Thursday, February 12, 2009

Abraham Lincoln's Birthday

Unless someone has been comatose or was just released from a gulag, I am sure everyone is vaguely aware that Thursday, February 12, marks the 200th birthday of our 16th president, Abraham Lincoln.

It has been 200 years since the birth of “The Great Emancipator” yet I find little to celebrate on this occasion. Perhaps that is why I am dedicating this essay today not to the greatness of Lincoln, but to the horrors that the proceeded from his reign.

There have already been hagiographic tomes heaped on Lincoln’s cold body and I am sure there are plenty more to come, but they are really becoming more than I can bear.

To listen to the epithets, one might think that Abraham Lincoln was a combination of Moses, Jesus, Buddha, and this dispensation’s messiah, Barack Obama.

Judging from the adulations heaped on him, Abraham Lincoln foretold the coming civil rights movement and the work of Martin Luther King, he was the savior of the black race, his words of wisdom are constantly repeated to justify any government program or initiative, as if they were the words of Holy Scripture. By this point, any rational person should be tired of everything being said about our 16th president, if for no other reason, no one can possibly be that saintly.

The words of praise are so over the top. I can’t even estimate how many times I have read newspaper editorials and letters to the editor that find some way to incorporate both Abraham Lincoln and Barack Obama. There appeared cartoons of the specter of Lincoln standing next to Mr. Obama while the latter took the oath of office. It is simply crass and beyond the scope of reality.

If only more people knew that Lincoln’s war was not so much about slavery but about centralizing his power. If only more people knew that despite graceful anti-slavery rhetoric, Lincoln was just fine with the institution of slavery as long as he could prevent the southern states from successfully seceding. If only more people knew that Lincoln thought blacks were inferior to whites. If only more people knew that once the slaves had been freed, Lincoln intended to ship them back to Africa because peaceful coexistence between the two races was an impossibility in Lincoln’s mind. I cannot speak for dead men, but taking those considerations into account, I would find it hard for Lincoln to be deliriously overjoyed at the election of Barack Obama.

Everybody, it seems, is trying to get a piece of Lincoln during this “historic” time. Liberals like Mario Cuomo still think Lincoln matters because he was a great liberal himself while National Review is trying to turn the big government warmonger into a conservative (which National Review has made a habit of doing in recent years).

Abraham Lincoln, who suspended the writ of habeas corpus, jailed the Maryland state legislature, issued an arrest warrant for the octogenarian Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, and unilaterally shut down opposition newspapers in the North, was perhaps not really the 16th president of the United States, but its 1st dictator.

But didn’t he actually free the slaves? Many people (including myself at one time) still think so. He is credited as “The Great Emancipator” because he issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. But students of history know that the Emancipation Proclamation did nothing to actually free a single slave. It was a deft piece of propaganda that purported to free slaves in states that were still in rebellion, even if he had no control over those states. However, slaves were not freed in states where the rebellion had been quelled, like Louisiana. So, to answer the question, who actually freed the slaves, we must look to the 13th amendment, passed eight months after Lincoln died.

This may be startling news for typical Lincoln-worshipers. What may be more startling is that besides being admired by today’s Republican and Democratic parties, Abraham Lincoln was admired by Adolf Hitler and communists everywhere. Why? Because Lincoln dissolved the Union as a compact of states and turned it into one unified nation under a centralized government. Hitler valued Lincoln’s crushing of the seceding states because it meant that the central government had power over all the other territories and states. Lincoln destroyed the concept of divided sovereignty, something that existed in America until that time, and brought every state under his control. Hitler enthusiastically endorsed Lincoln's actions of crushing the seceding states and forcibly unifying a country under the rule of one central government. Germany, like the United States before the Civil War, was a country that before 1871 was decentralized whose disparate provinces and territories were sovereign over their own affairs. Ensuring that divided sovereignty, the principle that each state was sovereign, was a thing of the past, Hitler could have dictatorial control over the Teutonic lands. It worked the same way 70 years before during the American Civil War.

The ultimate consequences of Lincoln’s war was that it crushed the old republic, one that was a voluntary union, embodied in the 10th amendment, stating that the individual states were sovereign. The Civil War, which itself did not end slavery (again, it was the 13th amendment that accomplished that) but did end the concept of a voluntary union. The victory of the North over the seceding southern states made the federal government supreme over all matters, nullified the 10th amendment for all intents and purposes, and made the state governments little more than satraps for the central government.

There can be more said about Lincoln’s actions as president but such a discussion could turn this blog into book form. Instead, I would recommend Thomas DiLorenzo’s book Lincoln Unmasked, a passionately written book that deals with both the economic and political consequences of Lincoln’s actions and how those actions did not always match up to his pious rhetoric. (DiLorenzo is an economics professor, not a professional historian, but his book is a decent introduction to the darker side of Lincoln)

What does all this mean, anyway? I’m sure this will come off as cranky to some readers. But, with so many tributes and eulogies coming out about Abraham Lincoln, I think more people should know that there is more to Mr. Lincoln than what is spoon fed to the public by the government and its schools. Many of these aspects have been covered up, because they are too blunt and politically incorrect.

So, when we celebrate the birth of this man, we should take careful note of just who and what we are celebrating. There are many conservatives today who are wailing over the expansion President Obama is making regarding the federal government. These conservatives should know that Republicans have been among the greatest expanders of the federal government. Whether it was the most recent Republican president or the first, Republicans have a lot of blame to put on themselves for the expansion of government. Conservatives who bemoan that federal growth, should keep in mind that Abraham Lincoln was one of the main movers and shakers of big government. And conservatives need to reconcile those ideas of loving Lincoln while hating big government because the two go hand-in-hand.

So on this day, I do not plan to celebrate. I only mourn, not for the slain man, but the old American republic which perished shortly before he did.

Afterword: I like picking on National Review, the one-time flagship of American conservatism (which in many ways it still is) and this piece is no different. Their February 23, 2009 issue is entitled “The Conservative Lincoln.” The summary of their cover story claims that Lincoln “was a torchbearer for free markets, individual liberty, and economic mobility, the rule of law, natural rights, and prudence in governing.” This is a remarkable statement considering Lincoln was a supporter of tariffs, which are an intrusion into the purely free market. He might seem like a stalwart of individual liberty because of his anti-slavery rhetoric, but even if he could have freed the slaves, it was only to ship them back to Africa. This is also the man who unconstitutionally suspended the writ of habeas corpus and absolutely ignored the Constitution altogether which makes it hard for me to say that he was prudent in governing. In my opinion, he is the man who most abused power during his time as president - far more than George W. Bush ever exceeded his authority. And such is the way conservatism has declined among the likes of the National Review crowd. This is actually a good lead-in to what will likely be my next piece: the fascism of Rush Limbaugh.



Ignoring the constitution, you better believe thats the kind of leader the "left" wants to look up to! It is no surprise the the "left" and most of America don't fully understand who he was or more important WHY Lincoln did the things he did. Lincoln and Obama, both very lucky in how the are precieved by in the public. It is in my view that history will not be near as favorable to Obama as it has been to Lincoln.

Carl Wicklander said...

Liberals like to gloss over all those inconvenient facts about Lincoln. They whined about how much Bush violated the Constitution and abused his power, but Bush's actions don't come anywhere close to the liberals' hero, Lincoln. I think it's time Lincoln's reputation finally took a hit.

It's probably too early to tell how Obama will be judged by history - he's only 3 weeks into his term. The media have invested in Obama and have really protected him thus far. It's hard to say how he will be treated.

TRUTH101 said...

Lincoln is portrayed as a great hero of the Republican party Carl. And if Americans want to remeber him as a great President and take a day off is that so bad? Relax and don't be a party pooper. History has had 200 years to reinvent Honest Abe. His legacy is enhanced each day.

Carl Wicklander said...

Americans can have whatever presidential heroes that they want, but many don't know some of these things about Lincoln. It's because of his enhanced legacy and these little known facts about Lincoln that I wrote this piece in the first place. If I am going to honor a president as one of my favorite, I try to know as much as I can about them. Because of these facts, I do not include Lincoln in my list of favorite presidents.

Carl Wicklander said...

Truth101, I'm just curious, but do you think all of Lincoln's war measures during the war were justifiable? Overthrowing a state legislature, suspending habeas corpus, and plenty of his other actions are pretty tall orders.

So I'd like to know what you think of all that. I'm sure you'll speak freely, but I want you to know that I promise to be civil.

TRUTH101 said...

Abe Lincoln had his great moments and his not so great ones. He put up with idiot generals far too long such as Burnside and Mcllelan. He made some humorous quips about them. "Only Burnside could have done this. Snatched defeat from the jaws of victory." Or something close to that. But he put General Grant in charge which was a smart decision.
There are thousands of books about Lincoln. Who knows what his real views towards Blacks was?
The man deserves his accolades for leading us through the Civil War. A war not of his choosing.

Carl Wicklander said...

Lincoln repeatedly said that he viewed blacks as inferior to whites and in his first inaugural address he said that he supported a constitutional amendment that would have prevented federal intervention regarding the institution of slavery. The war occurred because the southern states tried to secede and Lincoln would not tolerate it, despite the fact that the Revolutionary War was really a war of secession.

I'm sure Lincoln had his good moments. He had very graceful and persuasive antislavery rhetoric but he made no bones about the fact that if he had the opportunity to free the slaves, that they should colonize in Africa.

Carl Wicklander said...

Also, I don't mean to be picky, but I can't help but notice that you didn't really answer my question. I asked whether you thought Lincoln's actions were justifiable and I only mentioned a couple of things. I maintain that they were abuses of power and in case you were wondering, I found Bush's actions to be excessive as well. I'm just wondering if you think those actions are justifiable, even during wartime.

Steel Phoenix said...

People speak loftily about the need to teach history so that we will not be doomed to repeat it. Yet the history we teach to children too young to understand the nuanced adult concepts that lead to war, and too young to have reference for time to understand the dates, is a history so dumbed down and manipulated that it is counterproductive. In saving the Union, Lincoln destroyed one of its most important tenets: that the states have the right to find their own way, and that this serves as a model of both success and failure for the nation to follow. Lincoln set us on our course more surely than any president since. Whether it was an improvement, I can't say.

"Be the first to say what is self-evident, and you are immortal." -Marie Ebner-Eschenbach

Carl Wicklander said...

Lincoln changed the meaning of the Union. It had been a voluntary compact of states, reinforced by the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions in 1798, but Lincoln's war "to save the Union" really turned the country into an empire of sorts. It changed the United States from the plural to the singular. It changed from someone being able to say "These United States are" to "The United States is..."

Lincoln changed the course of this country but it was not immediate. Lincoln held extraordinarily expansive powers that the proceeding presidents in the 19th century did not have. But, Lincoln and his powers get resurrected in the 20th and 21st centuries as the American president has begun to act more like a dictator, king, or emperor. Now that Lincoln has been all but deified, his actions are used to justify nearly every controversial power grab today. Rush Limbaugh repeated invoked Lincoln in order to justify Bush's war actions. Rush even recently spoke approvingly of Lincoln's exile of Ohio Democrat, abolitionist, and war critic Clement Vallandigham.

Altogether it follows a line of logic that looks like this: Lincoln was good. Since Lincoln was good, all of his actions were good. Therefore, anyone who does what Lincoln did is also good.