Why The Republican Party Elected Lincoln
by Thomas J. DiLorenzo
It is occasionally possible to see through the fog of mysticism,
superstition, lies, and the romantic, happy-faced, floating butterfly
vision of Abraham Lincoln that has been created by American court
historians over the past century. One place to begin is the gem
of a book by Pulitzer prize-winning Lincoln biographer David Donald
entitled Lincoln Reconsidered. In a particularly important passage
Donald quotes Senator John Sherman of Ohio, the brother of General
William Tecumseh Sherman and Republican Party powerhouse from
the 1860s to the 1890s who was chairman of the U.S Senate Finance
Committee during the Lincoln administration, on why the Republican
Party nominated and elected Abraham Lincoln.
"Those who elected Mr. Lincoln expect him . . . to secure
to free labor its just right to the Territories of the United
States; to protect . . . by wise revenue laws, the labor of our
people; to secure the public lands to actual settlers . . . ;
to develop the internal resources of the country by opening new
means of communication between the Atlantic and Pacific."
Donald then claims to translate this statement "from the
politician’s idiom" into plain English. Lincoln and
the Republican Party "intended to enact a high protective
tariff that mothered monopoly, to pass a homestead law that invited
speculators to loot the public domain, and to subsidize a transcontinental
railroad that afforded infinite opportunities for jobbery."
This is what is so refreshing about David Donald, the best and
most honest of all the mainstream "Lincoln scholars."
He understood that "wise revenue laws" meant a 47 percent
tariff on imports that would plunder the Southern states especially
severely; he understood that "free labor" meant white
labor, and protecting the white race’s "just right
to the territories" meant disallowing labor market competition
from either slaves or free blacks. At the time, the small number
of free blacks in the North had no real citizenship rights and
some states, like Lincoln’s Illinois, had amended their
constitutions to make it illegal for blacks to move into the state.
Donald also understood that "developing the internal resources
of the country" was a euphemism for the colossal corruption
that would inevitably accompany massive federally-funded subsidies
to railroad corporations.
The financial powers behind the Republican Party in 1860 were
the Northern railroad barons, Northern manufacturers who wanted
protectionist tariffs to protect them from competition, and Northern
bankers and investors like Jay Cooke who wanted to use their political
connections to make a killing financing a transcontinental railroad
(among other schemes, such as central banking). They decided at
the Chicago Republican National Convention of 1860 that Abraham
Lincoln was the perfect political front man for their corrupt,
The Great Railroad Lobbyist
From the time he entered politics in 1832, Abraham Lincoln aspired
to such a position. That is why he became a Whig, the party of
the moneyed elite. Lincoln was one of the most money- and power-hungry
politicians in American history. (Indeed, this would seem to be
a prerequisite for anyone who is capable of being elected president).
As soon as he entered the Illinois legislature he led his local
delegation in a successful Whig Party effort to appropriate some
$12 million in taxpayer subsidies for railroad and canal-building
corporations. In his landmark book, Lincoln and the Railroads,
first published in 1927 and reprinted in 1981 by Arno Press, John
W. Starr, Jr. noted how one of Lincoln’s colleagues in the
legislature said "He seemed to be a born politician. We followed
his lead . . . " And they followed Lincoln down a road that
would nearly bankrupt the state of Illinois. The $12 million was
squandered: Almost no projects were completed with it; much of
the money was stolen; and the taxpayers of Illinois were put deep
into debt for years to come.
Lincoln’s "internal improvements" fiasco in Illinois
promised to build "a railroad from Galena in the extreme
northwestern part of the state." Above St. Louis, in Alton,
"three [rail]roads were to radiate"; "There was
also a road to run from Quincy . . . through Springfield";
another one "from Warsaw . . . to Peoria"; and yet another
"from Pekin . . . to Bloomington" (Starr, pp. 25–26).
The first road mentioned was to become the Illinois Central, which
would later employ Lincoln for more than a decade as one its top
Lincoln and the Whigs saw to it that "the Assembly also
voted wildly and injudiciously in the matter of banking legislation,"
urging the legislature to print paper money to help finance what
his personal secretaries, Nicolay and Hay, would later say was
"a disaster to the state." Lincoln’s law partner,
William Herndon, described the whole debacle as "that sanguine
epidemic of financial and industrial quackery which devastated
the entire community" (p. 28). The whole scheme was eventually
abandoned, and taxes were raised sharply on the hapless Illinois
taxpayers to pay off the debt.
The 1837 internal improvements debacle in Illinois may have been
a disaster for the public, but it helped catapult a young Abraham
Lincoln into position as one of the top – if not the top
– lawyer/lobbyists in the country for the railroad corporations.
By 1860 the Illinois Central Railroad was one of the largest
corporations in the world. In a company history, J. G. Drennan
noted that "Mr. Lincoln was continuously one of the attorneys
for the Illinois Central Railroad Company from its organization
[in 1849] until he was elected President" (Starr, p. 58).
He was called on by the company’s general counsel to litigate
dozens of cases. He was such a railroad industry "insider"
that he often rode in private cars and carried a free railroad
pass, courtesy of the Illinois Central.
Lincoln successfully defended the Illinois Central against McLean
County, Illinois, which wanted to tax the corporation, for which
he was paid $5,000, an incredible sum for a single tax case in
the 1850s. The man who paid him the fee was George B. McClellan,
the vice president of the Illinois Central who in 1862 would become
the commanding general of the Army of the Potomac and, later,
Lincoln’s opponent in the 1864 election. Starr explains
the dishonest ruse that was apparently used by Lincoln and McClellan
to trick the Illinois Central’s New York City-based board
of directors to go along with such an unprecedented fee to a "country
lawyer" from Illinois.
McClellan would formally refuse to pay such a large fee, making
his directors happy. Then Lincoln would sue the Illinois Central
for the fee. But when Lincoln went to court over the fee (armed
with depositions from other Illinois lawyers that such astronomical
fees were perfectly appropriate!) no lawyers for the company showed
up and he won by default. Proof that this was all a ruse lies
in the fact that "Lincoln . . . continued to handle [the
Illinois Central’s] litigation afterwards, the same as he
had done before" (p. 79).
By the late 1850s, writes Starr, it was widely known that "Lincoln’s
close relations with powerful industrial interests" are "always
potent and present in political counsels" (p. 67). In today’s
language, he was the equivalent of a powerful, rich and politically
influential "K Street lobbyist." He often traveled "with
a party of officials of the Illinois Central company. He rode
in a private car, on his own pass furnished him in his capacity
as attorney for the company." This "greatly impressed
some of the young Republican leaders . . ." This was the
real Lincoln, and it is diametrically opposed to the image of
the modest, backwoods "rail splitter" that the court
historians have created.
In a masterpiece of understatement, Starr comments that "Lincoln’s
rise [in politics] was coincident with that of the railroads"
(p. 80). In addition to working for the Illinois Central, Lincoln
also represented the Chicago and Alton, Ohio and Mississippi,
and Rock Island Railroad corporations. As soon as the Chicago
and Mississippi Railroad was built, he was appointed as the local
attorney for that company as well. By 1860 Lincoln was the most
prominent attorney/lobbyist the railroad industry had. He was
so prominent that the New York financier Erastus Corning offered
him the job of general counsel of the New York Central Railroad
at a salary of $10,000 a year, an incredible sum at the time.
Lincoln turned down the offer after agonizing over it.
Lincoln also used his status as one of the top political insiders
within the railroad industry to engage in some very lucrative
real estate investments. On one of his trips in a private rail
car accompanied by an entourage of Illinois Central executives
Lincoln "decided to go to Council Bluffs, Iowa, where he
had some real estate investments" (p. 152). "Shortly
before his trip to Council Bluffs," writes Starr, "Abraham
Lincoln had purchased several town lots from his fellow railroad
attorney, Norman B. Judd, who had acquired them from the Chicago
and Rock Island Railroad. Council Bluffs at this time was a frontier
town, containing about fifteen hundred people" (p. 195).
To this day, this land in Council Bluffs, Iowa is known as "Lincoln’s
Why invest in real estate in Council Bluffs, Iowa, of all places?
Why not Chicago or even Springfield, the state capital? Because
Lincoln the political insider knew that there was a very high
likelihood that 1) the federal government would eventually subsidize
a transcontinental railroad; and 2) the starting point for that
railroad could well be in the vicinity of Council Bluffs. If so,
the value of his real estate holdings would be wildly inflated
and he would make a killing.
Indeed, the 1860 Republican Party Platform contained a sixteenth
plank that read: "That a railroad to the Pacific Ocean is
imperatively demanded by the interests of the whole country; the
Federal Government ought to render immediate and efficient aid
in its construction . . ." As the party’s nominee,
Lincoln pledged his wholehearted support of this plank. In the
interests of "the whole country," of course.
When he became president legislation was immediately proposed,
in a special legislative session called by Lincoln in July of
1861, to create the taxpayer-subsidized Union Pacific Railroad.
"There was no firmer friend of the Union Pacific bill than
the President himself," writes Starr. (In contrast, most
mainstream "Lincoln scholars" make the preposterous
assertion that he had nothing to do with such legislation). The
bill was passed in 1862 and it gave the president the power to
appoint all the directors and commissioners and, more importantly,
"to fix the point of commencement" of the Union Pacific
Railroad. And guess where Lincoln chose to fix the point of commencement
of the railroad. He "fixed the eastern terminus of the Union
Pacific Railroad . . . at Council Bluffs, Iowa" (p. 202).
His financial gains must have dwarfed Corning’s $10,000
salary offer. During the Grant administrations dozens of prominent
people would go to federal prison for such criminal self-dealing
but Lincoln, the ringleader of the whole enterprise, has up to
now escaped scrutiny.
In addition to lining his own pockets with this piece of legislation,
proving to his well-heeled supporters that he was indeed "one
of them," the legislation was essentially the Mother of all
Political Payoffs. One hundred fifty-eight of the prominent Northern
bankers, industrialists, and railroad barons who had supported
Lincoln’s political career were appointed as "commissioners."
As Dee Brown wrote in Hear that Lonesome Whistle Blow: The Epic
Story of the Transcontinental Railroads, when Lincoln signed the
bill creating the Union Pacific he "assured the fortunes
of a dynasty of American families . . . Brewsters, Bushnells,
Olcotts, Harkers, Harrisons, Trowbridges, Langworthys, Reids,
Ogdens, Bradfords, Noyeses, Brooks, Cornells, and dozens of others
. . ." (p. 49).
What does all this have to do with Lincoln’s war "to
save the union"? The answer is, "everything." The
official reason for the war that was given by both Lincoln and
the U.S. Congress was "to save the union." But Lincoln
inherited no "perpetual union." The union of the founding
fathers was a voluntary compact of the states. The states delegated
certain powers to the central government as their agent, but retained
sovereignty for themselves. Secession was considered a legitimate
option by political and opinion leaders from all sections of the
country in 1860, as I document quite extensively in The Real Lincoln.
In his First Inaugural Address Lincoln promised that he had no
intention of disturbing Southern slavery, and that even if he
did it would be unconstitutional to do so. In the same speech
he pledged his support of a proposed constitutional amendment
that had just passed the U.S. Senate two days earlier (after passing
the House of Representatives) that would have forbidden the federal
government from ever interfering with Southern slavery. In other
words, he was perfectly willing to see Southern slavery persist
long after his own lifetime.
But on the issue of taxation he was totally uncompromising. The
Republican Party was about to more than double the average tariff
rate (from 15 percent to over 32 percent), and then increase it
again to 47 percent. The Morrill Tariff passed the House of Representatives
in the 1859 session, before Lincoln’s nomination and before
any serious movement toward secession. In the First Inaugural
Lincoln clearly stated that it was his obligation as president
to "collect the duties and imposts," but beyond that
"there will be no invasion of any state." He was telling
the South: "We are going to economically plunder you by doubling
and tripling the tariff rate (the main source of federal revenue
at the time), and if you refuse to collect the higher tariffs,
as the South Carolinians did with the 1828 "Tariff of Abominations,"
there will be an invasion. That is, there will be mass killing,
mayhem, and total war.
Why was the tariff so important – even more important than
the issue of slavery in the eyes of Abraham Lincoln? Because tariff
revenues comprised about 90 percent of federal revenue, and if
the Southern states seceded they would no longer pay the federal
tariff. All the grandiose plans of building a transcontinental
railroad with taxpayer subsidies and creating a continental empire
would be destroyed, and along with them the political career of
Abraham Lincoln and, possibly, the Republican Party itself. The
union was "saved" geographically but destroyed philosophically
by the waging of total war on the civilian population of the South,
a war in which nearly one half of the adult white male population
was either killed or mutilated.
Three months after the war, Generals Grant, Sherman and Sheridan
would commence a twenty-five year campaign of ethnic genocide
against the Plains Indians to make the American West safe for
the subsidized transcontinental railroads. Sherman (who was also
a railroad industry-related real estate investor) explicitly stated
that the purpose of eradicating the Plains Indians was to make
sure that they did not stand in the way of the government-subsidized
By ignoring this true history of how a modestly successful trial
lawyer from Illinois came to be the nominee of the moneyed elite
that ran the Republican Party in 1860, America’s court historians
have railroaded the public into believing a fairy tale version
of their own history. The popular notion that the Republican Party’s
early leaders were Selfless Humanitarians is as big a lie as has
ever been told.
Copyright © 2003 LewRockwell.com