Thomas DiLorenzo: More on the Myth of Lincoln, Secession and the 'Civil War'

Introduction: Thomas DiLorenzo is an American economics professor at Loyola University Maryland. He is also a senior faculty member of the Ludwig von Mises Institute and an affiliated scholar of the League of the South Institute, the research arm of the League of the South, and the Abbeville Institute. He holds a Ph.D. in Economics from Virginia Tech. DiLorenzo has authored at least ten books, including The Real Lincoln: A New Look at Abraham Lincoln, His Agenda, and an Unnecessary War (2003), Hamilton’s Curse: How Jefferson’s Arch Enemy Betrayed the American Revolution and What It Means for Americans Today (2009), How Capitalism Saved America: The Untold History of Our Country, From the Pilgrims to the Present (2005), Lincoln Unmasked: What You’re Not Supposed To Know about Dishonest Abe (2007) and most recently, Organized Crime: The Unvarnished Truth About Government (2012). Thomas DiLorenzo is a frequent columnist for, lectures widely and is a frequent speaker at Mises Institute events.

Daily Bell: Remind our readers about one of your central intellectual passions, which is confronting academic “Lincoln revisionism.” Who was Lincoln really and why have you spent so much of your career trying to return Lincoln’s academic profile to reality?

Thomas DiLorenzo: Lincoln mythology is the ideological cornerstone of American statism. He was in reality the most hated of all American presidents during his lifetime according to an excellent book by historian Larry Tagg entitled The Unpopular Mr. Lincoln: America’s Most Reviled President. He was so hated in the North that the New York Times editorialized a wish that he would be assassinated. This is perfectly understandable: He illegally suspended Habeas Corpus and imprisoned tens of thousands of Northern political critics without due process; shut down over 300 opposition newspapers; committed treason by invading the Southern states (Article 3, Section 3 of the Constitution defines treason as “only levying war upon the states” or “giving aid and comfort to their enemies,” which of course is exactly what Lincoln did). He enforced military conscription with the murder of hundreds of New York City draft protesters in 1863 and with the mass execution of deserters from his army. He deported a congressional critic (Democratic Congressman Clement Vallandigham of Ohio); confiscated firearms; and issued an arrest warrant for the Chief Justice when the jurist issued an opinion that only Congress could legally suspend Habeas Corpus. He waged an unnecessary war (all other countries ended slavery peacefully in that century) that resulted in the death of as many as 850,000 Americans according to new research published in the last two years. Standardizing for today’s population, that would be similar to 8.5 million American deaths in a four-year war.

Lincoln was deified by the Republican Party, which monopolized the government for half a century after the war. The Pulitzer prize-winning novelist Robert Penn Warren wrote in his book, The Legacy of the Civil War, that all of this mythology created an ideology of “false virtue” that was (and is) interpreted by the American state to “justify” anything it ever did, no matter how heinous and imperialistic. The truth about Lincoln and his war “must be forgotten,” said Warren, if one is to believe in this “false virtue,” which also goes by the slogan of “American exceptionalism.”

Lincoln was a nationalist and an imperialist. He was the political son of Alexander Hamilton who, as such, advocated a government that would serve the moneyed elite at the expense of the masses. Hence his lifelong advocacy of protectionist tariffs, corporate welfare, and a central bank to fund it all. This was called “mercantilism” in the previous centuries, and was the very system the American colonists fought a revolution over.

Daily Bell: What did you think of the recent Steven Spielberg movie about Lincoln? Are defenders of Lincoln getting increasingly desperate?

Thomas DiLorenzo: Yes, the Lincoln cult is getting desperate. Spielberg hired Doris Kearns-Goodwin, a confessed plagiarist, as his advisor on the movie (See my article entitled “A Plagiarist’s Contribution to Lincoln Idolatry“). The main theme of the movie is exactly the opposite of historical truth. The main theme is that Lincoln used his legendary political skills to help get the Thirteenth Amendment that ended slavery through the Congress. But if one reads the most authoritative biography of Lincoln, by Harvard’s David Donald, one learns that not only did Lincoln not lift a finger to help the genuine abolitionists; he literally refused to help them when they went up to him and asked him for his help. Lincoln did use his political skills to get an earlier, proposed Thirteenth Amendment through the House and Senate. It was called the Corwin Amendment, and would have prohibited the federal government from ever interfering with Southern slavery. Even Doris Kearns-Goodwin writes about it in her book, Team of Rivals, discussing how the amendment, named after an Ohio congressman, was in reality the work of Abraham Lincoln.

Daily Bell: Why should that be so? Is the myth of Lincoln a central one to the larger and continued myth of modern US exceptionalism? Who propagates these myths and who benefits?

Thomas DiLorenzo: Yes, the Lincoln myth is the ideological cornerstone of “American exceptionalism” and has long been invoked by both major political parties to “justify” anything and everything. President Obama quoted and paraphrased Lincoln in a speech before the United Nations last September, and in his second inaugural address, to support his agenda of waging more aggressive wars in Syria, Iran, and elsewhere. Specifically, he repeated the “All Men are Created Equal” line from the Gettysburg Address to make the case that it is somehow the duty of Americans to force “freedom” on all men and women everywhere, all around the globe, at gunpoint if need be. This is the murderous, bankrupting, imperialistic game that Lincoln mythology is used to “justify.”

Daily Bell: Put Lincoln in context. Why is continued mythology so important to the current power structure of the Anglosphere?

Thomas DiLorenzo: The state cannot tell the people that it is bankrupting them and sending their sons and daughters to die by the thousands in aggressive and unconstitutional wars so that crony capitalism can be imposed at gunpoint in foreign countries, and so that the military-industrial complex can continue to rake in billions. That might risk a revolution. So instead, they have to use the happy talk of American virtue and American exceptionalism, the “god” of democracy,” etc. And the average American, whom the great H.L. Mencken referred to as part of the “booboisie,” believes it.

Daily Bell: Let’s try to clear up a few more myths. Did Lincoln issue greenbacks in defiance of British “money power”? In other words, was his war waged as an act of rebellion against European colonialism? From our point of view, Lincoln was likely in thrall to the New York banking establishment. How do you see it?

Thomas DiLorenzo: Lincoln spent his entire life in politics, from 1832 until his dying day, as a lobbyist for the American banking industry and the Northern manufacturing corporations that wanted cheaper credit funded by a government-run bank. He spent decades making speeches on behalf of resurrecting the corrupt and destabilizing Bank of the United States, founded originally by his political ancestor, Hamilton. No member of the Whig Party was more in bed with the American banking establishment than Lincoln was, according to University of Virginia historian Michael Holt in his book on the history of the American Whig party. The Whig agenda, which was always Lincoln’s agenda, was described brilliantly by Edgar Lee Masters (Clarence Darrow’s law partner) in his book, Lincoln the Man. The agenda was to champion “that political system which doles favors to the strong in order to win and keep their adherence to the government.” It advocated “a people taxed to make profits for enterprises that cannot stand alone.” The Whig Party “had no platform to announce,” Masters wrote, “because its principles were plunder and nothing else.” Lincoln himself once said that he got ALL of his political ideas from Henry Clay, the icon and longtime leader of the Whig Party.

Daily Bell: Let’s ask you some tough questions that will be of interest to our readers and our critics alike. Charges have been leveled from some (disreputable) quarters that you are somehow conspiring historically with a Jesuit faction to promote historical inaccuracies regarding Lincoln since you are a professor at Loyola. Could you please explain these charges more comprehensively and then use this form to rebut them?

Thomas DiLorenzo: I don’t usually answer “when did you stop beating your wife”-type questions since they always come from people with I.Q.s in the single digits. These are people who do not have the mental capacity to learn real economics, so they blabber on about crazy conspiracy theories. The Jesuits at Loyola actually hate me with a passion since they are, with one or two exceptions, Marxist ideologues and I am a libertarian, i.e., the devil. Read my article entitled “Tales from an Academic Looney Bin” if you want to learn of my contempt for the Jesuits who run Loyola University Maryland.

Daily Bell: Thanks for the insights. Now, on to another more serious matter, which has to do with the role of Jefferson Davis as President of the Southern Secession. Let’s preface this by proposing it has been proposed that both the Russian Revolution and Germany’s rise to power were apparently funded at least in part by Wall Street and British “City” money – especially via Swiss banks. Can you comment on this perspective as it may well have a bearing on Civil War funding? Is it true, for instance, that many wars including the Civil War are not exactly what they seem and that what we call Money Power benefits by backing both sides and profiting from the conflict itself?

Thomas DiLorenzo: War is always destructive to a nation’s economy regardless of whether it wins or loses the war. War is the opposite of capitalism. Capitalism is a system of peaceful, mutually-advantageous exchanges at market prices based on the international division of labor. War destroys the international division of labor and diverts resources from peaceful, capitalistic exchange to death and destruction. However, there are always war profiteers – the people who profit from selling and financing the military. One doesn’t need to invent a conspiracy theory about this: War profiteering is war profiteering and has always existed as an essential feature of all wars.

Daily Bell: There are even questions raised about Napoleon Bonaparte and whether Money Power utilized the French general’s bellicosity for their own purposes. Can you comment? Is it possible the US Civil War was also arranged and funded by those in Europe that had an agenda to diminish the United States’s exceptionalism and vitiate its republicanism?

Thomas DiLorenzo: I prefer not to answer anonymous questions like this. Who says this, and what is his or her credibility? Any credentials? Have they written anything I can read to judge their thinking ability? Any crank can say any crazy thing and suggest any weird conspiracy theory on the Internet. Besides, “American exceptionalism” did not become a tool of American imperialism until AFTER the Civil War.

Daily Bell: Money Power is a banking phenomenon and much of the banking power was located in Britain during Lincoln’s time, as today. New York banks had extensive relationships with British banking power. And from what we can tell, Lincoln derived an extensive funding and power base from these same banks. So here is another question that goes to the heart of this funding issue: Why did Britain supposedly back the South? Is it possible that this is a historical ruse? Was the British banking establishment pro-North even though the aristocracy was pro-South? Did it suit British banking interests to perpetuate this confusion?

Thomas DiLorenzo: There is no such thing as “Britain” that backed or did not back the South. There were prominent British individuals like Charles Dickens who sided with the South in their writings, but there were also those with similar stature who backed the North. I recommend the book by Charles Adams entitled Slavery, Secession, and Civil War: Views from the United Kingdom and Europe, 1856-1865. Since the South continued to trade with England during the war, there were British banks that financed a lot of this trade and would therefore have supported the South for that reason. At the end of the war the British government was scared to death that Sherman would take his army across the Atlantic as an act of revenge for this collaboration.

Daily Bell: Is it possible that the British banking establishment didn’t care which side won the war, as the US would be irreparably weakened no matter who triumphed? Were British bankers expecting this weakening would encompass a loss of freedom and a rise of governmental authoritarianism? It certainly did, didn’t it?

Thomas DiLorenzo: Since bankers are bankers and not journalists and writers, there is no way of knowing their views on this question without a written record. Anyone who claims to know this without any such record is simply blowing smoke and wasting your time. British intellectuals like Lord Acton understood and wrote about how the result of the war would be a US government that would become more tyrannical and imperialistic. To the extent that some British bankers read such literature and tended to agree with Lord Acton, then that would have been their opinion. Nineteenth-century British bankers were not omniscient, Wizard-of-Oz orchestrators of world events any more than you and I are.

Daily Bell: Here is an even tougher question to answer and a thoroughly speculative one. Is it possible that Jefferson Davis also had a relationship to British Money Power? One salient fact stands out: Davis served as President Franklin Pierce’s war secretary and while Pierce was an ardent states’ rights advocate, it was also widely reported that he had relations with a powerful US secret society – the Knights of the Golden Circle. Can you comment on the Knights of the Golden Circle and what their agenda might have been? We’ve written about this issue here: “Thomas James DiLorenzo on Abraham Lincoln, U.S. Authoritarianism and Manipulated History.”

Here’s a brief description from a book on the Knights entitled, The Mysterious and Secret Order of the Knights of the Golden Circle … “Few people know of the Knights of the Golden Circle and even fewer know about the purpose for which it existed. It is probably the greatest untold story today in the history of the United States. … It has been said of them that they were one of the deadliest, wealthiest, most secretive and subversive spy and underground organizations in the history of the world … The group was heavy on ritual, most of which was borrowed from the Masonic Lodge and later from the Knights of Pythias. Some were also members of the Rosicrucians.” To what end was Jefferson Davis involved with the Knights? Was he in a sense set up to fail? Did he willingly participate? Was he a patsy?

Thomas DiLorenzo: I have no idea. How would anyone know anything about this if it was a “secret” society, as you say? Jefferson Davis was a brilliant and highly educated man who spent a long career in national politics and wrote a great book, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government. It is unimaginable that any American politician since could have performed such an amazingly insightful piece of genuine scholarship. This is not the type of man who would have been easily duped by the local Masonic Lodge.

Daily Bell: Are these fair questions? Jefferson was President of the Southern Secession but he proved an ineffective leader and his policies in many ways sabotaged the South and its quest to secede. Was his incompetence entirely genuine, in your view?

Thomas DiLorenzo: Davis was not a dictator. He had a lot of help losing the war, especially from his generals who insisted on the Napoleonic battlefield tactics they were taught at West Point and which had become defunct because of the advent of more deadly military technology by the middle of the nineteenth century. One of his biggest failures was waiting until the last year of the war to finally do what General Robert E. Lee had been arguing from the beginning – offering the slaves freedom in return for fighting with the Confederate Army in defense of their country.

Daily Bell: A final question. It was Davis who set the war in motion, inexplicably, by declaring formal hostilities, so why didn’t he and his generals fight a guerrilla war that they would have been almost certain to win? General Lee insisted on formal engagements with the North but had neither the resources nor the men to win a war of attrition of this sort. Why didn’t he pursue well-known guerilla tactics that would have produced a victory or at least a stalemate?

Thomas DiLorenzo: No, it was Lincoln who launched an invasion of the Southern states. Davis’s declarations were just words. Giving guerilla fighters like John Singleton Mosby and Nathan Bedford Forrest more resources may well have won the war for the South, but Mosby was kicked out of VMI and Forrest was almost totally uneducated formally. The Confederate military establishment was controlled by West Point graduates who knew little or nothing about guerilla warfare. When asked after the war who his most effective subordinate was, Lee said it was a man named Forrest.

Daily Bell: Certainly the arc of Davis’s career after the war does little to contradict the hypothesis that there was more to Davis’s role than history records. He never served a long jail sentence, visited England later in life and was supported by a wealthy widow, Sarah Anne Ellis Dorsey, who was a primary member and literary representative of Southern aristocracy with its many European connections. This would also seem to show that Davis had deep connections to the British power structure. Is all this merely frivolous supposition?

Thomas DiLorenzo: Yes.

Daily Bell: Okay, let’s turn to your recent book, False Virtue: The Myths that Transformed America From A Republic to an Empire. Can you explain what this is about to our readers and why you wrote it?

Thomas DiLorenzo: That’s something that I’m still working on. I plan on putting into book form the story of how the Lincoln myth has been used for the past 150 years or so to prop up American foreign policy imperialism.

Daily Bell: What are you working on now, if anything?

Thomas DiLorenzo: Besides this, I’m working on a book on the politics and economics of war.

Daily Bell: Do you still believe that secession is in the offing for several or more of “these united States”? Will it come without bloodshed?

Thomas DiLorenzo: Thank God for the former serfs of the Soviet empire that they only had a totalitarian communist like Gorbachev to deal with and not a Lincoln. Peaceful secession is the only way out of the new slavery for the average American, and it will only happen if we have a president who is more like Gorbachev than Lincoln. That is one more reason why the Lincoln myth needs to be destroyed.

Daily Bell: Are hostilities deepening between Fedgov and US states?

Thomas DiLorenzo: The booboisie in America for the time being seems happy to endure whatever additional enslavements the federal government proposes for them. That may change, however, when there is hyperinflation and their healthcare system is destroyed by Obama’s socialized medicine, or if one of the tiny and relatively defenseless countries that the US government is perpetually picking on figures out a way to retaliate in a big way. That just might cause the booboisie to finally ask such questions as: “Do my children really have to be sacrificed and sent to their deaths so that people in Syria can be ruled by a different dictator chosen by the CIA?”

Daily Bell: Isn’t secession a lawful, constitutional right?

Thomas DiLorenzo: Article 7 of the Constitution explains that the document was to be ratified by the “free and independent states,” as they are called in the Declaration of Independence. The union of the founders was voluntary, and several states reserved the right to withdraw from the union in the future if it became destructive of their rights. Since each state has equal rights in the union, this became true for all states. That is why, at the outset of the Civil War, the overwhelming majority of Northern newspapers editorialized in favor of peaceful secession. Most of them quoted Jefferson from the Declaration saying that governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, and when that consent is withdrawn it is the peoples’ duty to abolish that government and form a new one.

Lincoln thus destroyed the voluntary union of the founding fathers and replaced it with a Soviet-style coerced union held together with the threat of total war waged on the civilian population of any state in the future that attempted to make Jefferson’s argument and act on it. It is telling that on the eve of the Civil War several federal laws were proposed to outlaw secession. This occurred because everyone at the time understood that secession was perfectly legal and constitutional.

Might does NOT make right, so yes, secession is a right that the people of any free society should have.

Daily Bell: Is the Internet helping to create an upsurge of freedom-consciousness among the US electorate?

Thomas DiLorenzo: Yes, without a doubt. That’s why some of the most obnoxious and tyrannical of our politicians, like Obama, Lieberman, McCain and Schumer, seem to be constantly conniving to somehow censor or shut down the internet “for national security reasons.”

Daily Bell: How many real “nations” does the US encompass?

Thomas DiLorenzo: Time will tell. Jefferson believed there were at least seven or eight regions that could be created as independent American nations during his time, and he wrote that he would wish them all well as they would all be, as Americans, “our children.”

Daily Bell: What about Europe? Will it also see a fracturing of the euro and perhaps of the EU itself?

Thomas DiLorenzo: I think we are seeing the collapse of the EU and the Euro along with the European welfare state. We should all pray that it happens a thousand times faster.

Daily Bell: How about China?

Thomas DiLorenzo: China is now more capitalist than the US and its government is less tyrannical than the government in Washington, DC.

Daily Bell: Is the Internet helping to cause these “devolutions”?

Thomas DiLorenzo: When the AFL-CIO conspired with the Catholic Church in Poland to subvert communism they smuggled fax machines into the country so that the anti-communists could plot and communicate. The internet makes all of this infinitely easier to accomplish.

Daily Bell: Is the 21st century more hopeful than the 20th and 19th when it comes to large-scale wars and manipulation of various electorates in the West and elsewhere?

Thomas DiLorenzo: One virtue of the 19th century was that the public school brainwashing bureaucracy was not yet very well developed. It certainly is today, which is why America has become such a nation of statist sheep.

Daily Bell: Is the current system of Fiat Money Power on the way out? If so, what will take its place?

Thomas DiLorenzo: Yes. That’s what all the economic turmoil in Europe is about. I’d like to see a return to a gold standard. This will have to happen if we are to avoid worldwide economic collapse similar to the Great Depression.

Daily Bell: How does the Lincoln mythology play out today in light of all these circumstances?

Thomas DiLorenzo: It is still the ideological cornerstone of American statism, but we are making progress.

Daily Bell: Will the US revert to a freer, more self-sufficient model?

Thomas DiLorenzo: Only if peaceful secession is allowed to occur.

Daily Bell: Is the pre-Civil War US model a template for a more viable society in the future?

Thomas DiLorenzo: Minus slavery, of course. The Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union were far superior to the Constitution that replaced them (and which omitted the world “perpetual”).

Daily Bell: Can we ever go back? Is history linear or cyclical?

Thomas DiLorenzo: I don’t believe in such determinism. We can correct mistakes. We DID deregulate oil and transportation in the 1980s; socialism DID collapse worldwide in the late ’80s/early ’90s and was replaced by more market-oriented regimes.

Daily Bell: Any other comments or predictions?

Thomas DiLorenzo: The Republican Party will continue to become more and more irrelevant and powerless; the Democratic Party establishment will finally strip off their masks and reveal themselves as the totalitarian socialists that they have always been; and the political future will belong to the young Ron Paulians.

Daily Bell: Thanks for your time once again.

Daily Bell After Thoughts

Thomas DiLorenzo got a little irritated with us because we harped on the Jesuit issue (see interview). But we did so because a malicious minority of what we can only call Neo-Nazi “social” and “mutual creditors” have attacked him for being influenced by the Jesuit educational establishment for which he works.

Money is power and those who challenge the status quo are dangerous to the internationalist impulse. Thus, globalists claim DiLorenzo has attacked Lincoln because he wanted to undermine Lincoln’s use of government Greenbacks as effective money.

Money is a complex system. It is not mathematically reducible. Only the free-market itself, the Invisible Hand, can organize money within the context of the complex relationships that exist in a modern society (though admittedly such relationships could and should be simplified).

But according to some, only the state, properly guided by responsible politicians, can provide the money society needs. DiLorenzo has also been attacked by this socialist faction because he named Lincoln for what he was: the father of US Empire.

Before Lincoln, it was common belief that any state could secede from the Union. After Lincoln, it was clear no state could secede without facing military action. That situation continues today.

DiLorenzo is a consequential writer. He has advanced our understanding of who Lincoln really was and where American exceptionalism took a wrong turn. The attacks of his critics notwithstanding, he is an original and courageous historian, and we look forward to reading more of his work.


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