"You will take possession by military force, of the printing establishments of the New York World and Journal of Commerce... and prohibit any further publication thereof... you are therefore commanded forthwith to arrest and imprison... the editors, proprietors and publishers of the aforesaid newspapers"
Order from Abraham Lincoln to General John Dix, May 18, 1864.
By John Ray, M.A.; Ph.D.(2010 update)
I am about as pro-American as it is reasonable for any non-American to be. If you want to know why read here. All friendships have areas of disagreement however so let me say here that it always saddens me to note the respect that most Americans still give to Abraham Lincoln.
Although Lincoln is arguably America's most famous Republican President, I see Lincoln's "idealism" as akin to the "idealism" of the 20th. Century Left (both of the Fascist and Communist varieties) -- with mass slaughter as the result in both cases. 600,000 young men or thereabouts died in the American Civil War.
And if a civil war was necessary to free the slaves, can someone explain to me how the British abolished slavery 30 years BEFORE Lincoln did and managed to do so without killing ANYONE? And Chile freed its black slaves in 1823; Mexico abolished slavery in 1829, and Peru in 1854 -- all long before Lincoln's emancipation declaration of 1863. Can the Southerners have been such evil boneheads that they would not have followed suit in time without the need for a war?
But there is absolutely no doubt that Lincoln knew how to talk the talk. It is hard not to be persuaded by him when one reads his speeches. He knew how to appeal to conservative values in particular. I recently read his second State of the Union address and one sentence in it spoke persuasively to the conservative in me across all the gulf of time since it was uttered:
In giving freedom to the slave we assure freedom to the free -- honorable alike in what we give and what we preserve.
Just that one sentence almost persuaded me that the war was a reasonable and noble one. I had to remind myself that this was also the man who introduced conscription and accelerated the process of taking land from the Indians. No "freedom" for the conscripts or the Indians, it appears! The typical inconsistency of the political "idealist". And, perhaps even more inconsistently, Lincoln in the same address also made clear that he favoured persuading any freed slaves to emigrate rather than have them remain in the USA.
Like all political "idealists" (Hitler was a great preacher of "peace", for instance), it was Lincoln's deeds rather than his words which revealed what he really was. Note the following summary of how he dealt with dissent -- surely one of the the strongest differentiators between the Fascist and the democrat:
"In 1862, Lincoln suspended habeas corpus on his own authority as a way of dealing with the Peace Democrats, better known as copperheads. The copperheads were advocating letting the Confederacy go its own way, rather than going to war. They actively interfered with enlistments in the Union army. Many copperheads were congressmen and other elected officials. Secretary of War Edwin Stanton decreed that anyone "engaged, by act, speech, or writing, in discouraging volunteer enlistments, or in any way giving aid and comfort to the enemy, or in any other disloyal practice against the United States" was subject to arrest and trial "before a military commission." Some 13,000 people were arrested and held without charges as a result of Lincoln and Stanton's edicts, and they were prosecuted by military tribunals instead of civil courts.....
One famous arrest was that of a former Ohio Congressman Clement L. Vallandigham, who opposed the emancipation of Negroes and argued that the war was needless. Vallandigham spoke out against the draft law without going so far as to encourage young men to disobey it. His hyperbolic speeches may sound familiar to today's Americans. "The men in power are attempting to establish a despotism in this country, more cruel and more oppressive than ever existed before," cried Vallandigham. He predicted a bleak future for the nation: "I see nothing before us but universal political and social revolution, anarchy and bloodshed, compared with which the Reign of Terror in France was a merciful visitation." For these and other statements, Vallandigham was arrested, locked in military barracks, held incommunicado without charges, and brought before eight army officers who put him on trial for making disloyal speeches against the government."
So what the hell went on with Lincoln and his supporters in the North? The essential background to know is that slavery was already waning when the war began in 1861 (importation of slaves was abolished in 1808) and that the North could have slowly BOUGHT the freedom of the slaves for a fraction of what the war cost. Lincoln proposed exactly that in his second State of the Union address but by that time the dastardly Southerners had fired on Fort Sumter etc. and it was all far too late.
The most charitable explananation I can give for the folly of the war is that what went on was simply the impatience that we know so well from the "revolutionary" idealists of the Left. Such idealists want their brave new world NOW. They are not prepared to wait decades for it to be achieved by slow and peaceful evolution -- as the liberation of the slaves certainly would have been achieved in time.
But what a terrible price America paid for that impatience! And that was not the first time that Yankee impatience with slow constitutional development and change cost them dearly. Their revolutionary war against Britain shed much blood too. By contrast, Australia became independent of Britain without a single drop of blood being spilt! Australians just had to wait longer, that is all.
And to add insult to injury, Lincoln, in his famous "Gettysburg address", justified the war not by referring to the liberation of the slaves but by saying that it was fought in defence of government "by the people" -- when he had just DENIED self-government to the South! I concede that Lincoln may have managed to believe the idealistic nonsense that he uttered at that time but it was nonetheless just as much doubletalk as anything the Communists or Fascists ever said. But the Communists and Fascists lost out eventually and Lincoln won so the Communists and Fascists are now (rightly) a laughing stock and Lincoln is accepted as a great man.
But to me the horror of those 600,000 unnecessary deaths on his hands makes Lincoln little better than Lenin or Hitler.
And note again: I am not an American Southerner speaking out of some sort of inherited Confederate sympathies. I have no American connections at all. So I speak entirely as a disinterested (though not uninterested) observer.
So why would I as an Australian think that I have anything new, original or useful to say on a subject that has already spawned innumerable books and articles? And the very title of this article will of course seem like a colossal absurdity to almost every American outside the South (and indeed to some in the South).
What I say is in fact fairly mainstream among American Libertarians (See e.g. here) but I just want to make one simple additional point. I have nothing to add to what they tell us about Lincoln at all. My one small contribution is to note that those things that they tell us about Lincoln are in fact very reminiscent of 20th century Fascism. And I come to that conclusion as someone whose main historical specialization is in fact 20th century Fascism. See my three major articles on that here and here and here. It is sometimes said that when you have got a hammer, everything looks like a nail so, to switch the metaphor, I could be seeing Fascism under every bed. I think in fact, however, that the connection I make has originality only insofar as 20th century Fascism is still to this day widely misunderstood and misrepresented. It is an obvious connection when you understand what Fascism really was. Most people equate Fascism with racism so the fact that Lincoln seems in some sense to have been an anti-racist definitely blurs the picture.
So let us at this point get straight a few facts about Lincoln and his war -- from an article by the editor of America's "Patriot Post" (A Tennessean):
"The Founding Fathers established the Constitutional Union as a voluntary agreement among the several states, subordinate to The Declaration of Independence, which never mentions the nation as a singular entity, but instead repeatedly references the states as sovereign bodies, unanimously asserting their independence. The states, in ratifying the Constitution, established the federal government as their agent -- not the other way around. At Virginia's ratification convention, for example, the delegates affirmed "that the powers granted under the Constitution being derived from the People of the United States may be resumed by them whensoever the same shall be perverted to injury or oppression." Were this not true, the federal government would not have been established as federal, but instead a national, unitary and unlimited authority. Notably, and in large measure as a consequence of the War between the States, the "federal" government has grown to become an all-but unitary and unlimited authority.
Our Founders upheld the individual sovereignty of the states, even though the wisdom of secessionist movements was a source of great tension and debate from the day the Constitution was ratified. Tellingly, Hamilton, the greatest proponent of centralization among the Founders, noted in Federalist No. 81 that waging war against the states "would be altogether forced and unwarranted." At the Constitutional Convention, Hamilton argued, "Can any reasonable man be well disposed toward a government which makes war and carnage the only means of supporting itself?"
Yet Lincoln threatened the use of force to maintain the Union in his First Inaugural Address, saying, "In [preserving the Union] there needs to be no bloodshed or violence; and there shall be none, unless it be forced upon the national authority." Lincoln may have preserved the Union geographically (at great cost to the Constitution), but politically and philosophically, the concept of a voluntary union was shredded by sword, rifle and cannon.
In his Gettysburg Address, Lincoln employed lofty rhetoric to conceal the truth of our nation's most costly war -- a war that resulted in the deaths of some 600,000 Americans and the severe disabling of over 400,000 more. He claimed to be fighting so that "this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth." In fact, Lincoln was ensuring just the opposite by waging an appallingly bloody war while ignoring calls for negotiated peace. It was the "rebels" who were intent on self-government, and it was Lincoln who rejected their right to that end, despite our Founders' clear admonition to the contrary in the Declaration....
The second of Lincoln's two most oft-noted achievements was ending the abomination of slavery. It has come to be understood that this calamitous war was the necessary cost of ridding our nation of slavery, yet no other nation at the time required war to do so. In fact, the cost of the war itself would have more than paid for compensatory emancipation, giving each slave 40 acres and a mule -- all without bloodshed....
Little reported and lightly regarded in our history books is the way Lincoln abused and discarded the individual rights of Northern citizens. Tens of thousands of citizens were imprisoned (most without trial) for political opposition, or "treason," and their property confiscated. Habeas corpus and, in effect, the entire Bill of Rights were suspended. In fact, the Declaration of Independence details remarkably similar abuses by King George to those committed by Lincoln.
That is actually a pretty good record for a Fascist but I am sure that most readers will still see the title I have put on this article as absurd. Lincoln was a Holy Joe, not a Fascist. He was a great idealist.
That objection however shows an unawareness of the fact that Hitler and Mussolini were great speechifiers in their day too. Lincoln could undoubtedly talk the talk for his day but so can most Fascists. Hitler was literally loved by many Germans and it was Franklin Delano Roosevelt who called Mussolini "that admirable Italian gentleman". The talk used will vary with the times but the appearance of being wise and idealistic is a common trait of Fascists. I give details in my articles on Hitler and Mussolini (here and here) that show how very popular and impressive both men were in their day.
But when all the talk is done, Lincoln was as warmongering a power centralizer and denier of civil rights as any later Fascist. And there were of course in his day no limits on how long a President could stay in office. Who knows how long he would have stayed in power had he not been shot?
And the rhetorical triumphs of Lincoln in fact leave Goebbels for dead. His famous Gettysburg address would have to be one of the most mendacious political speeches of all time but it is still revered today. In good fascist style, he asserted that he was doing exactly what he was not. He said he was defending self-government when that was exactly what he had waded through blood to deny to the South. The idealism still resonates but the ideals are lightyears from what Lincoln actually did. I am sure Goebbels was green with envy at such a successful "big lie".
And as far as racism goes, Lincoln was certainly not as racist as Hitler but he was perhaps slightly more racist than Mussolini. Mussolini basically did not care about race (which is why there were prominent Jewish Fascists) and did not at all concern himself with banishing or wiping out whole populations. Lincoln, however, DID favour sending blacks back to Africa but had not got around to doing anything much about it at the time of his death.
So it is only his fine talk that separates Lincoln from the Fascists of the 20th century. His deeds make him one of them.
Most of the objections to the above account seem to stem from a lack of knowledge of 20th century Fascism. Let us look at some of them.
1). It may be argued that Lincoln just sent his political opponents to jail. He did not send them to extermination camps. In that Lincoln was certainly more lenient than Hitler but he was arguably harsher than Mussolini. Musso had no extermination camps and he did send some people to jail or to island exile but the commonest Fascist punishment for enemies was in fact just a forced dose of castor oil. While undoubtedly unpleasant, this was a lot less limiting than being sent to jail.
2). It may be argued that Lincoln was no more punitive to war-opponents than were some of his Democrat successors -- such as Woodrow Wilson in World War I. That is true but the Aryan-loving Woody was also a proto-Fascist. See here. And the attitude of FDR to Mussolini and Italian Fascism has already been mentioned
3). It may be argued that the 20th century Fascists were socialists and that Lincoln was not. It is true that, unlike Hitler and Mussolini, Lincoln was not a socialist in the sense of being an advocate and practitioner of a welfare State but the times were simply not ripe for that. Socialism in that sense had not been invented at that stage. The beginning of State welfarism is usually traced to Bismarck, whose first welfarist laws were passed in 1883 -- Lincoln died in 1865. But the core idea of socialism is to use the power of the state to benefit some disfavoured group and that was also Lincoln's claim.
4.) Lincoln came to power through constitutional means rather than via a revolution or coup. True. But the same was true of Hitler and Mussolini. Hitler in fact fought more elections than Lincoln did. For details, see here and here. Once Hitler and Musso came to power, they showed little respect for democratic and constitutional restraints but, as we have seen, the same was true of Lincoln.
5). Lincoln could not have been a Fascist because Fascism had not even been invented by then. This is a very superficial objection. The term "Fascism" was invented by Mussolini but some would argue that the ultimate Fascist State was reached long ago in ancient Sparta. Be that as it may, the inventor of Fascism (in all but name) in modern history was undoubtedly Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821) -- with his police State for dissenters, glorified leadership position, military aggression, massive bloodshed, "progressive" doctrines etc. Before Mussolini, the political pattern now called Fascism was in fact called (particularly by Marx & Engels) "Bonapartism" -- though that owed as much to Napoleon III (1808-1873) as to Napoleon I. And one notes with some amusement that Trotsky fingered (quite rightly) both the Fascist and Soviet regimes as "Bonapartist".
Addendum: And the war did not in fact help blacks much
Peaceful means (e.g. buyouts) would have yielded a better result sooner
We have been told endlessly that the U.S. Civil War was a good war, fought to free the slaves. About 110,100 Union soldiers were killed in action, and another 224,580 died from war-related diseases. An estimated 275,175 Union soldiers were wounded. In 1879, it was believed that the Union had spent $6.1 billion on the war - and that was real money back then. Yet to a significant degree, as far as the former black slaves were concerned, the South was triumphant. We have here one of the most astonishing reminders about how wars backfire.
Not long after Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox, Abraham Lincoln's hand-picked successor, Andrew Johnson, helped ex-Confederates reestablish white supremacy in the Southern states. These ex-Confederates understood that the war wasn't really over in 1865. They enacted Black Codes to restrict the freedom of blacks and restore slavery in everything but name. To be sure, Radical Republicans in Congress asserted themselves and passed the Civil War Amendments, officially abolishing slavery, assuring equal rights for former slaves, and guaranteeing the right to vote. But these amendments soon became dead letters. Embittered ex-Confederates formed the Ku Klux Klan, the Knights of the White Camellia, and other terrorist organizations that conducted brutal "Negro hunts." The influence of Radical Republicans declined after a few years as their leaders died or became preoccupied with other issues. Then the party of Lincoln made a deal to resolve the contested presidential election of 1876: they would have federal troops withdrawn from the last three Southern states that were occupied after the Civil War, enabling Democrats to gain complete political control of the South, and in exchange Democrats would permit the Republican candidate, Rutherford B. Hayes, to become the 19th U.S. president. The civil rights of blacks were subverted for almost another century.
Incredibly, in the name of reconciliation, Union veterans and Confederate veterans gathered at Memorial Day ceremonies to mourn the dead - without discussing any of the war issues. Those were laid to rest. In 1913, Woodrow Wilson - the first Southerner elected president since the Civil War - gave a speech at Gettysburg, Pa., marking the 50th anniversary of Lincoln's famous address there. Despite all the wartime sacrifices, Wilson declared that the Civil War was "a quarrel forgotten."
Moreover, Wilson betrayed his campaign assurances to the black community and segregated federal government offices that hadn't previously been segregated. He defended segregation in a series of letters to New York Post editor Oswald Garrison Villard, the grandson of abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison. Wilson claimed that segregation would eliminate "the discontent and uneasiness which had prevailed in many of the departments." Wilson added that segregation would make blacks "less likely to be discriminated against."
The South was victorious ideologically. Its view of the Civil War was the prevailing view in the North for a century. Columbia University Professor William A. Dunning, a founder of the American Historical Association and its president in 1913, was perhaps the most influential promoter of the Southern view. He portrayed Radical Republicans as villains. He helped popularize the term "Carpetbagger," meaning Northerners who went South to seek public office after the Civil War. Dunning defended segregation by claiming that blacks were incapable of self-government. A star of the so-called "Dunning School" of post-Civil War historical writing was Ulrich Bonnell Phillips, who finished his teaching career at Yale. He defended slaveholders against charges that they were brutal, and he claimed they did much to civilize the slaves. Dunning School historians dominated American textbooks well into the 1950s and even the 1960s.
So, the Civil War was supposed to be quick and easy, and obviously it wasn't. The Union's military victories gave the losers an uncontrollable lust for revenge, and they renewed their oppression of blacks at the earliest opportunity. Nobody could be counted on to protect the blacks. The Civil War was no shortcut to civil rights. After the war, Northerners didn't want to remember why they had fought, or at least the part about freeing the slaves.
We ought to know by now that the killing and destruction of wars tend to intensify hatreds, and they're bound to play out, often in hideous ways that can be impossible even for a militarily superior power to control.
The history of emancipation in the Western Hemisphere made clear that war wasn't the only way or the best way to free the slaves. Although slavery had been around for thousands of years, abolitionists launched epic movements generating political support that doomed slavery in only about a century and a quarter. Slave rebellions reminded everybody that slaveholding was a risky business. There were private and governmental efforts to buy the freedom of slaves, reducing the number of slaves, reducing the amount of slaveholding territory, and reducing the political clout of slaveholders. Underground railroads further undermined slavery, and the runaways brought with them fresh horror stories for antislavery campaigns. A peaceful, persistent campaign involving a combination of strategies was the key to abolishing slavery. This was also the key to the campaign Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony launched to secure equal rights for women, the campaign that Mohandas Gandhi launched for Indian independence, and the campaign that Martin Luther King launched for civil rights in America.
I expressed some puzzlement above about Lincoln's motives for his war. The article below helps clarify that
The truth of the matter is that the Civil War was absolutely not fought over slavery. To understand how this is so, there are two pieces of evidence to consider. The first is the situation of high protective tariffs. In this pre-16th Amendment America, the federal government was funded solely through user fees, land sales, and tariffs. The southern economy, being largely agricultural, was highly dependent upon importing manufactured goods. This situation was something that all 13 original colonies shared, but as the new Republic developed, and the Industrial Revolution took off, the North, being less suited to agriculture, became a manufacturing powerhouse. The South then had a choice to make in importing its needed goods: continue to purchase goods from the British and French predominantly (as they had done since the colonial days) or purchase from the new northern manufacturers.
In order to strongly coerce the South into doing business with the North exclusively, the federal government erected very high protective tariffs and limitations against imports. What this did was make it too expensive for the South to import goods from England or France, even if those goods were preferable, and created a monopoly in which the northern manufacturers received the majority of the South’s business. This situation is evidenced by the Nullification Crisis of 1832, in which South Carolina nullified the Tariffs of 1828 and 1832, with their near 50% average duty. The stalemate forced the hand of the federal government to lower the average rate to between 15 and 20% with the Tariff of 1833. This dispute was temporarily quieted, but not for long.
The Morill Tariff passed into law March 1861 was the final straw on the back of the South. Economist Thomas J. DiLorezo writes in a Mises.org article that the Morill Tariff increased the average tax rate from around 15% to 37.5%, while also greatly expanding the imports subject to it. The South rightly perceived that the forced tariff at the hands of the federal government, dominated by northern interests, was a tyranny upon their right to free trade.
When SC seceded from the Union, followed by ten other states, the federal government had a very grave problem on its hands. Without the forced market of the South, the federal government’s tax revenues would plummet. The federal government was entirely dependent upon the tariff that was paid exclusively by southern imports. The federal government had two options: force the South to stay in the Union, and thereby keep the tax revenue, or watch the South freely trade with other nations, and eventually run out of money. The choice was clear for Abraham Lincoln. The Union was to be preserved above all costs.
Lincoln’s own words prove that for him, this was never about human rights, but about preservation of the Union. In his infamous August 1862 letter to NY Tribune editor Horace Greeley, Lincoln betrayed his true intentions for waging war:
My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union.
Further evidence of this is seen in the Joint Resolution on the War issued by Congress in 1861. “Resolved: . . . That this war is not being prosecuted upon our part in any spirit of oppression[...], nor purpose of overthrowing or interfering with the rights or established institutions of those states, but to[...] preserve the Union”.
The federal government was not interested in freeing the slaves. They were only interested in keeping the South attached to the North and the tariff revenue that union provided. Let the true historical record show that the Civil War was not fought over slavery.
Secondly, as mentioned above, Lincoln was not motivated out of the concern for human rights in deciding what course to take. Even with his famed Emancipation Proclamation, the notion of him being a “Second Moses” is greatly exaggerated. If one looks at the Emancipation closely, you’ll discover a problem: “[...]all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free [...]”.
The document is clear that the states “in rebellion” would have their slaves freed. However, if you were a slave in Delaware, Kentucky, Marlyand, or Missouri, slave-holding states that did not secede from the Union, you were not emancipated at all. In fact, for the first time in US history, slavery was actually officially recognized on the federal level. The Emancipation Proclamation drew the lines of slavery inclusively around the slaves in the border states, through an executive order. Great Emancipator? Hardly.
The last point to be addressed will show how Lincoln wrote the blueprint for the excess in government and tyranny that has become hallmarks of the American political system, and of the presidency in general. So much of the angst in our country today is over the intrusion of the federal government into our personal lives. We are touched by government everyday in more ways than we can imagine. In no particular order, I will just list off some of the actions of President Lincoln that put us on the slippery slope to where we are today.
1. Violation of Article 4 Section 4 that compelled the federal government to protect the states from invasion. Here the federal government was the invasion force.
2. Arrest and detainment without trial of the Maryland Legislature to prevent a vote on secession.
3. Conversely, supporting the secession of WV from VA, and recognizing the reorganized government of Virginia as legitimate despite the fact that it was not popularly elected.
4. Suspension of habeus corpus. Imprisonment and detainment of thousands of dissidents, including newspaper editors and even Congressman Clement Vallandigham of Ohio.
5. Established the first direct income tax in 1862.
Much of what Lincoln did during the course of the Civil War was repeated and expanded in later years. As historian James G. Randall notes in his book Constitutional Problems under Lincoln, “it would not be easy to state what Lincoln conceived to be the limit of his powers.” Perhaps a more appropriate moniker for Lincoln would be the “Great Tyrant”.
The federal government greatly increased its powers over the states and the citizens as a direct result of the war. Where the South was devastated by its effects, the federal government emerged stronger and more haughty than ever. As a condition of allowing the states back into the Union (that they created in the first place) the state constitutions of the former Confederacy were forced to be rewritten, in order to specifically outlaw secession (proof that secession was not illegal in 1861). The federal government had waged a war to gain power, control, and revenue, and it made sure that this power gained would be permanent.
The veneration of corrupt men as demigods in the secular, civil religion of American history is not only inaccurate, but it is nefarious and shameful. The point of this article isn’t to be provocative, or to just flame-throw. I am not anti-American, or pro-slavery, or anything else one might try to read into my words. I am, however, very deeply interested in truth. Truth will only be achieved by erasing mythos out of American history. Literature has plenty of fictional heroes, the stuff of legend. An American history textbook should have no such characters.
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