Editor’s Note: WorldNetDaily talk-radio host Geoff Metcalf recently interviewed Dr. Thomas DiLorenzo, author of “The Real Lincoln.” In his book, as in the interview published April 14, DiLorenzo claims the 16th president was far more concerned with economic centralization than the abolishment of slavery. The interview elicited strong responses from readers, about half of whom disagreed with the author’s assertions. Among them was Dr. Richard Ferrier, president of the Declaration Foundation. According to Ferrier and scholars at the foundation, the evidence DiLorenzo uses to back his claims actually proves the author wrong. Ferrier, who calls DiLorenzo’s scholarship “sloppy,” explains the quandary in his interview with Metcalf.
Metcalf’s daily streaming radio show can be heard on TalkNetDaily weekdays from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. Eastern time.
Q: What is the bone you have to pick with Tom DiLorenzo?
A: Falsehood, basically. Falsehood in details, sloppiness of scholarship and a fundamentally wrong-headed view of the role of Lincoln and the Declaration of Independence, and American history and our political philosophy.
Q: One of the key items DiLorenzo focused on was his suggestion that the debate between Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton was won for Hamilton by Lincoln. Was he wrong?
A: Yes, I think he’s wrong. I think Jefferson and Hamilton fundamentally agreed, and Jefferson is the one DiLorenzo will pick as being on his side – that the American Union began not with the Constitution but with the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson said so in a letter to the board of governors.
Q: Tom said as much when he was here.
A: What that means is that we are a people with a limited but sovereign federal government under the rule of law whose spirit is given in the Declaration of Independence. I think on that point Hamilton and Jefferson agree, and they both disagree with Calhoun and Jefferson Davis and the people who started the rebellion of 1860-61. He’s just wrong on that, but he’s wrong on more gross and obvious matters.
Q: What I am specifically concerned with is what you claim are his factual errors.
A: Suppose I said to you, “Jesus said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones where I will store all my grains and all my goods, and I will say to my soul, soul you have ample goods laid up for many years. Take your ease and eat, drink and be merry.’” Is that true?
Q: Did Jesus say that?
A: He did. It’s in a parable. He has somebody else say it. Jesus tells the story about the rich man, and those are the words of the rich man. So in a way, it’s true that Jesus said that; he said it in quotation marks. He didn’t say it himself.
A: So listen to this from Tom DiLorenzo’s book: “Lincoln even mocked the Jeffersonian dictum enshrined in the Declaration of Independence that all men are created equal. He admitted that it had become a genuine coin in the political currency of our generation but added, ‘I am sorry to say that I have never seen two men of whom it is true. But I must admit that I never saw the Siamese twins and therefore will not dogmatically say that no man ever saw proof of this sage aphorism.’” That is supposedly from Lincoln. DiLorenzo goes on to add, “So with the possible exception of Siamese twins the idea of equality, according to Lincoln, was a sheer absurdity.” This is in stark contrast to the seductive words of the Gettysburg Address 11 years later, in which he purported to rededicate the nation to the notion that all men are created equal.
Q: There is a footnote in DiLorenzo’s book regarding that quotation, citing the first Lincoln-Douglas debate.
A: Yes, and when I was researching the book, I dutifully followed up the footnote and read the passage. Rather, I didn’t find the passage because it isn’t there. It is nowhere in the first debate. It is nowhere in any of the debates. Where it is is in an 1852 eulogy of Henry Clay, and Lincoln is quoting a Virginia clergyman with whom he disagrees. In other words, it’s a lie. Lincoln never said those words in his own voice. It is not only a lie, but it is either an incompetent or malicious inference that Lincoln contradicts himself in the Gettysburg Address when he declares his solemn faith in the American creed that “all men are created equal.”
Q: DiLorenzo quotes Lincoln from the Lincoln-Douglas debates, saying, “I have no purpose to introduce political and social equality between white and black races, and I have never said anything to the contrary.” Did Lincoln ever say that?
A: He did say that. But DiLorenzo has the citation wrong there, too. It is from a speech Lincoln gave in Peoria in 1854. Lincoln, who was a lawyer and was careful with his words, did not say “I do not believe in that equality. I do not think it is a good thing.” He said, “I have no purpose to introduce it.” Those are the words of a careful lawyerly politician who knows perfectly well how much good you can accomplish in your time and how much (if you espouse it) will ruin your career and keep you from accomplishing the good you can accomplish. So yes, it’s perfectly true that Lincoln said, “I have no purpose,” meaning, “I don’t at the moment intend to bring about such equality.” And if he had said anything else in Illinois in the 1850s, he couldn’t have been elected to dogcatcher.
Q: DiLorenzo includes the Lincoln letter to Horace Greeley in 1862. Is that accurate?
A: Yes, but he cuts it off at the end.
Q: Hold on, here’s the quote: “My paramount objective in this struggle is to save the Union; it is not to either save or destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it.” What’s the rest of it?
A: He continues, “I say nothing about my well-known desire that all men everywhere should be free.” In other words, he’s speaking as a public man with respect to his constitutional duty, which is to preserve the Union. Now it should be said that Lincoln thought the Union wasn’t just a legal entity or a practical entity but an entity like a human being – a body and a soul. And the soul of that entity was the truths that are expressed in the Declaration, including the truth that all men are created equal.
I was a vice chair of the Proposition 209 [California's anti-discrimination law] campaign and a friend of Glynn Custred. This principle of human equality and treating people according to skin color or race is more than dear to me. I have labored in the vineyards for it. Lincoln thought the American Union was not just a matter of laws and conventions and agreements, but it was a kind of spiritual compact. He drew that from the Declaration that, itself, goes back to our Protestant colonial forebearers who believed from Scripture and reason that all men are created equal. So when Lincoln wanted to save the Union – and told Greeley that in a letter – Lincoln is thinking, “I will save the Union, whose heart and soul are the truths that are spoken of in the Declaration.” In fact, if it was unwise in the short term to issue an Emancipation Proclamation, he would hold it off. When it was the right time to do it, he would do it.
Q: I asked Dr. DiLorenzo if, in his opinion, Lincoln was a dictator. He said that even some of the most pro-Lincoln historians had called him a dictator. Do you consider Lincoln a dictator?
A: No, I don’t. That is a vexed question. By the way, it’s a good question for both sides of the Civil War. One of the unhappy things about DiLorenzo’s scholarship is that he pays no attention to broad historical context and doesn’t look for example at the actions of Jeff Davis and the Confederate government. He finds fault with Lincoln for the suspension of habeas corpus, for various measures taken to suppress sedition in the states under control of the Union, and pays no attention …
Q: I didn’t realize so many American citizens were thrown in the slammer just for disagreeing with him.
A: They weren’t thrown in the slammer for disagreeing with him. They were thrown in the slammer for encouraging sedition and desertion. There is a long and complex scholarship on this, and you won’t get much of it or a balance of it from the book. There was suppression of newspaper editors in Richmond, declaration of martial law in numerous areas of the Confederacy. The Confederacy instituted conscription in advance of the Union. Tom is a libertarian, and he thinks economic issues dominate everything. He thinks personal liberty is the absolute trump card in every argument. He’s entitled to think that, but he applies that to Lincoln and the Union without a glance at the corresponding actions in the Confederacy.
Both parts of the American republic in that unhappy war did similar things, and they both did them with respect to sustaining the integrity and security of the Confederacy or the Union. Lincoln is consistently modifying the actions of his subordinates in the direction of liberty and leniency. He has hotheads he has to keep under his control – notably Ambrose Burnside and Ben Butler, who are responsible for unwise actions. And down the line, Lincoln reverses those actions in the direction of liberty. He did that because he conceived of the war and of his sustaining of the Union as a defense of fundamental human rights as expressed in the Declaration.
Q: I was intrigued by Tom’s book, because I don’t have a dog in this fight. My litmus test is the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
A: I’d add the Declaration.
Q: Fine, we’ll make it the troika. Several of the things Lincoln did were specifically designed to abrogate, eviscerate and destroy the very document to which he swore an oath. To say, “Well, gosh, the other guys were doing it too,” is not an adequate defense.
A: That is fair enough. In a way, you almost want to look at what Davis and company said. Davis and company argued like Hamilton, and so did Lincoln. That is to say both men, Lincoln and Davis, saw their fundamental duty to support the integrity and security of the republic to which they saw themselves belonging. Of course, Lincoln never saw the Confederacy as a republic; he thought it was an insurrection. They looked at the sections of both the Confederate and U.S. Constitutions, in which the executive is given fairly broad powers with respect to seeing that the laws are upheld and that the public peace is maintained. They both made appeals of that sort. You can hammer out the details ad nasuem.
Q: And you academic guys do.
A: The one that is most plain and reasonable to think about, I think, is the suspension of habeas corpus. That is authorized in the United States Constitution. DiLorenzo and his friends niggle on a small point: that it’s Article 1, Section 9, and not Article 2 under the executive power. But the whole first article is about the power of the United States government. Section 10 of Article 1 prohibits the states from doing a number of things. It is not restricted to the powers of Congress. The complaint, if I’m being obscure …
Q: You are.
A: What I’m saying is this: The complaint is Lincoln suspended habeas corpus for the sake of the security of the national capitol. When the bulk of the active powers in Maryland were about to prevent him from being inaugurated, prevent the United States Congress from meeting, organizing military forces to oppose the national government and the like, Lincoln cited Article 1, Section 9. Namely, that habeas corpus could be suspended in the case of insurrection or rebellion in defense of the Constitution and laws that he was sworn to uphold.
The confederates suspended habeas corpus, too, and for the same reason. Namely, that they were concerned with security within the Confederacy. I think in their own lights, both men were right. If the Confederacy was a government and had real independence, it couldn’t put up with insurrection in the Confederacy. And there was insurrection in the Confederacy.
Q: What about the repression of all those newspaper editors? The numbers vary; I’ve heard from 13,000 to a gazillion.
A: Well, not 13,000 newspaper editors …
Q: No, but were the incarcerated people all preaching desertion and sedition, or were they merely critical of Lincoln and as a result got thrown in stony lonesome?
A: There were blockade runners. There was an extensive Confederate spy network. There were plans to disrupt public meetings in Ohio and Indiana. To look at that fairly, you have to look at the scholarship on it. There was an organized seditious campaign, especially in Ohio and Indiana. It was run in part by exiles from Canada in Canada, across the Great Lakes, with actual plans for violent acts and the encouragement of desertion from the United States armed forces. Among those people were newspaper editors. How would you have felt about that during the Vietnam War? What if there had been in Vancouver an organized pro-Viet Cong movement with financial arrangements to the North Vietnamese paying and organizing newspaper writers, agitators on the ground, and planning to disrupt American political meetings?
Q: I wouldn’t tell or involve my government, but I’d take about four A-Teams and covertly visit and counsel the offenders with extreme prejudice.
A: Yes, but we didn’t want to invade Canada. I feel kind of the same way. But that was the actual situation. When his generals went over the line on that and suppressed people who shouldn’t have been suppressed, Lincoln was consistently on the side of clemency. It is an old and ugly grudge that is held against Lincoln and the Union for various reasons. I think partly regional sentimentality, partly racism sometimes and various other reasons make people state a one-sided case against a man who sustained the founding principles of this country.
Q: You are accusing DiLorenzo of sloppy and disingenuous scholarship. Can you give me an example?
A: In support of his thesis, he says, “In virtually every one of the Lincoln-Douglas debates, Lincoln made it a point to champion this corrupt economic agenda …”
Q: Which was the excessive tariffs.
A: Tariffs and internal improvements and a number of other things of that sort.
Q: I’m still not clear on the subtleties of “internal improvements.”
A: It’s like chartering canal companies and banks and things. He gives a footnote to that, and it’s to the Lincoln-Douglas debates. Go look in those debates; there is not a word about this economic agenda. Not a word! Let me read from the Oxford history of this period. It’s called “Battle Cry of Freedom,” written by Dr. James McPherson, and it is a very respectable book. It’s sort of the standard work on the matter. He talks about the Lincoln-Douglas debates:
“Desiring to confront Douglas directly, Lincoln proposed a series of debates.” The famous debates that school kids used to read back in the days when we actually taught them something about American history. “The stakes were higher than a senatorial election. Higher even than the looming presidential contest of 1860 … for the theme of the debates was nothing less than the future of slavery and the Union. Tariffs, banks, internal improvements, corruption and other staples of American politics received not a word in these debates.”
Q: Nothing about the excessive tariffs?
A: Nothing. I teach this at my college. I must have read and re-read seven debates 20 times. Trust me, Geoff, there is not a word about tariffs in those debates. Nothing.
Q: There is no argument that the tariffs imposed by the North on the South were draconian. You wouldn’t refute that, would you?
A: The tariff of 1857, which was the existing tariff at the time, had bipartisan support. The South Carolina delegation voted for it. It was the lowest tariff in 20 years. That’s not to say there wasn’t debate about tariffs.
Q: The tariffs went from about 15 percent to 40 percent. I’d call that a big hike.
A: Yes, but that’s two-and-a-half years later, in 1861. Democrat president James Buchanan signed that tariff, and it had bipartisan support. He called for its passage; he didn’t just support it. In the ’58 Senate contest and their seven famous debates, Douglas and Lincoln did not cross swords once over tariffs or the bank or internal improvements. I’m sorry to say this, Geoff, but what DiLorenzo says is a lie. These debates are available online. The books are widely published. Your readers should just go out and look. Also, the Declaration Foundation has a number of articles and a forum discussing this very matter of DiLorenzo’s book and the legacy of Lincoln.
Q: DiLorenzo includes references to Frances Key Howard and Rep. Vallandigham. What can you tell us about them?
A: I don’t know about the first one, but Clement Vallandigham was a Democrat from Ohio. When I mentioned Ambrose Burnside, Vallandigham was the congressman who gave speeches calling for the end of the war and for resistance to conscription …
Q: And against protectionist tariffs and the income tax.
A: That’s right, but there was an income tax when he gave the speech that got him in trouble.
Q: My question is about congressional immunity. Unfortunately, Congress critters can get away with saying anything they want, as long as they say it in the well of Congress. How did Vallandigham end up getting his front door kicked in by federal soldiers?
A: He gave his speeches out in his home area in Ohio. The local general, Ambrose Burnside, thought it was treason and put him under arrest right away. When the facts came back to Lincoln, he thought it was unwise and possibly illegal, and he undid Burnside’s action. What they offered him was a free pass through Confederate lines. And it’s Vallandigham who wound up in Canada organizing seditious anti-Union, and sometimes violent, groups in the period of ’63-’64, to undermine the national war effort. But Lincoln let him out. Lincoln turned the key. Burnside is the guy who did that, and Lincoln didn’t think it was the right thing to do.
Q: What about the Morrill tariff bill, which bumped the tariff from 15 percent to 47 percent?
A: That bill would never have passed if the Southern states had not seceded. It passed in the Senate – before Lincoln was president, by the way – because 14 Southern senators were out of the Senate. They could have blocked it, but they walked out in advance.
When the neo-Rebels say the tariff was the cause of the war, they conveniently overlook the fact that South Carolina withdrew on December 20th of 1860 – not because of any tariff that had been passed or signed, but because Abraham Lincoln, who declared that slavery was a moral wrong, had been elected president of the United States. The Morrill tariff that you are referring to was not passed until three months after South Carolina and six other states went out.
Q: So if they blame secession on the tariff, they are being more than a little disingenuous.
A: They are doing a little bit of time travel.
The Declaration Foundation’s initial response to Thomas DiLorenzo’s interview with Geoff Metcalf, written by David Quackenbush, was published by WorldNetDaily on April 23.
Thomas J. DiLorenzo’s book, “The Real Lincoln: A New Look at Abraham Lincoln, His Agenda, and an Unnecessary War,” is available in WorldNetDaily’s store, ShopNetDaily.
Visit Geoff Metcalf’s
archive for previous “Sunday Q&A” interviews.