Abraham Lincoln In His Own Words

During his four years as President, Abraham Lincoln addressed several issues. Among them were free trade, tariffs, and of course, secession, the nature of the Union, and slavery.

Just as with the latter-day followers of Karl Marx, Lincoln apologists ignore what he actually said and offer us what they presume he “really” meant to say, but didn’t. Accordingly, due to the great mythology surrounding Lincoln’s words and deeds, it would be appropriate to quote him directly, to allow him to explain his motivations and thoughts for himself.

Additional quotes from others are also included to provide context.

On Laissez-Faire:

“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, Campaign Speech, 1832.

“[Free trade is a system whereby] some have labored, and others have, without labor, enjoyed a large portion of the fruits…. To secure to each laborer the whole product of his labor, or as nearly as possible, is a most worthy object of any good government.”

“[International trade] is demonstrably a dead loss of labor… labor being the true standard of value.” ~ Lincoln, Feb. 15, 1861

“The legitimate object of government is to do for a community of people whatever they need to have done, but cannot do at all, or cannot do so well, for themselves, in their separate and individual capacities.”

“I… would continue (trade) where it is necessary, and discontinue it, where it is not. As instance: I would continue commerce so far as it is employed in bringing us coffee, and I would discontinue it so far as it is employed in bringing us cotton goods.” This starkly illustrates Lincoln’s dictatorial mentality. He will place his subjective impressions over the decisions of individual consumers. Lincoln proposed that he, rather than consumers, would determine which goods and services would exist. This is Lincoln as amateur Soviet-style central planner.

There is a myth that Lincoln’s administration helped the development of capitalism, but his own comments reveal his anti-free trade and mercantilist statism.

On Taxes:

“[I cannot] tell the reason… [but high tariffs will] make everything the farmers [buy] cheaper.”

“I was an old Henry-Clay-Tariff Whig. In old times I made more speeches on that subject than any other. I have not since changed my views.” ~ Lincoln, in a letter to Edward Wallace, Oct. 11 1859

“If I do that, what would become of my revenue? I might as well shut up housekeeping at once!” ~ Lincoln, in response to the suggestion by the Virginian Commissioners to abandon the custom house of Fort Sumter. Housekeeping is a euphemism for federal spending, in otherwords, taxing consumers to subsidize special interests, or what we would call today, corporate welfare.

“But what am I to do in the meantime with those men at Montgomery [meaning the Confederate constitutional convention]? Am I to let them go on… [a]nd open Charleston, etc., as ports of entry, with their ten-percent tariff. What, then, would become of my tariff?” ~ Lincoln to Colonel John B. Baldwin, deputized by the Virginian Commissioners to determine whether Lincoln would use force, April 4, 1861

Above all else, Lincoln was a tax and spender, and loved the Union because it would allow him to tax the South to spend on “internal improvements” in the North.

On the Constitution:

“Allow the President to invade a neighboring nation whenever he shall deem it necessary to repel an invasion, and you allow him to do so whenever he may choose to say he deems it necessary for such purpose – and you allow him to make war at pleasure…. If, today, he should choose to say he thinks it necessary to invade Canada, to prevent the British from invading us, how could you stop him? You may say to him, ‘I see no probability of the British invading us’ but he will say to you ‘be silent; I see it, if you don’t.’ The provision of the Constitution giving the war-making power to Congress, was dictated, as I understand it, by the following reasons. Kings had always been involving and impoverishing their people in wars, pretending generally, if not always, that the good of the people was the object. This, our Convention understood to be the most oppressive of all Kingly oppressions; and they resolved to so frame the Constitution that no one man should hold the power of bringing this oppression upon us. But your view destroys the whole matter, and places our President where kings have always stood.” ~ Representative Abraham Lincoln, in a letter to his long-time law partner William H. Herndon, denouncing the trickery of President Polk in provoking the Mexican War of 1848. The claims of the current president in regards to the alleged threat posed by Iraq are a fulfilment of Lincoln’s warning about presidential despotism, which he later had the leading hand in bringing about.

“The power confided in 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 of force against, or among the people anywhere…. You can have no conflict, without being yourselves the aggressors.” ~ Lincoln’s ultimatum to the South: basically it states, pay tribute to the North or failure to do so will be interpreted as a declaration of war, by the South, against the North.

“A union is made up of willing states.” ~ Wendell Philips, Abolitionist, in a speech in New York, 1860.

“While the people retain their virtue, and vigilance, no administration, by any extreme of wickedness or folly, can very seriously injure the government, in the short space of four years.” ~ Lincoln’s first Inaugural Address, March 4, 1861.

“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 in any fort or military prison in your command, the editors, proprietors and publishers of the aforesaid newspapers… and you will hold the persons so arrested in close custody until they can be brought to trial before a military commission.” ~ Order from Lincoln to General John A. Dix, May 18, 1864, two examples among many of newspapers shut down on Lincoln’s fiat, and the establishment of his military dictatorship over the First Amendment.

“I reiterate that the majority should rule.” ~ Lincoln, Feb. 14, 1861. Said the 40%, sectional president.

“And I do further proclaim, declare, and make known that whenever, in any of the States of Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, and North Carolina, a number of persons, not less than one-tenth in number of the votes cast in such State at the Presidential election of the year A.D. 1860, each having taken oath [of loyalty to Lincoln and the Union] aforesaid, and not having since violated it, and being a qualified voter by the election law of the State existing immediately before the so-called act of secession, and excluding all others, shall reestablish a State government which shall be republican and in nowise contravening said oath, such shall be recognized as the true government of the State, and the State shall receive thereunder the benefits of the constitutional provision which declares that “the United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a republican form of government and shall protect each of them against invasion, and, on application of the legislature, or the EXECUTIVE (when the legislature can not be convened), against domestic violence.” ~ Lincoln’s Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction, December 8 1863, demonstrating Lincoln’s unique definition of democracy, which, generally believed, is rule by 51% or better. A republican-form of government is generally believed to mean self-government, rather than the imperial model of rule by conquerors and their native collaborators. The emphasis on the State executive -the military governors – is particularly notable, as the 10% Union Loyalists provided the basis of Lincoln’s military dictatorship in the conquered States.

“Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” ~ Declaration of Independence, 1776.

Through thought and deed, Lincoln shows that his rhetoric at Gettysburg was one hypocrisy after another from the mouth of the chief destroyer of self-government and constitutional government throughout the States.

On Secession:

“…they [the South] commenced by an insidious debauching of the public mind. They invented an ingenious sophism which, if conceded, was followed by perfectly logical steps, through all the incidents, to the complete destruction of the Union. The sophism itself is that any State of the Union may consistently with the national Constitution, and therefore lawfully and peacefully, withdraw from the Union without the consent of the Union or of any other State.” ~ Lincoln, in his Special Message to Congress July 4 1861.

“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. Nor is this right confined to cases in which the whole people of an existing government may choose to exercise it. Any portion of such people, that can, may revolutionize, and make their own of so much of the territory as they inhabit. More than this, a majority of any portion of such people may revolutionize, putting down a minority, intermingled with, or near about them, who may oppose their movements.” ~ Lincoln January 12 1848, expressing the near-universally held Jeffersonian principle, before Lincoln unilaterally destroyed it, that no state could claim its inhabitants as its property.

“[I am] determined . . . to sever ourselves from the union we so much value rather than give up the rights of self-government . . . in which alone we see liberty, safety and happiness.” ~ Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence and a man whom Lincoln himself considered “the most distinguished politician in our history.”

“… a little rebellion now and then is a good thing, & as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical … a medicine necessary for the sound health of government.” ~ Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to James Madison, January 30, 1787

“If there be any among us who would wish to dissolve this Union… let them stand undisturbed as monuments of the safety with which error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it.” ~ Thomas Jefferson, first Inaugural Address, 1801.

“If any state in the Union will declare that it prefers separation… to a continuance in union… I have no hesitation in saying, ‘let us separate.'” ~ Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to W. Crawford, June 20, 1816

“To coerce the States is one of the maddest projects that was ever devised…. Can any reasonable man be well disposed toward a government which makes war and carnage the only means of supporting itself – a government that can only exist by the sword? ~ Alexander Hamilton, during the Constitutional Convention.

“The Union, in any event, won’t be dissolved. We don’t want to dissolve it, and if you attempt it, we won’t let you. With the purse and sword, the army and navy and treasury in our hands and at our command, you couldn’t do it…. We do not want to dissolve the Union; you shall not.” ~ Lincoln, in a campaign speech in Galena, Illinois, Aug. 1 1856.

“… the right of a state to secede from the Union [has been] settled forever by the highest tribunal – arms – that man can resort to.” ~ Ulysses S. Grant’s theory of constitutional law. Organized murder replaces reason.

“A policy of violent opposition to secession is a policy of forced association. As with all forms of forced association, the stronger party will tend to exploit the weaker. Such is the case with the master-slave relationship. Such is the case when a state is forced to remain in the Union against its will. Both forms of forced association are immoral.” ~ James Ostrowski ‘Was the Union Army’s Invasion of the Confederate States a Lawful Act? An Analysis of President Lincoln’s Legal Arguments Against Secession’ in Secession, State, and Liberty.

“Even though unionists have placed great stock in the Preamble, their recitations rarely extend past the first 15 words… the presence in the Preamble of the phrase, “We, the People of the United States” was an accident! It originally read: ‘That the people of the States of New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia do ordain, declare and establish the following constitution for the government of ourselves and our posterity.’ It was amended, not for the purpose of submitting the constitution to the people in the aggregate, but because the convention could not tell, in advance, which States would ratify it.” James Ostrowski ‘Was the Union Army’s Invasion of the Confederate States a Lawful Act? An Analysis of President Lincoln’s Legal Arguments Against Secession’ in Secession, State, and Liberty.

Lincoln’s view of the Union as irrevocable and inescapable is both ahistorical and immoral. His notion that the Union created the States is as absurd as someone claiming a child fathered its own parents. The federal government is not a partner in a marriage, but rather the offspring of a marriage between the sovereign States.

On Slavery:

“… when they [slaveowners] remind us of their constitutional rights, I acknowledge them, not grudgingly but fully and fairly; and I would give them any legislation for the claiming of their fugitives.” ~ Lincoln, speaking in support of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850.

“…in nearly all the published speeches of him who now addresses you… I do but quote from one of those speeches when I declare that ‘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.’ ”

“I have no objection to its being made express and irrevocable.” ~ Lincoln, speaking in regards to slavery and in support of a proposed Thirteenth Amendment to explicitly guarantee slavery.

“Servile labor disappeared because it could not stand the competition of free labor; its profitability sealed [slavery’s] doom in the market economy.” ~ Ludwig von Mises, explaining why an institution that had been a universal feature of all societies throughout recorded history could finally be abolished by laissez-faire economic liberties, which unfortunately, could not prevent politicians from stealing the credit for it.

As his own words demonstrate, Lincoln was willing to accomodate slavery. As was shown in the taxation section above, it was only the tariff that he would never compromise on.

On Blacks:

“The whole nation is interested that the best use shall be made of these territories. We want them for the homes of free white people.” ~ Lincoln, on whether blacks – slave or free – should be allowed in the new territories in the west, October 16, 1854.

“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.” ~ Lincoln, Aug. 21, 1858, in remarks stating his belief that blacks were naturally inferior to whites, which was a nearly universal belief on the part of whites in both the North and South long before and long after the Civil War.

“Root, hog, or die” ~ Lincoln’s suggestion to illiterate and propertyless ex-slaves unprepared for freedom, Feb. 3, 1865.

“They had better be set to digging their subsistence out of the ground.” ~ Lincoln in a War Department memo, April 16, 1863

“Send them to Liberia, to their own native land.” ~ Lincoln, speaking in favor of ethnic cleansing all blacks from the United States.

“I cannot make it better known than it already is, that I favor colonization.” ~ Lincoln, in a message to Congress, December 1, 1862, supporting deportation of all blacks from America.

“President Lincoln may colonize himself if he choose, but it is an impertinent act, on his part, to propose the getting rid of those who are as good as himself.” ~ America’s preeminent immediate Abolitionist and advocate of free trade, William Lloyd Garrison.

“[Lincoln] had not a drop of anti-slavery blood in his veins.” ~ William Lloyd Garrison.

The comments shown here illustrate that abolition was not what motivated Lincoln. The coldness in Lincoln’s remarks, the lack of thought and preparation about the process of emancipation, and how the freedman would cope without the necessary skills is readily apparent.

On the Emancipation Proclamation:

“What good would a proclamation of emancipation from me do, especially as we are now situated? I do not want to issue a document that the whole world will see must necessarily be inoperative, like the Pope’s bull against the comet! Would my word free the slaves, when I cannot even enforce the Constitution in the rebel States?… Now, then, tell me, if you please, what possible result of good would follow the issuing of such a proclamation as you desire? Understand, I raise no objections against it on legal or constitutional grounds; for, as commander-in-chief of the army and navy, in time of war I suppose I have a right to take any measure which may best subdue the enemy; nor do I urge objections of a moral nature, in view of possible consequences of insurrection and massacre at the South. I view this matter as a practical war measure, to be decided on according to the advantages or disadvantages it may offer to the suppression of the rebellion…. I will also concede that emancipation would help us in Europe, and convince them that we are incited by something more than ambition…. Still, some additional strength would be added in that way to the war, and then, unquestionably, it would weaken the rebels by drawing off their laborers, which is of great importance; but I am not so sure we could do much with the blacks…. I think you should admit that we already have an important principle to rally and unite the people, in the fact that constitutional government is at stake. This is a fundamental idea.” ~ Lincoln’s reply to a Committee from Religious Denominations of Chicago asking for a Proclamation of Emancipation, on Sept. 13, 1862. Less than four months later he would decree what he would term a “war measure,” the Emancipation Proclamation, on Jan 1, 1863.

“It had got to be midsummer, 1862. Things had gone on from bad to worse, until I felt that we had reached the end of our rope on the plan of operations we had been pursuing; that we had about played our last card, and must change our tactics, or lose the game. I now determined upon the adoption of the emancipation policy; and without consultation with, or the knowledge of, the Cabinet, I prepared the original draft of the proclamation, and, after much anxious thought, called a Cabinet meeting upon the subject. This was the last of July or the first part of the month of August, 1862. [The exact date was July 22, 1862.]” ~ Lincoln, to the artist F.B. Carpenter, Feb. 6 1864. Almost two months before his meeting with the Chicago Committee. Ol’ Honest Abe, indeed.

“The original proclamation has no… legal justification, except as a military measure.” ~ Lincoln, in a letter to Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase.

On the War:

“My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and 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.” ~ Letter to Horace Greeley, Editor of the New York Tribune, August 22 1862. This more than anything else demonstrates that Lincoln’s centralist superstitions derived from Daniel Webster and Joseph Story about “the Union,” rather than the immorality of slavery, were his motivations in plotting war. This letter also contradicts Lincoln’s sentiment expressed in his first inaugural address, that he had neither the “lawful right,” or the “inclination” to abolish slavery.

“If the lord would only give the United States [i.e., the North] an excuse for a war with England, France, or Spain, that would be the best means of reestablishing internal peace [by uniting Northern opinion].” ~ Secretary of State William H. Seward, April 1, 1861

“The Sumter expedition failed of its ostensible object, but it brought about the Southern attack on that fort. The first gun fired there effectively cleared the air… and placed Lincoln at the head of the united people.” ~ Secretary of State Seward’s opinion about Ft. Sumter.

“You and I both anticipated that the cause of the country would be advanced by making the attempt to provision Fort Sumter, even if it should fail, and it is no small consolation now to feel that our anticipation is justified by the result.” ~ Lincoln to Gustavus Fox, in a letter dated May 1 1865. The phrase ‘even if it should fail’ is a tip off to Lincoln’s real motivations.

“President Lincoln in deciding the Sumter question had adopted a simple but effective policy. To use his own words, he determined to “send bread to Anderson”; if the rebels fired on that, they would not be able to convince the world that he had begun the civil war.” ~ The account of John G. Nicolay and John Hay, Lincoln’s trusted confidential secretaries.

“He told me that the very first thing placed in his hands after his inauguration was a letter from Major Anderson announcing the impossibility of defending or relieving Sumter…. He himself conceived the idea, and proposed sending supplies, without an attempt to reinforce giving notice of the fact to Governor Pickens of S.C. The plan succeeded. They attacked Sumter – it fell, and thus, did more service than it otherwise could.” ~ Senator Orville H. Browning, Lincoln’s close friend for twenty years, and staunch supporter of Lincoln’s dictatorship, in his daily diary that Lincoln didn’t know he kept, July 3, 1861.

If the plan Lincoln refered to was to resupply Ft. Sumter, then that plan failed, since the ships never approached the fort. But if the plan was to get the South to fire first, then that plan succeeded. Lincoln’s own words reveal his deceit, contrary to his claim the next day in his message to Congress to have proceeded “without guile and with pure purpose” in pursuit of a peaceful solution to the crisis.

Northern Editorials Against Him:

“…the mask has been thrown off, and it is apparent that the people of the principle seceding States are now for commercial independence.” ~  Boston Transcript newspaper, March 18 1861.

“Mr. Lincoln saw an opportunity to inaugurate civil war without appearing in the character of an aggressor.” ~ Providence Daily Post, April 13 1861

“We are to have civil war, if at all, because Abraham Lincoln loves a [the Republican] party better than he loves his country…. [He] clings to his party creed, and allows the nation to drift into the whirlpool of destruction.” ~ The Providence Daily Post, April 13 1861

“If this result follows – and follow civil war it must – the memory of ABRAHAM LINCOLN and his infatuated advisors will only be preserved with that of other destroyers to the scorned and execrated…. And if the historian who preserves the record of his fatal administration needs any motto descriptive of the president who destroyed the institutions which he swore to protect, it will probably be some such as this: Here is the record of one who feared more to have it said that he deserted his party than that he ruined the country, who had a greater solicitude for his consistency as a partisan than for his wisdom as a Statesman or his courage and virtue as a patriot, and who destroyed by his weakness the fairest experiment of man in self-government that the world ever witnessed.” ~ The American Standard, New Jersey, April 12, 1861, the very day the South moved to reclaim Fort Sumter.

“The affair at Fort Sumter, it seems to us, has been planned as a means by which the war feeling at the North should be intensified, and the administration thus receive popular support for its policy…. If the armament which lay outside the harbor, while the fort was being battered to pieces [the US ship The Harriet Lane, and seven other reinforcement ships], had been designed for the relief of Major Anderson, it certainly would have made a show of fulfilling its mission. But it seems plain to us that no such design was had. The administration, virtually, to use a homely illustration, stood at Sumter like a boy with a chip on his shoulder, daring his antagonist to knock it off. The Carolinians have knocked off the chip. War is inaugurated, and the design of the administration accomplished.” ~ The Buffalo Daily Courier, April 16, 1861.

“We have no doubt, and all the circumstances prove, that it was a cunningly devised scheme, contrived with all due attention to scenic display and intended to arouse, and, if possible, exasperate the northern people against the South…. We venture to say a more gigantic conspiracy against the principles of human liberty and freedom has never been concocted. Who but a fiend could have thought of sacrificing the gallant Major Anderson and his little band in order to carry out a political game? Yet there he was compelled to stand for thirty-six hours amid a torrent of fire and shell, while the fleet sent to assist him, coolly looked at his flag of distress and moved not to his assistance! Why did they not? Perhaps the archives in Washington will yet tell the tale of this strange proceeding…. Pause then, and consider before you endorse these mad men who are now, under pretense of preserving the Union, doing the very thing that must forever divide it. ~ The New York Evening Day-Book, April 17, 1861.

Foreign Editorials Against Him:

“Democracy broke down, not when the Union ceased to be agreeable to all its constituent States, but when it was upheld, like any other Empire, by force of arms.” ~ The London Times.

“With what pretence of fairness, it is said, can you Americans object to the secession of the Southern States when your nation was founded on secession from the British Empire?” ~ Cornhill Magazine (London) 1861.

“The struggle of today is on the one side for empire and on the other for independence.” ~ Wigan Examiner (UK) May, 1861.

“The Southerners are admired for everything but their slavery and that their independence may be speedily acknowledged by France and England is, we are convinced, the strong desire of the vast majority, not only in England but throughout Europe.” ~ Liverpool Daily Post, 11 March 1862.


As the attorney and legal scholar, James Ostrowski commented, for Lincoln’s actions and his creative interpretation of the Constitution to have actually been legal, the Constitution would have had to state that: 1) No state may ever secede from the Union for any reason. 2) If any State attempts to secede, the Federal Government shall invade such State with sufficient military force to suppress the attempted secession. 3) The federal government may coerce all states to provide militias to suppress the seceding state. 4) After suppressing said secession, the Federal Government shall rule said State by martial law until such time as said State shall accept permanent federal supremacy. 5) After suppressing said secession, the Federal Government shall force said State to ratify a new constitutional amendment which gives the Federal Government the right to police the states whenever it believes those states are violating the rights of their citizens. 6) The President may, of his own authority, suspend the operation of the Bill of Rights and the writ of habeas corpus, in a seceding or loyal state, if in his sole judgement, such is necessary to preserve the Union.

Of course, if the Constitution actually said this, it would never have been approved by the legislatures of the sovereign States.

As Lincoln himself stated, as well as commentators at the time, taxation and secession were the issues, not slavery. And as many in the North realized, it was Abraham Lincoln who schemed to launch the most devastating war in American history.

October 12, 2002