'The Weekly Standard' Feigns Objectivity

In the December 29, 2003, issue of The Weekly Standard, senior editor Andrew Ferguson discusses the controversy surrounding the new Lincoln statue that was erected in Richmond, Virginia, last April. Ferguson makes a weak attempt to appear objective by mentioning a few of the reasons why there were objections to the statue; but upon close reading of his piece it is evident that he fails miserably in explaining to his readers why the Lincoln statue was so controversial.

Coming from the premier neocon magazine, it may seem shocking to some that Ferguson actually mentions a few of the well-documented criticisms of Lincoln: During his lifetime he was "one of the least popular presidents the country has ever known"; he was either an agnostic or, more likely, an atheist despite his prolific use of Scripture in his political speeches; and every minister in Springfield, Illinois, opposed his election.

I have received numerous emails expressing great surprise at such "objectivity" coming from the Standard. But in fact Ferguson’s "objectivity" is only a pretense. He claims to have spent months researching the article, and these three trivial facts are all that he could come up with in terms of criticisms of Lincoln. If he would have spent a little time surveying some of the mainstream history on Lincoln by David Donald, James G. Randall, and others, he would have come across the following well-documented facts about Lincoln:

  • He was a consummate politician who spoke out of both sides of his mouth, saying one thing to one audience and the opposite to another.
  • He was adamantly opposed to racial equality, actually using the words "superior and inferior" to describe the "appropriate" relation between the white and black races.
  • He opposed giving blacks the right to vote, to serve on juries, or to intermarry with whites.
  • He supported the legal rights of slave owners and pledged his support of a constitutional amendment that would have prohibited the federal government from ever interfering with Southern slavery.
  • He was a mercantilist and a political tool of corrupt Northern business interests.
  • He was a railroad industry lobbyist who championed corporate welfare.
  • He once represented a slave owner in a case in which he sought to recover his runaway slaves. Lincoln lost the case and the slaves gained their freedom.
  • He advocated sending all blacks back to Africa, Central America, or Haiti — anywhere but the U.S.
  • He proposed strengthening the Fugitive Slave Law.
  • He opposed the extension of slavery into the territories so that "free white people" would not have to associate with blacks or compete with them for jobs.
  • He opposed black citizenship in Illinois and supported the state’s constitution which prohibited the emigration of black people into the state.
  • He was the head of the Illinois Colonization Society, which advocated the use of state tax dollars to deport the small number of free blacks that resided within the state.
  • He nullified the early emancipation of slaves in Missouri and Georgia early in the war.
  • He sent troops to New York City to put down a draft riot by shooting hundreds of them in the streets.
  • He was an enemy of free-market capitalism.
  • He started a war over tax collection that ended up killing 620,000 Americans and wounding and maiming even more.
  • He conjured up the spectacular lie that no such thing as state sovereignty ever existed to "justify" his invasion and conquest of the Southern states.
  • He refused to meet with Confederate peace commissioners before the war to work out a peaceful compromise.
  • He provoked the upper South — Virginia, North Carolina, Arkansas and Tennessee — to secede by launching a military invasion of their sister states.
  • He supported economic interventionism through protectionist tariffs, corporate welfare, and central banking that would plunder one section of the country (the South) for the benefit of his Northern political supporters.
  • He started a war without the consent of Congress; illegally declared martial law; illegally blockaded Southern ports; illegally suspended habeas corpus and arrested tens of thousands of political opponents; illegally orchestrated the secession of West Virginia; shut down hundreds of opposition newspapers and imprisoned their editors and owners; deported the most outspoken member of the Democratic Party opposition, Congressman Clement L. Vallandigham of Ohio; confiscated private property, including firearms; ignored the Ninth and Tenth Amendments; tolerated the arrest of ministers who refused to publicly pray for him; arrested duly elected members of the Maryland legislature as well as Congressman Henry May of Baltimore; and supported a law that indemnified federal officials from all of these illegal acts.
  • He orchestrated the rigging of Northern elections.
  • Introduced the slavery of conscription and income taxation.
  • Censored all telegraph communication.
  • Waged war on civilians by having his armies bomb Southern cities and destroy or steal crops, livestock and private property throughout the South.
  • Created an enormous political patronage system that survives today.
  • Allowed the unjust mass execution of Sioux Indians in Minnesota.
  • Destroyed the system of federalism and states’ rights that was created by the founding fathers, thereby destroying the voluntary union.
  • Promoted generals for their willingness to use troops as cannon fodder.
  • Created an internal revenue bureaucracy that has never diminished in size and power.

These are just a few examples of Lincoln’s tyrannical behavior that have been well documented for decades by mainstream, pro-Lincoln scholars but which were completely ignored by Ferguson. He ignored them despite the fact that they are the main reason why there was a controversy over the Lincoln statue in Richmond — supposedly the subject of his long-winded and rambling piece.

Another thing that Ferguson did not pick up on is that a "Lincoln scholar," such as the ones he witnessed at the speakers’ podium during the unveiling of the statue (former Mario Cuomo speech writer Harold Holzer, former LBJ speech writer William Lee Miller, and Ronald C. White, dean of a San Francisco theological seminary), earn such a designation by dreaming up creative excuses for the above-mentioned acts of tyranny.

For example, no one has concocted more excuses for Lincolnian tyranny than Harry Jaffa. In his latest book on Lincoln he says such things as, "Negroes have voting rights and serve on juries today owing in large measure to the fact that Lincoln in the 1850s disavowed any intention to make them voters or jurors." The literature on Lincoln is filled with thousands upon thousands of lame excuses like this for every one of the above-mentioned acts of tyranny. That is how one comes to be celebrated as a "Lincoln scholar."

To his credit, Ferguson does mention one example of what he calls the "baloney" of Lincoln scholarship. One tall tale about Lincoln that was fabricated by Northern preachers and newspapers after the war, and which is often repeated verbatim by "Lincoln scholars," is that when Lincoln toured Richmond in early April of 1865 a black man supposedly approached him, dropped to his knees, and said: "Bress de Lord, dere is the great messiah!" "I know dat I am free, for I seen Father Abraham, Glory, Hallelujah!"

According to the myth, Lincoln, who never joined a church, never became a Believer, scoffed at Scripture to his friends, and was an infamous dirty joke teller, responded by saying: "Don’t kneel to me . . . You must kneel to God only, and thank Him for the liberty you will hereafter enjoy. I am but God’s humble instrument . . . "

Ferguson correctly observes that he is not exactly going out on a limb to conclude that this ludicrous story, "recorded with stenographic precision, is baloney."

Unfortunately, Ferguson drops all pretenses of objectivity in his discussion of the "Lincoln Reconsidered" conference that I organized last spring in Richmond (which was sponsored by In the computer printout of his article he devotes 26 lines to a discussion of how shabby the John Marshall Hotel, the site of the conference, was (unlike Ferguson, we were not subsidized by Rupert Murdoch); 45 lines to a discussion he had about the conference with an anonymous and eccentric sounding man whom he gives the name "Robert"; 34 lines to the atmosphere of his lunch at a Subway sandwich shop during the conference lunch break; and a mere 24 lines to what was discussed by the six scholarly speakers at our all-day conference, which was followed by a 90-minute Q&A session before an audience of more than 300.

The purpose of the conference was to shed some light to the public as to why not everyone thought that a statue of Lincoln was appropriate in Richmond. Ferguson claims that one purpose of his article is to explain exactly this. If so, he does a grossly incompetent job, for the only coverage he gives to the conference is a couple of paragraphs about some of the remarks made by Professors Donald Livingston and Clyde Wilson. He says nothing of my remarks, or of any of the other speakers, or of the extremely stimulating 90 minute Q&A session.

Worse yet, Ferguson repeats some of the lies that have been spread around about my book, The Real Lincoln, by some of my more rabid and dishonest critics, such as Thomas Krannawitter and MacKubin Thomas Owens. For example, Ferguson writes that I cite Lincoln’s numerous white supremacist statements but ignore his more pleasant-sounding statements about equality and his opposition (in principle at least) to slavery. This is simply untrue. I quote Lincoln as calling slavery a "monstrous injustice" in my book. Had Ferguson actually read the relevant chapter of my book instead of relying on the hatchet jobs done on the book by the likes of Krannawitter and Owens, he would not have repeated this lie.

He is correct, however, in stating that I believe that Lincoln was sincere in his white supremacist beliefs but not so sincere with his talk of equality. I came to this conclusion based on Lincoln’s actions, not merely the words in his political speeches. He promised to support Southern slavery through the Fugitive Slave Act, supported a constitutional amendment to assure that Southern slavery would have existed long past his own lifetime, advocated "colonization" or deportation of blacks, denied that blacks should ever be given basic citizenship rights, etc. No believer in natural rights and equality could advocate such things. I explain this in my book, and explained it in public at the Richmond conference in response to a question from the audience. Ferguson was in the audience at the time, for in his article he writes of his discussions with fellow attendees after it was over.

A second lie about The Real Lincoln that Ferguson repeats is that the book is a compilation of "all the anti-Lincoln literature" of the past century. Again, if Ferguson had read the book instead of relying on lies about the book that have been spread by other neocons, he would not have made this charge. In my chapter on secession, for example, I invoke the words of Jefferson, Hamilton, Madison, and Tocqueville, among others, who can hardly be said to have been "anti-Lincoln." I even quote Lincoln himself, who spoke in support of the right of secession in an 1848 speech during his one term in Congress.

In the chapter on the "Lincoln Dictatorship" I rely heavily on the work of James G. Randall, who James McPherson calls "the preeminent Lincoln scholar of the last generation." I also make use of Dean Sprague’s book, Freedom Under Lincoln, which concludes with a chapter entitled "Lincoln the Humanitarian."

In the chapter entitled "Waging War on Civilians" I rely on scholarly works by Mark Grimsley and a number of Sherman biographers, none of whom is anti-Lincoln. Ferguson obviously did not bother to read my book before commenting on it.

He also cites only one negative review of my book by a man who teaches history at a junior college, but ignores positive reviews by Gene Epstein of Barron’s magazine, syndicated columnists Walter Williams, Paul Craig Roberts and Joseph Sobran, Foundation for Economic Education president Richard Ebeling, David Gordon of the Mises Review, Ilana Mercer of WorldNetDaily, and others.

In another lame attempt to portray the conference attendees as somehow unbalanced, Ferguson describes some literature that was apparently being handed out or sold in the lobby of the hotel by people who were not associated with the conference. On the other hand, he does not mention the serious, scholarly publications that were for sale at the conference registration table, including such Mises Institute publications as The Costs of War and Reassessing the Presidency, edited by John V. Denson, and Secession, State and Liberty, edited by David Gordon. I have no idea who the people were who were handing out pamphlets in the lobby of the hotel, but it is clear that Ferguson devoted space in his article to a description of their pamphlets, and not the above-mentioned Mises Institute books, because he wanted to present to his readers a less-than-accurate image of what went on at the conference.

Because of these gross biases and omissions, Andrew Ferguson and The Weekly Standard have failed to inform their readers of why the Lincoln statue in Richmond was so controversial that it made international news last spring.

Really Learn About the Real Lincoln Now there is a study guide and video to accompany Professor DiLorenzo’s great work, for homeschoolers and indeed anyone interested in real American history.