says that I claim that John C. Calhoun was the architect of the doctrine of state sovereignty, which I do not. Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, authors of the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions of 1798 that enunciated the doctrine of nullification, came first, as did myriad other members of the founding generation. Since Calhoun defended slavery, Owens is dishonestly trying to make it appear that only such people as Calhoun ever spoke of states’ rights.

Owens doesn’t marshal any real arguments other than to quote his hero, Harry Jaffa. He notes that I quote an 1848 speech Lincoln made in Congress on the topic of the Mexican War in which he defended the right of secession. Owens invokes Jaffa, who has tried to explain this away with the silly semantic game of pretending that the founders distinguished between revolution and secession. Of course, the American Revolution was a war of secession from England. Such word games are a pathetic and unconvincing attempt to rewrite history in Clintonian fashion.

After beginning his article by calling me a Marxist, Owens ends it by labeling me a libertarian. He assumes that Lincoln was a champion of Lockean liberalism, and therefore thinks it odd that I would criticize Lincoln. But Lincoln was always perfectly content to allow Southern slavery to exist, as long as the Southern states remained in the Union. When the deep South first seceded and the upper South — Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Arkansas — did not, Lincoln was happy to have these slave states as part of the Union. He orchestrated the secession of western Virginia (unconstitutionally, according to his own attorney general) to bolster his electoral college vote in 1864 and again, was not opposed to the existence of slavery there.

He opposed the extension of slavery in the new territories, but the reasons he gave for this were that he and the Republican Party wanted to preserve these territories for white labor (which would then vote Republican), and that because of the Three-Fifths clause of the Constitution, slavery in the territories would have artificially inflated the level of congressional representation by the Democratic Party. What kind of Lockean is it who supports slavery, promises to uphold it "where it exists" and to even strengthen it by enforcing the Fugitive Slave Act?

And what kind of Lockean is it who: Launches a military invasion without the consent of Congress, unilaterally and unconstitutionally suspends the writ of habeas corpus and imprisons more than 13,000 Northern dissenters (i.e., political prisoners), censors all telegraph communications, shuts down hundreds of opposition newspapers and imprisons their editors and owners, orders federal troops to interfere with Northern elections, confiscates private property, including firearms, establishes a secret police force to round up and imprison political dissenters, tortures civilian prisoners by hanging them by their wrists and with water torture (see Mark Neely’s Fate of Liberty), and wages a four-year war on civilians as well as combatants? I suppose that would be Owens’s definition of a "Lockean liberal."

Here are some references that describe all these offenses and more: Constitutional Problems Under Lincoln by James G. Randall; Freedom Under Lincoln by Dean Sprague; Fate of Liberty by Mark Neely, Constitutional Dictatorship by Clinton Rossiter; and The Hard Hand of War by Mark Grimsley. This is part of the vast literature that does exist on the real Lincoln that state propagandists like Owens never mention other than to dismiss it.