BALTIMORE--There is a good reason why the Lincoln legend has taken
on such mythical proportions: Much of what Americans think they
know about Abraham Lincoln is in fact a myth. Let's consider a few
of the more prominent ones.
Myth #1: Lincoln invaded the South to free the slaves. Ending
slavery and racial injustice is not why the North invaded. As Lincoln
wrote to Horace Greeley on Aug. 22, 1862: "My paramount object in
this struggle is to save the Union, and it is not either to save
or destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any
slave, I would do it"
Congress announced to the world on July 22, 1861, that the purpose
of the war was not "interfering with the rights or established institutions
of those states" (i.e., slavery), but to preserve the Union "with
the rights of the several states unimpaired." At the time of Fort
Sumter (April 12, 1861) only the seven states of the deep South
had seceded. There were more slaves in the Union than out of it,
and Lincoln had no plans to free any of them.
The North invaded to regain lost federal tax revenue by keeping
the Union intact by force of arms. In his First Inaugural Lincoln
promised to invade any state that failed to collect "the duties
and imposts," and he kept his promise. On April 19, 1861, the reason
Lincoln gave for his naval blockade of the Southern ports was that
"the collection of the revenue cannot be effectually executed" in
the states that had seceded.
Myth #2: Lincoln's war saved the Union. The war may have saved
the Union geographically, but it destroyed it philosophically by
destroying its voluntary nature. In the Articles of Confederation,
the Declaration of Independence, and the Constitution, the states
described themselves as "free and independent." They delegated certain
powers to the federal government they had created as their agent
but retained sovereignty for themselves.
This was widely understood in the North as well as the South in
1861. As the Brooklyn Daily Eagle editorialized on Nov. 13, 1860,
the Union "depends for its continuance on the free consent and will
of the sovereign people of each state, and when that consent and
will is withdrawn on either part, their Union is gone." The New
York Journal of Commerce concurred, writing on Jan. 12, 1861, that
a coerced Union changes the nature of government from "a voluntary
one, in which the people are sovereigns, to a despotism where one
part of the people are slaves." The majority of Northern newspapers
Myth #3: Lincoln championed equality and natural rights. His words
and, more important, his actions, repudiate this myth. "I have no
purpose to introduce political and social equality between the white
and black races," he announced in his Aug. 21, 1858, debate with
Stephen Douglas. "I, as well as Judge Douglas, am in favor of the
race to which I belong having the superior position." And, "Free
them [slaves] and make them politically and socially our equals?
My own feelings will not admit of this. We cannot, then, make them
In Springfield, Ill., on July 17, 1858, Lincoln said, "What I
would most desire would be the separation of the white and black
races." On Sept. 18, 1858, in Charleston, Ill., he said: "I will
to the very last stand by the law of this state, which forbids the
marrying of white people with Negroes."
Lincoln supported the Illinois Constitution, which prohibited
the emigration of black people into the state, and he also supported
the Illinois Black Codes, which deprived the small number of free
blacks in the state any semblance of citizenship. He strongly supported
the Fugitive Slave Act, which compelled Northern states to capture
runaway slaves and return them to their owners. In his First Inaugural
he pledged his support of a proposed constitutional amendment that
had just passed the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives
that would have prohibited the federal government from ever having
the power "to abolish or interfere, within any State, with the domestic
institutions thereof, including that of persons held to labor or
service by the laws of said State." In his First Inaugural Lincoln
advocated making this amendment "express and irrevocable."
Lincoln was also a lifelong advocate of "colonization" or shipping
all black people to Africa, Central America, Haiti--anywhere but
here. "I cannot make it better known than it already is," he stated
in a Dec. 1, 1862, Message to Congress, "that I strongly favor colonization."
To Lincoln, blacks could be "equal," but not in the United States.
Myth #4: Lincoln was a defender of the Constitution. Quite the
contrary: Generations of historians have labeled Lincoln a "dictator."
"Dictatorship played a decisive role in the North's successful effort
to maintain the Union by force of arms," wrote Clinton Rossiter
in "Constitutional Dictatorship." And, "Lincoln's amazing disregard
for the Constitution was considered by nobody as legal."
James G. Randall documented Lincoln's assault on the Constitution
in "Constitutional Problems Under Lincoln." Lincoln unconstitutionally
suspended the writ of habeas corpus and had the military arrest
tens of thousands of Northern political opponents, including dozens
of newspaper editors and owners. Some 300 newspapers were shut down
and all telegraph communication was censored. Northern elections
were rigged; Democratic voters were intimidated by federal soldiers;
hundreds of New York City draft protesters were gunned down by federal
troops; West Virginia was unconstitutionally carved out of Virginia;
and the most outspoken member of the Democratic Party opposition,
Congressman Clement L. Vallandigham of Ohio, was deported. Duly
elected members of the Maryland legislature were imprisoned, as
was the mayor of Baltimore and Congressman Henry May. The border
states were systematically disarmed in violation of the Second Amendment
and private property was confiscated. Lincoln's apologists say he
had "to destroy the Constitution in order to save it."
Myth #5: Lincoln was a "great humanitarian" who had "malice toward
none." This is inconsistent with the fact that Lincoln micromanaged
the waging of war on civilians, including the burning of entire
towns populated only by civilians; massive looting and plundering;
rape; and the execution of civilians (See Mark Grimsley, "The Hard
Hand of War"). Pro-Lincoln historian Lee Kennett wrote in "Marching
Through Georgia" that, had the Confederates somehow won, they would
have been justified in "stringing up President Lincoln and the entire
Union high command" as war criminals.
Myth #6: War was necessary to end slavery. During the 19th century,
dozens of countries, including the British and Spanish empires,
ended slavery peacefully through compensated emancipation. Among
such countries were Argentina, Colombia, Chile, all of Central America,
Mexico, Bolivia, Uruguay, the French and Danish colonies, Ecuador,
Peru, and Venezuela. (Lincoln did propose compensated emancipation
for the border states, but coupled his proposal with deportation
of any freed slaves. He failed to see it through, however). Only
in America was war associated with emancipation.
In sum, the power of the state ultimately rests upon a series
of myths about the alleged munificence of our rulers. Nothing serves
this purpose better than the Lincoln myth. This should be kept in
mind by all who visit the new Lincoln statue in Richmond.
THOMAS DILORENZO is the author of "The Real Lincoln: A New Look
at Abraham Lincoln, His Agenda, and an Unnecessary War" and a professor
of economics at Loyola College in Baltimore.
Date published: 5/4/2003
copyright © 2003, The Free Lance-Star Publishing Co. of Fredericksburg,
Originally Published at: http://fredericksburg.com/News/FLS/2003/052003/05042003/961921