The great myth of the land of the free:
Lincoln Unmasked: What You're Not Supposed to Know About Dishonest Abe
Edited and written by David Gordon, senior fellow of the Mises Institute and author of four books and thousands of essays.
Lincoln Unmasked: What You're Not Supposed to Know About Dishonest Abe. By Thomas J. DiLorenzo. Crown Forum, 2006. 223 pgs.
Thomas DiLorenzo calls attention to a vital fact that demolishes the popular view that one of Lincoln's primary motives for opposing secession in 1861 was his distaste for slavery. Precisely the opposite was the case. It is well known that, in an effort to promote compromise, a constitutional amendment was proposed in Congress that forever forbade interference with slavery in states where it already existed. Lincoln referred to the proposal, the Corwin Amendment, in his First Inaugural, stating that he was not opposed to the amendment, since it merely made explicit the existing constitutional arrangement regarding slavery. Of course, Lincoln was here characteristically mendacious; nothing in the constitution prior to the amendment prohibited amendments to end slavery.
So much is well established, but DiLorenzo adds a surprising touch. Far from viewing the Corwin Amendment with grudging consent, Lincoln was in fact its behind-the-scenes promoter. "As soon as he was elected, but before his inauguration, Lincoln 'instructed Seward to introduce [the amendment] in the Senate Committee of Thirteen without indicating they issued from Springfield.' … In addition, Lincoln instructed Seward to get through Congress a law that would make the various 'personal liberty laws' that existed in some Northern states illegal. (Such state laws nullified the Federal Fugitive Slave Act, which required Northerners to apprehend runaway slaves)" (p. 54, quoting Dorothy Kearns Goodwin, Team of Rivals).
Extension of slavery was of course an entirely different matter, and here Lincoln refused all compromise. Here we confront a paradox. If Lincoln thought it more important to preserve the union than oppose slavery, why was he unwilling to compromise over slavery in the territories? If he thought slavery's extension was too high a price to pay to preserve the union, why was he willing permanently to entrench slavery wherever it already existed? It is hard to detect a moral difference between slavery in the states and the territories.
DiLorenzo readily resolves the paradox. Lincoln opposed extension of slavery because this would interfere with the prospects of white workers. Lincoln, following his mentor Henry Clay, favored a nationalist economic program of which high tariffs, a national bank, and governmentally financed "internal improvements" were key elements. This program, he thought, would promote not only the interests of the wealthy industrial and financial powers he always faithfully served but would benefit white labor as well. Blacks, in his opinion, would be better off outside the United States; and, throughout his life, Lincoln supported schemes for repatriation of blacks to Africa and elsewhere. If blacks left the country, they could not compete with whites, the primary objects of Lincoln's concern. (Lincoln, by the way, did not see this program as in any way in contradiction to his professed belief that all men are created equal. Blacks, he thought, have human rights but not political rights.)
DiLorenzo's interpretation of Lincoln resolves our paradox, and he finds additional support for it in the views of a leading abolitionist, none other than the great libertarian theorist Lysander Spooner. To Spooner, the primary motive of Lincoln and the war party was to preserve and consolidate Northern control of the Southern economy. The Southern states could not be allowed to evade the tariff, a key element of the mercantilist American system that Lincoln favored. "He wrote that the war 'erupted for a purely pecuniary consideration,' and not for any moral reason. He labeled the economic lifeblood of the Republican Party, Northern bankers, manufacturers, and railroad corporations, 'lenders of blood money' … To Spooner the Northern financiers of the war who had lent money to the Lincoln government did so not for 'any love of liberty or justice,' but for the control of [Southern] markets' through 'tariff extortion.' … Spooner interpreted the crushing of the Southern secessionists … as suggesting that Southerners should 'Submit quietly to all the robbery and slavery we have arranged for you, and you can have your peace'" (pp. 57–59).
But the theory of Spooner and DiLorenzo faces an objection. Even if the abolition of slavery was not uppermost in Lincoln's mind when the war began, did he not eventually issue the Emancipation Proclamation? Was Lincoln at that point not a sincere opponent of slavery? To this objection, Spooner replied with a sharp rejoinder. The Republicans did not end slavery 'as an act of justice to the black man himself, but only as a 'war measure,' he [Spooner] wrote, using the exact words … that Lincoln himself used in the Emancipation Proclamation" (p. 59).
DiLorenzo, like Spooner, makes skilled use of quotations from Lincoln to support his analysis of Lincoln's policies. "In his first inaugural address Lincoln shockingly threw down the gauntlet over the tariff issue, literally threatening the invasion of any state that failed to collect the newly doubled tariff … '[T]here needs to be no bloodshed or violence, and there shall be none unless it is forced upon the national authority.' What was he [Lincoln] talking about? What might ignite bloodshed and violence? Failure to collect the tariff, that's what … he further stated that it was his duty 'to collect the duties and imposts; but beyond what may be necessary for these objects, there will be no invasion…' In other words, Pay Up or Die" (p. 126).
Lincoln for once spoke with complete truth. He did indeed resort to any means necessary, however brutal, to crush the Southern secessionists. The result of Lincoln's aggressive prosecution of the war was "the killing of one out of four males of military age while maiming for life more than double that number" (p. 28).
Lincoln turned aside all opposition to his ruthless conduct of the war, and he did not hesitate to act against judges who insisted on the rule of law. "In October 1861 Lincoln ordered the District of Columbia provost marshal to place armed sentries around the home of a Washington, D.C. circuit court judge and place him under house arrest … the judge had carried out his constitutional duty to issue a writ of habeas corpus to a young man being detained by the provost marshal, allowing the man to have due process … By placing the judge under house arrest Lincoln prevented him from attending the hearing in the case" (pp. 94–95).
But what is a lowly circuit court judge, compared with the Chief Justice of the United States? Lincoln ordered an arrest warrant prepared for the aged Roger Taney, who had ruled that Lincoln had no authority to suspend the writ of habeas corpus. The warrant was fortunately never served, and Taney escaped imprisonment. Some have doubted the story, but DiLorenzo finds confirmation in several sources, including the memoirs of Benjamin Curtis, no friend of Taney's. When he served on the Supreme Court, Curtis wrote a strongly worded dissent from Taney's opinion in the Dred Scott case. "Nevertheless, in his memoirs he praises the propriety of Justice Taney in upholding the Constitution by opposing Lincoln's unilateral suspension of habeas corpus. He refers to the arrest warrant for the chief justice, accusing him of treason, as a 'great crime'" (p. 94).
By his insistence upon the unpalatable truth about Lincoln, DiLorenzo defies the acolytes of what he aptly terms the "Lincoln cult." The "Lincolnite Totalitarians" find in Lincoln a precedent for their own assaults on liberty. Harry Jaffa, often a target in these pages, is Lincoln's foremost academic defender. Jaffa, a disciple of Leo Strauss, views Lincoln as the principal exponent of the Declaration of Independence. How can Jaffa think this, given Lincoln's brutal policies of suppression? In large part, the answer lies in the fact that Jaffa has his own agenda: "in my [DiLorenzo's] 2002 debate with Jaffa … he declared at one point that 9/11 proved that 'we need a strong central government.' It was not just a coincidence that he made this declaration in the context of a debate over Lincoln's legacy" (p. 14).
Another influential admirer of Lincoln shared Jaffa's centralizing goals. Frank Meyer, an editor of National Review, criticized Lincoln for his centralizing policies, warmongering, and repression of civil liberties. William F. Buckley disagreed, as usual without any arguments supporting his own position. Rather than respond to the obvious truths to which Meyer had called attention, Buckley airily remarked that some people "have a thing" about Lincoln.
DiLorenzo maintains that Buckley adopted this view because Lincoln's policies were a precedent for the statist and belligerent Cold War policies he favored. As usual, Murray Rothbard saw to the heart of the issue. Rothbard "quoted Buckley … 'we have got to accept Big Government for the duration [of the cold war] — for neither an offensive nor a defensive war can be waged … except through the instrumentality of a totalitarian bureaucracy within our shores' … The founder of National Review was a 'totalitarian socialist,' Rothbard wrote, 'and what is more admits it'" (pp. 151–52).
Equally as bad, if not worse, is another Lincoln totalitarian whom DiLorenzo discusses in a chapter aptly called "Making Cannon Fodder." Walter Berns, in Making Patriots, seeks a means to inspire America's youth to be willing to sacrifice their lives in war at the state's behest. "To inspire 'patriotism' in the nation's youth, a national poet must mesmerize them in a cause, says Berns … Fortunately, Berns informs us, such a national poet is at hand. That person is Abraham Lincoln, whom he describes as 'statesman, poet, and … the martyred Christ of democracy's passion play'" (pp. 144–45). Worship of Lincoln is the linchpin of the "civil religion" that Berns favors.
Supporters of Lincoln are of course not confined to those, like Jaffa and Buckley, who claim to be conservatives. Eric Foner, a leading academic defender of Lincoln, "was such an apologist for Soviet communism that he opposed the breakup of the Soviet Union and, naturally invoked the Lincoln legend as the reason for his opposition." He urged Mikhail Gorbachev to deal with Soviet secession movements "in the same brutal manner that Lincoln dealt with the Southern secessionists" (pp. 153–54).
DiLorenzo's well-argued and forcefully written book shows that the struggle against the "Lincoln cult" is a vital part of the case for liberty. The book is fittingly dedicated to the memory of Mel Bradford, who paid a heavy price for his devastating analysis of Lincoln, in A Better Guide Than Reason and numerous other books and essays. Ronald Reagan had Bradford under consideration to head the National Endowment for the Humanities, but a coalition of neoconservatives and leftists launched a smear campaign against him. The campaign stressed Bradford's opposition to Lincoln and unfortunately succeeded in derailing the nomination. Bradford would have very much enjoyed DiLorenzo's excellent book.
by Thomas J. DiLorenzo:
After the publication of my 2002 book, The Real Lincoln, I continued to research and write on the topic. Among the things I’ve learned since then is that Abraham Lincoln was a far worse tyrant than I portrayed him as being in that book. A thousand times worse.
I’ve also learned that there is only one genuine Lincoln scholar in America – David Donald – and he’s retired. The rest are all Lincoln cultists and court historians. The cultists, like Harry Jaffa and his merry band of Straussians, ignore actual American history, fabricate a false history, or dabble in semantics and word games in order to portray The Great Centralizer as a god-like figure. They routinely refer to him as "Father Abraham" and compare him to Jesus or Moses. They do this because their agenda is not only the deification of Lincoln, but of executive power and nationalism in general.
Their modus operandi is to provide propaganda for the foreign policy imperialism wing of the Republican Party and for the cause of dictatorial executive power, a cause that George W. Bush has embraced wholeheartedly. They assist politicians like Newt Gingrich, who recently advocated the invasion and occupation of Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and North Korea (Wall Street Journal Online, Sept. 7) in an article that began with a Lincoln quote and was peppered with other Lincoln quotes to make his case for what he calls "World War III."
The false legend of Abraham Lincoln that they have contrived is used as moral cover for foreign policy imperialism and the pursuit of empire. That’s why they have just announced that their Claremont Institute "statesmanship" award for 2006 will be presented at a black tie dinner to Victor Davis Hanson, the Lincoln-quoting, National Review Online propagandist for the war in Iraq (and for just about every unconstitutional, illegal, or immoral act the Bush administration has engaged in while prosecuting that unnecessary war).
The court historians run the gamut from hard-core leftists like Eric Foner, who opposed the breakup of the Soviet Union (saying Lincoln wouldn’t have allowed it) to mainstream liberals like Doris Kearns-Goodwin (author of Team of Rivals) and Mario Cuomo (author of Why Lincoln Matters: Today More than Ever, co-authored with Lincoln cult leader Harold Holzer). Like the Straussians, they too have found the false legend of Abraham Lincoln to be useful to their political agenda, whether it is socialism, as with Foner, or welfare statism, as with Goodwin and Cuomo.
In the academic world there exists a Church of Lincoln, but that church is built of straw (perhaps manure would be more accurate). The religious rhetoric that is used to describe Dishonest Abe, who was probably an atheist, is misleading and useless as far as understanding American history is concerned. That of course is the purpose of it.
Many of the most famous quotes of Lincoln are proven fakes, for example. He never even said "You can fool all the people some of the time and some of the people all of the time, but you can not fool all the people all the time." The Lincoln cultists and court historians use many of these fake quotes to present a false image of their "Father Abraham."
I also devote a chapter to the meeting Lincoln had with a number of free black men in which he implored them to lead by example and migrate to Liberia, in Africa. Fortunately for them, they ignored his plea.
Lincoln was a white supremacist all his life (as were most white people of his era) and it was actions such as this that caused some of the most prominent abolitionists to vigorously denounce him and his regime as phonies and fakes with regard to their pronouncements about human freedom. I devote a chapter to such denunciations by the great libertarian/abolitionist from Massachusetts, Lysander Spooner.
One of the most insidious acts of the gatekeepers is keeping Americans from understanding their true history as a people. The Jeffersonian, states’ rights tradition, for example, has been whitewashed from the history books thanks to the efforts of several generations of gatekeepers and court historians. I explain the truth about states’ rights, which was an important Northern as well as a Southern political doctrine prior to 1865. I also explain some of Dishonest Abe’s Big Lies about the doctrine and why he was truly the anti-Jefferson.
In The Real Lincoln I made the case that Lincoln’s (and the Republican Party’s) "real agenda" was the old Hamilton/Clay mercantilist agenda of protectionist tariffs, corporate welfare, central banking, the creation of a giant political patronage machine, and the pursuit of an empire that would rival the British empire. Lincoln Unmasked takes this much further and goes into more detail about the true mercantilist origins of the Republican Party (which hasn’t changed much); Lincoln’s personal corruption as a railroad industry lobbyist; the fact that he literally owed everything, politically, to northern protectionists; and his key role in cementing central banking into place in America. These topics were all mentioned in The Real Lincoln, but in different ways and not in as much detail as in Lincoln Unmasked.
Several chapters are devoted to just how the Lincoln cultists employ the Lincoln legend to "justify" foreign policy imperialism, "totalitarian bureaucracy" at home, the abolition of civil liberties, blind obedience to the state, and even imprisoning opponents of the regime’s wars. All of this is patently un-American, and the "sainted" Lincoln is invoked to "justify" it by the Lincoln cult.
Readers of Lincoln Unmasked will also learn that, since the publication of The Real Lincoln, a number of books have been published by very distinguished authors that support or confirm my analysis. This includes a book by a New York Times editorial writer, a former U.S. Navy Secretary, a distinguished University of Virginia historian, a liberal who writes for Harper’s, The New Yorker, and The New Republic, a "popular historian" who has authored a dozen books, a well-known journalist, and a prominent business historian. The "gate" really is beginning to rust.
Over the past several years I have received hundreds (maybe thousands) of emails from people who have read my writings about Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus, his imprisonment of thousands of Northern war dissenters, his shutting down of hundreds of opposition newspapers, his not-so-hidden economic agenda, and other well-documented facts and have asked: "Why wasn’t I taught that in school?" Or, "I was a history major in college and I never heard of that!" The chapters of Lincoln Unmasked devoted to the gatekeepers explain why.
The overwhelming majority of works on Lincoln judge him by his words and not his deeds. Any politician could be made to look like a saint with that methodology. And when some of his more dastardly deeds, such as micromanaging the waging of war on fellow citizens, are mentioned they are always obscured by a mountain of hollow excuses, rationales, cover-ups, and justification.
Thomas J. DiLorenzo [send him mail] professor of economics at Loyola College in Maryland and the author of The Real Lincoln: A New Look at Abraham Lincoln, His Agenda, and an Unnecessary War, (Three Rivers Press/Random House). His next book, to be published in October, is Lincoln Unmasked: What You’re Not Supposed To Know about Dishonest Abe (Crown Forum/Random House).
Tao Te Ching verse 75
when taxes are too high
people go hungry
when the government is too intrusive
people lose their spirit
act for the people's benefit
trust them; leave them alone:
And so what do we gain from the Lincoln's legacy? We have become again an impoverished dependent nation. We borrow from Europe and Japan to defend the oil of Europe and Japan in the Persian Gulf. We borrow from China to buy the goods of China. We are as dependent on foreign borrowing as we are on foreign oil.
And the questions arise: If the men of '76, who led those small and vulnerable states, were wiling to sacrifice their lives, fortunes and sacred honor for America's independence, what is the matter with us?
Do we not value independence as they did? Or is it that we are simply not the men our fathers were?
Happy Independence Day.
People come into our lives for a reason, a season, or a lifetime. Take no one for granted and embrace all equally with joy!
Julie A. Manhan ...