The Weirdest Defense of Lincoln Yet

The financial newsletter writer Jude Wanniski apparently believes that he has mystical powers. In a recent article on Supply Side Investor ("Defending Abraham Lincoln,’ June 25 he criticized my book, The Real Lincoln, while admitting that "I figured I did not need to read the DiLorenzo book." At least he’s more intellectually honest than some of my other critics.

His weird article was a response to an article on by Clyde Wilson ("DiLorenzo and His Critics"), who addressed the anti-intellectual penchant of some of my critics to argue that all historical understanding is settled, at least when it comes to Lincoln and the War between the States, and that there is no need for further research. Wanniski apparently didn’t even read Wilson’s article, for he refers to it as a book review, which it definitely is not.

Abraham Best and Greatest: Lincoln as a Roman god Like many other Lincoln idolaters, Wanniski believes that entire books can be dismissed by simply referring to a simple sentence or two from Father Abraham. Just like that. Just like magic. For example, he uses tongue-twisting Clintonian spin to argue that Lincoln’s 1848 defense of the right of secession was not really a defense of the right of secession. Here’s what Lincoln said:

Any people anywhere, being inclined and having the power, have the right to rise up and shake off the existing government and form a new one that suits them better. This is a most valuable, a most sacred right — a right which we hope and believe is to liberate the world.

Ignoring all of American history, including the long history of the belief in the right of secession that I document in The Real Lincoln, Wanniski argues in fine Clintonian fashion that Lincoln only said that a people can "TRY" to secede "IF THEY HAVE THE POWER." But of course, Lincoln’s army murdered 300,000 fellow citizens, including one out of every four white males between the ages of 20 and 40, roughly the equivalent of almost 3 million men if we standardize for today’s population. His army also pillaged, plundered, raped, and burned its way through the South for four years, as I also discuss in my chapter on "Waging War on Civilians" (which of course, Wanniski has not read).

Might makes right is Wanniski’s argument — if it can be called an argument. "This is why Lincoln is admired," he says. Well, if that’s true, then the former Soviet Union must be every bit as "admirable" in Wanniski’s world for it, too, kept together a vast Union by violence and murder. He probably also applauds the mass murder of the Chechens by the Russian government, which has also used its military power to keep Chechnya from seceding. It is telling that Vladimir Putin invoked the legacy of Lincoln as part of his "justification" for mass murdering the Chechens, who were trying to secede from the Russian Union.

If might makes right, as Wanniski argues, then there is no sense studying, learning, and debating history, philosophy, law, politics, religion, economics, or any other subject. Arguments can always be "won" at gunpoint, according to Wanniski.

Wanniski must not know that many Northern newspapers — and, indeed, a large portion of the American population, North and South, in 1860 and 1861 — believed that using military force to prevent a state from seceding would destroy the Union in a philosophical sense because it would no longer be a voluntary compact. In my book I cite dozens of Northern newspaper editorials that bemoaned the fact that doing so would destroy the Jeffersonian principle that governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed (see Howard Cecil Perkins, Northern Editorials on Secession).

Despite his admission of not having read my book, Wanniski nevertheless denounces it as "trivial and sophomoric" because he apparently believes that it does not jibe with his viewpoint on the subject.

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