Friday, March 25, 2011

The Real Lincoln

 I have no interest to introduce political and social equality between the white and black in favor of the race to which I belong having the superior position. I have never said anything to the contrary.
~Abraham Lincoln, 1858 from The Real Lincoln by Thomas J. DiLorenzo.
 Every nation has its myths; we Americans certainly have our share. I think that national myths fulfill the purpose of making people feel better about ugly episodes in history, especially their own history. In dealing with the horrors of the French Revolution, for instance, it is easier for us to believe that the entire fiasco was triggered by Marie-Antoinette saying, "Let them eat cake." Then we can sympathize with her death (and those of thousands of others) but otherwise console ourselves with the knowledge that she brought it all on herself. The fact that Marie-Antoinette never uttered such words is an uncomfortable truth, too uncomfortable for many to process because it conflicts with a certain world view.

Similarly, African slavery being a shameful part of American history, we hearten ourselves with the image of Abraham Lincoln, a man of the people, the Great Emancipator, doing whatever he had to do in order to free the slaves, even to the fighting of a long and terrible war, which was worth all the blood, because it freed the slaves. Such is the tale which every American child is taught in school; it is a glorious and inspiring one except for the fact that it is not true. The fact that it is not true is extremely well-documented in Thomas J. DiLorenzo's book The Real Lincoln. To quote from the Foreword by Walter E. Williams:
As DiLorenzo documents – contrary to conventional wisdom, books about Lincoln, and the lessons taught in schools and colleges – the War between the States was not fought to end slavery; Even if it were, a natural question arises: Why was a costly war fought to end it? African slavery existed in many parts of the Western world, but it did not take warfare to end it. Dozens of countries, including the territorial possessions of the British, French, Portuguese, and Spanish, ended slavery peacefully during the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries....

Abraham Lincoln’s direct statements indicated his support for slavery; He defended slave owners’ right to own their property, saying that "when they remind us of their constitutional rights [to own slaves], I acknowledge them, not grudgingly but fully and fairly; and I would give them any legislation for the claiming of their fugitives" (in indicating support for the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850).
Later in the book DiLorenzo asks:
Why didn't America do what every nation on earth did with regard to slavery...and end it peacefully?...We may never know the answer to this question, but the monetary costs of the war alone would have been enough to purchase the freedom of every last Southern slave (and give each forty acres and a mule). Lincoln failed to use his legendary political skills to achieve compensated emancipation. He did, however, attempt to colonize all of the freed blacks in Haiti, Africa, and elsewhere....The large majority of Northerners feared emancipation because it might have meant that the freed blacks would have come to live among them. This is an ugly fact but a fact nonetheless. (p.175)
 Lincoln's agenda was not freeing the slaves but consolidating the power of the federal government. To quote:
Perhaps the answer to the question of why Lincoln did not take the path to emancipation taken by every other nation on earth...lies in his own words—namely, that he was not particularly supportive of emancipation. He viewed it only as a tool to be used to be used in achieving his real objective: the consolidation of state power, something that many Americans had dreaded from the time of the founding....Lincoln sugarcoated the centralization of governmental power by repeatedly referring to it as 'saving the Union.' But the union could only be "saved," according to Lincoln by destroying the highly decentralized, voluntary union of states that was established by the founding fathers at the constitutional convention and replacing it with a coercive union that was kept in place, literally, at gunpoint. (p.33)
 Contrary to popular legend, Lincoln was not an abolitionist. In 1847 he even defended a slaveowner Robert Matson before the Illinois Supreme Court. Matson had brought some slaves from Kentucky to work his farm in Illinois even though Illinois was a free state. The slaves ran away and Matson, with Lincoln at his side, brought suit for the slaves to be returned. The court ruled against Lincoln and Matson and the slaves were liberated. (pp.15-16) He was, however, against extending slavery into the territories because of the 3/5 clause in the Constitution gave more political power to the slave holders. As the author explains: "The extension of slavery into the new territories would exacerbate this congressional imbalance in favor of the Democratic party, which is why Lincoln led the Republican Party's opposition to it—it was an opposition to slavery, but not on moral grounds." (p.24) Lincoln himself said in 1854: "The whole nation is interested that the best use shall be made of these [new] territories. We want them for the homes of free white people." (p.10)

DiLorenzo discusses the brutality of the War Between the States, which ended up being a greater horror than anyone had ever imagined. Not only were many men killed and maimed but women and children were made to suffer by having their homes burned and their food supplies plundered. (pp.184-185)  The loss of life and damage to private property is sickening to read about. It was not only in the South that injustices happened; many Northern journalists and politicians who were against the war were imprisoned without trial at Lincoln's command. Indeed, the entire Maryland House of Delegates were imprisoned without being charged; they were merely suspected of being secessionists. (pp.138-139)

Sadly, the injustice and harshness of the following Restoration era created  problems that lasted for generations. The author explains it thus:
Thirty years before the war Tocqueville had observed that race relations seemed to be even worse in the North than in the South. But that changed during the Reconstruction as the ex-slaves were used as political pawns by Northern Republicans....Southerners venting their frustrations on the ex-slaves....Had the Republican party not been so determined to recruit ex-slaves as political pawns in its crusade to loot taxpayers of the South, the Klu Klux Klan might never have come into existence. (p.218)
I learned more about the political and economic background of the War Between the States from this concise and fascinating study than I had ever known before. What is more is that I gained insight into the present state of our government and how we got to where we are now. The Real Lincoln should be required reading for all high school and college history students. Even if one does not agree with the author's view of Lincoln, a many-faceted topic is pulled together in a coherent manner. 

While Lincoln was undoubtedly a brilliant political prodigy, his policies could be ruthless and he had no scruple about trampling the constitutional liberties of those who disagreed with him. Yes, the slaves were eventually freed after the war. The Emancipation Proclamation did not free any slaves at the time, since it did not apply to slave states like Maryland which were under Lincoln's power, but only to those within the Confederacy.) (p.35) Furthermore, the Industrial Revolution would have made slavery obsolete within a few years. (p.277) Both blacks and whites suffered and died during the War. Lincoln may have preserved the Union but in doing so was the catalyst of the great tragedy of an immense loss of human life.


Lindsay said...

Thank you for posting this. People need to be aware of this myth, and even some intellectuals and conservatives I know seem completely shocked when my husband and I challenge the sanctity of Lincoln. Of course, among more mainstream company, we often just squirm a lot if the topic comes up, lol.

elena maria vidal said...

Thank you, Lindsay. I cannot tell you how many arguments I have had with other Catholics who defend Lincoln as if he were the pope......

Julygirl said...

Yes, the book does bring to ones attention many little known facts from that sad era in our history. The suspension of Habeas Corpus, the imprisonment of innocent dissenters, controlling the rights of a free press, among other unconstitutional acts of the Lincoln administration.

Matterhorn said...

Dear Elena Maria, you make many good points here, as usual. Undoubtedly, there are many disturbing sides to this tragedy which are all too often glossed over in mainstream accounts. With all due respect, though, I've also read some disturbing things about this book. I don't know enough about the topic to judge for myself, but this review, at any rate, claims that the author makes some quite unfair and even disingenuous use of sources:

elena maria vidal said...

Thank you, M. for sending the article which gives some additional information. While I have no doubt that the book has received much criticism, the basic premise is presented flawlessly with direct quotes from sources to support the author's claims.

thetimman said...

Elena, I have also posted favorably on this book. I have read it, and though some is known, much is intentionally kept hidden by scholars and publishers.

Lincoln didn't preserve the Union--at least not the one created by the Constitution. He forced a new one, by the unjust spilling of blood and destruction of property and law.

elena maria vidal said...

Timman, the fact that Lincoln imprisoned the entire Maryland House of Delegates without charging them of a crime and without giving them a trial, is all I need to know to tell me that something was not right with his administration.

anothertwocents said...

The Claremont Institute is about as likely to criticize Lincoln as the North Korean press is its leader, and for the same reason.