Reflections on Lincoln

Image from The Library of Congress
Image from The Library of Congress

As two days ago was the anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln’s birth, I thought it fitting to write about him.  Now most Republicans I know hold a particular fondness for Lincoln, choosing to hold some sort of dinner in his honor around this time of year.  After all, he was the first Republican candidate elected president.  Don’t some people call the Republican Party the “Party of Lincoln?”  A faithful reader of this blog would guess that my viewpoint would be quite a bit different.  If you were to ask me, “Who were the worst presidents to date, I would answer, “Lyndon Johnson, Franklin Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, and Abraham Lincoln.”

Now hold on a minute!  Other than Lyndon Johnson the other three are generally held in a positive light and many Republicans compared George W. Bush to Lincoln.  Why do you dislike him so?  The answer is simple; all four of these presidents massively and unconstitutionally increased the size and scope of the federal government.  In addition, all four used the pretext of the nation at war (or “conflict” in the case of Vietnam) to justify further centralization of power under the executive branch.  But let’s focus on the man of the hour, Mr. Lincoln.

I think that there are generally two reasons why people hold Lincoln in high regard: he won a particularly brutal and bloody war and he freed the slaves.   First, and likely most controversial, is the subject of the war.  Now I’ve written quite a bit on the subject already, but let me cover a few points.  Between the time Lincoln was elected and when he took office, the states of the Deep South: South Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Florida, Texas, Louisiana, all withdrew from the United States.  Immediately following secession, South Carolina demanded the surrender and withdrawal of troops from Fort Sumter, the federal fort in Charleston Harbor.  As they no longer considered themselves part of the USA, to have Union troops stationed in South Carolina made about as much sense to the South Carolinians as stationing British troops in Boston Harbor.  President Lincoln, however, disagreed and was unwilling to surrender the fort.   After the fort fell, he requested volunteers from each loyal state to quell the rebellion.  Virginia, who had previously rejected secession, now joined the young Confederacy rather than embrace Lincoln’s order to take up arms against her southern brethren.

Now some people will say that this war was necessary to preserve the Union, and, in a way, they are right.  The war was quite effective at preserving the physical integrity of the nation, but the spirit of the nation has forever been tarnished as a result.   As was the case in the Vietnam conflict, supporters adopted the mentality that “in order to save the village, we had to destroy it” indicating that the only means by which a people could be saved from the scourge of communism was to raise the village and slaughter the inhabitants.  The concepts of limited government, states rights, unalienable liberties, self-determination, and the 10th Amendment, were dealt a critical blow as a result of Lincoln’s actions and successive presidents have continued to disregard and erode these national underpinnings.   Unconstitutionally suspending habeas corpus in Maryland, creating an illegal income tax, waging war against civilians, censoring the press, what’s not to like about Lincoln?

Next, let’s move on to point number two:  Lincoln as the great emancipator.  Numerous people view Lincoln as a hero because he supposedly ended slavery, but such a viewpoint is false.  But…but, what about the Emancipation Proclamation, you might say.  Well, what about it?  How many slaves did it free?  Zero.  Huh?  The proclamation freed slaves only in states and territories not presently controlled by the federal government and their armies.  Anywhere that Lincoln had the power to free the slaves (i.e. in Union lands) he did not.

Don’t believe me?  Simply read the document.  The proclamation itself frees “all person held as slaves held within any state” in the following areas: “Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana, (except the Parishes of St. Bernard, Plaquemines, Jefferson, St. John, St. Charles, St. James Ascension, Assumption, Terrebonne, Lafourche, St. Mary, St. Martin, and Orleans, including the City of New Orleans) Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia, (except the forty-eight counties designated as West Virginia, and also the counties of Berkley, Accomac, Northampton, Elizabeth City, York, Princess Ann, and Norfolk, including the cities of Norfolk and Portsmouth), and which excepted parts, are for the present, left precisely as if this proclamation were not issued.”  Therefore Lincoln freed slaves only in areas over which he had no power and left enslaved individuals over which he could exercise control.   It was a ploy, pure and simple, to gain points with who those who opposed slavery and really accomplished nothing.   However, retrospectively speaking, politically it was a brilliant move.

As a result, in today’s society, if one embraces the mantle of states’ rights, as the Confederacy did, one could be labeled a racist.  It makes little difference whether in truth one espouses racial prejudices.  After all…the Union fought to end slavery while the Confederacy fought to preserve the institution.  Now one would be naive or downright dishonest if he or she did not acknowledge that slavery did play a part in the war, but to claim that the war was primarily fought to abolish or promote the “peculiar institution” is also extremely erroneous.   Did not Lincoln say, “I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists?  I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so.” (First Inaugural Address, 1861)?   And then in 1862 in a letter to Horace Greeley, repeated the claim stating, “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 do it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that.”

Still not convinced?  Recently, I discovered a story of particular interest on the subject.  Have you heard of Giuseppe Garibaldi?  Unless you are an Italian, or a student of Italian history, most likely not, and yet if the Civil War was fought (as some claim) primarily to end slavery, his name would have been enshrined in American history alongside Lincoln, Grant, and Sherman.

Giuseppe Garibaldi was an accomplished strategist and a key leader for Italian unification.  Apparently, according to an article by Rory Carroll in the British publication, The Guardian (found here), President Lincoln offered him the command of the Union forces during the early part of the war.  “Garibaldi was ready to accept Lincoln’s 1862 offer but on one condition, said Mr. Petacco: that the war’s objective be declared as the abolition of slavery.  But at that stage Lincoln was unwilling to make such a statement lest he worsen an agricultural crisis.”

Sure, there is plenty more available that you can read about our sixteenth president, and the vast majority of Americans will contend that Lincoln was one of our greatest presidents, but many of his supposed heroics are either exaggerated or outright untrue.   I do believe he was a skilled politician, but he seemed to hold little regard for the principles of a limited constitutional government.  He favored high protective tariffs, a federal income tax, a national bank, federal spending on internal improvements, a violation of civil liberties of his political enemies, and curtailing the free press.  Although one would expect such policies from say, a Soviet Premier or a Middle Eastern dictator, I honestly believe that the lasting legacy of Abraham Lincoln has been a steady march to an unrestrained unitary state where both the people, their liberties, and their property, are all subservient and dominated by the government.  Are these American values?

So, if given the chance today, would you vote for such a leader?

7 Replies to “Reflections on Lincoln”

  1. History unfolds itself in time. Interesting thing about Lincoln is he was about as popular as George W Bush when he was assassinated. Stanton, Seward, Chase, all thought of themslves smarter and more competent than Lincoln, this bullheaded hayseed prairie lawyer who .

    They may have been right, but one thing Lincoln had on them was his political saavy and determination. The Emancipation Proclaimation was strictly a political move that infuriated Republican radicals and Democratic conservatives alike for different resons. It only freed slaves in the seceeded states, so it was not enough for the radicals, and too much for the Democrats.

    Imagine also the contempt and hate he aroused by firing George B McClellend and several other academically smart generals before he finally settled on the hard drinking U. S Grant and the arrogant W. T. Sherman, neither of whom showed any hint of being the ruthless, irrepressible field marshalls they were.

    1. Yes, you are welcome to use the post on your website.

      Thanks for your interest and I hope to hear from you again soon.

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