At the outset of the War to Prevent Southern Independence both Abraham Lincoln and the U.S. Congress declared publicly that the sole purpose of the war was to save the union and not to interfere with Southern slavery. Lincoln himself stated this very clearly in his first inaugural address and in many other places. This fact bothers the court historians of the Lincoln cult who have in the past forty years rewritten American history to suggest that slavery was the sole cause of the war. (A generation ago, if one took a college course on "the Civil War" it was likely that one would have read The Causes of the Civil War by Kenneth Stampp, a former president of the American Historical Association.)
The latest attempt to rewrite or whitewash history comes from one Richard Striner in a December 13 New York Times article entitled "How Lincoln Undid the Union." The gist of Striner's argument is that: 1) a compromise to save the union was in the works in Washington in December of 1860; but 2) Lincoln persuaded key members of the Republican Party to oppose it because it might not have prohibited the extension of slavery into the new territories, a key feature of the 1860 Republican Party platform. Lincoln wanted to save the union, says Striner, but he wanted a union that would put slavery "on the path to extinction."
What rubbish. The notion that prohibiting the extension of slavery would somehow magically cause the end of Southern slavery has always been totally nonsensical. As University of Virginia Historian Michael Holt wrote in his book, Fate of Their Country (p. 27), "Modern economic historians have demonstrated that this assumption was false." It is every bit as nonsensical as Lincoln's crazy assertion that the extension of slavery into the Territories would have somehow led to the re-introduction of slavery into Maine, Massachusetts, and other states that had legally abolished slavery! (He ludicrously said that a nation "could not exist" half slave and half free). It is hard to believe that rational human beings ever believed such things. It is unlikely that many Americans of Lincoln's time did.
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Striner pretends to be able to read Lincoln's mind when he speculates that his motivation was to put slavery "on the road to extinction." He does not quote Lincoln himself as saying that this was his motivation; he merely speculates and fabricates a story. But Lincoln and other prominent Republicans did in fact state very clearly what their motivation was. There is no need to speculate. As Professor Holt, the history profession's preeminent expert on the politics of the antebellum era wrote: "Many northern whites also wanted to keep slaves out of the West in order to keep blacks out. The North was a pervasively racist society where free blacks suffered social, economic, and political discrimination . . . . Bigots, they sought to bar African-American slaves from the West." Lincoln himself clearly stated that "we" want the Territories "for free white labor."
Thus, part of Lincoln's motivation for opposing the extension of slavery – but making an ironclad defense of Southern slavery in his first inaugural address – was pandering to northern white supremacist voters (like himself) who did not want any blacks – free or slave – living among them. There was also a protectionist motivation, as the Republican Party wanted to prohibit competition for jobs from all blacks, free or slave. Illinois – Land of Lincoln – even amended its Constitution in 1848 to prohibit the emigration of black people into the state, a position that was endorsed by Lincoln. (Lincoln was also a "manager" of the Illinois Colonization Society, which sought to use state tax funds to deport the small number of free blacks who resided in the state.)
A third motivation for Lincoln's opposition to slavery extension was purely political. If slaves entered the Territories, they would inflate the congressional representation of the Democratic Party when the Territories became states because of the Three-Fifths Clause of the Constitution. That in turn – and most importantly – would block the Republican Party's economic agenda. Professor Holt quotes Ohio Congressman Joshua R. Giddings (p. 28) on this point: "To give the south the preponderance of political power would be itself a surrender of our tariff, our internal improvements, our distribution of proceeds of public lands . . . . It is the most abominable proposition with which a free people were ever insulted." It would destroy everything the Republican Party claimed to stand for, in other words, i.e., mercantilist economics. This is the real reason why Lincoln was so adamant about opposing the extension of slavery into the territories.
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Besides his demonstrably false, speculative fantasies about Lincoln's supposedly saintly motivations, Striner presents a very distorted and misleading account of the events of late 1860–early 1861. He quotes a private letter from Lincoln expressing his opposition to the particular compromise to save the union that was being sponsored by Senator John J. Crittenden of Kentucky at the time, but makes no mention of Lincoln's own "compromise" that was also in the works. The high priestess of the Lincoln Cult, Doris Kearns-Goodwin, describes Lincoln's compromise on page 296 of her book, Team of Rivals. As soon as he was elected, Lincoln "instructed [William] Seward to introduce [the Corwin Amendment to the Constitution] in the Senate Committee of Thirteen without indicating they issued from Springfield." The Corwin Amendment, which did pass the House and Senate, would have prohibited the federal government from ever interfering with Southern slavery. As Goodwin writes, Lincoln instructed Seward to make sure that the amendment said that "the Constitution should never be altered so as to authorize Congress to abolish or interfere with slavery in the states" where it existed. In addition, writes Goodwin, Lincoln instructed Seward, who would become his Secretary of State, to get a federal law introduced that would have made various personal liberty laws that existed in some Northern states illegal. These state laws were meant to nullify the federal Fugitive Slave Act, an act that Lincoln very strongly supported. Far from putting slavery "on the path to extinction," these actions of Lincoln's would have granted it more powerful government support than ever. Thus, Lincoln's actions in late 1860–early 1861 were exactly the opposite of how Professor Striner portrays them as being with regard to the issue of slavery.
The white supremacists of the North were very pleased indeed with Lincoln's assurances that he would do all that he could to prohibit black people from ever living among them, first by keeping them out of the Territories, and second by enshrining Southern slavery explicitly in the Constitution. He effectively promised to keep black people far away from such places as Boston, Massachusetts. Goodwin writes that when Seward went public and announced these actions to a Boston audience he was met with "thunderous applause."
On March 4, 1861, Lincoln praised the Corwin Amendment in his first inaugural address, offered his support of it, and said that while he believed slavery to already be constitutional, he had no reservations about making it "express and irrevocable" in the text of the U.S. Constitution.
These actual historical facts paint a very different picture of Lincoln's machinations from the one based on Professor Striner's baseless speculations and historical distortions. More disturbingly, Professor Striner, like all other Lincoln cultists, makes no mention at all of the fact that Lincoln's actions led to the mass murder of some 350,000 fellow American citizens, including more than 50,000 Southern civilians, along with an equivalent number of Northern war deaths. While virtually all the rest of the world had ended – or was in the process of ending – slavery peacefully, Lincoln cultists actually praise Lincoln for eschewing that well-charted peaceful route to emancipation while plunging his country into the bloodiest war in human history up to that point to supposedly "save the union." There is something awfully sick (and sickening) about this.
December 16, 2010