In their Feb. 19 WorldNetDaily article, “All Smoke, No Gun,” Richard Ferrier and David Quackenbush hysterically and irrationally recommend that readers ignore my book, “The Real Lincoln: A New Look at Abraham Lincoln, His Agenda, and an Unnecessary War,” (Forum/Random House, March 2002) without ever having seen the book themselves.
Based on a column by Ilana Mercer (“Lincoln’s legacy of corruption“), they throw a literary fit by referring to Mercer’s column as a “rant” and insulting her as being a “comprehensively ignorant parrot.” They refer to me, whom they have never met and whose book they have not read as a “fanatic.” They call both of us “small-minded naysayers.” Have they no manners?
These ill-mannered scolds claim that Lincoln was obsessed with the issue of slavery from 1854 on. But that would be news to the editor of “The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln,” Roy Basler, who wrote that Lincoln barely ever mentioned the topic prior to 1854 and even then, he did not seem at all sincere. “His words lacked effectiveness,” writes Basler. It would also be news to Pulitzer-prize-winning Lincoln biographer David Donald, who wrote that “Lincoln was not an abolitionist.” Or to the pre-eminent American abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, who once declared that “Lincoln had not a drop of anti-slavery blood in his veins.”
When he opposed the extension of slavery into Nebraska in his Oct. 16, 1854, speech in Peoria, Ill., Lincoln explained that the reason for his opposition was that “We want [the new territories] for the homes of free white people. Slave states are the places for poor white people to move from. New free states are the places for poor people to go and better their condition.” Lincoln was echoing the official position of the Republican Party at the time, expressed by New York Tribune editor Horace Greeley (a prominent Republican) as: “All the unoccupied territory shall be preserved for the benefit of the white Caucasian race – a thing which cannot be except by the exclusion of slavery.”
In the same speech Lincoln gave a second reason for opposing the extension of (but not Southern) slavery: The Three-Fifths Clause of the Constitution, which allowed for every five slaves to be counted as three persons for purposes of determining congressional representation by state, artificially inflated the power of the Democratic Party.
If Lincoln was “obsessed” with the issue of slavery, it was mostly because the extension of the institution into the new territories would disadvantage the Republican Party. The Republican Party platform of 1860 did not advocate disturbing Southern slavery, and Lincoln promised repeatedly in his First Inaugural Address that he had no intention of doing so.
The claim by Ferrier and Quackenbush that Lincoln never talked about his career-long devotion to the Whig/mercantilist agenda of protectionist tariffs, corporate welfare for the railroad industry, and government monopolization of the money supply from 1854 on belies their claim that they have read all of Lincoln’s post-1854 speeches. In virtually every one of the Lincoln-Douglas debates, Lincoln made it a point to champion this corrupt economic agenda.
Even when commenting on the Dred Scott decision on June 26, 1857, he bitterly denounced Andrew Jackson’s refusal, some 30 years earlier, to recharter the Second Bank of the United States. He repeated this complaint a month later in a debate with Douglas. Indeed, as soon as Lincoln took office, he oversaw what James McPherson calls a “blizzard of legislation” during his first 18 months in office that tripled the average tariff rate, began spending federal tax dollars – for the first time ever – on railroad-industry subsidies, and nationalized the money supply with the National Currency Acts.
Ferrier and Quackenbush ignore almost all of American history up to 1860 in repeating Lincoln’s own false tale that there was no such thing as a right of secession. The New England federalists plotted to secede from the Union for nearly a decade after the election of Thomas Jefferson in 1800. The leader of that movement, George Washington’s secretary of state, Thomas Pickering, stated that secession was “the” principle of the American Revolution. No one debated this point at the time.
As I demonstrate in “The Real Lincoln,” the big majority of Northern newspapers in 1860 espoused the principle of the Declaration of Independence that governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed in supporting the peaceful secession of the Southern states. As the Bangor (Maine) Daily Union 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. A state coerced to remain in the Union is a subject province and can never be a co-equal member of the American Union.” Lincoln’s war destroyed the Union as a voluntary association of states.
That Lincoln had a great and unbounded “respect for the Constitution,” as Ferrier and Quackenbush further claim, would have been a huge surprise to virtually all of Lincoln’s contemporaries. As Lincoln scholar Mark Neely, Jr. has written, Lincoln seethed in frustration for literally decades over the fact that president after American president had ruled his cherished Whig economic agenda unconstitutional.
Once he took office, he became what historian Clinton Rossiter called a “constitutional dictator” by unconstitutionally launching a military invasion without the consent of Congress; illegally suspending the writ of habeas corpus; ordering the military arrest and imprisonment (without warrant or trial) of some 13,000 Northern citizens for merely voicing disapproval of his policies; censoring all newspapers and telegraphs and closing down dozens of opposition newspapers – sometimes imprisoning their editors and owners; nationalizing the railroads; ordering federal troops to interfere with Northern elections; deporting Ohio Congressman Clement L. Vallandigham for opposing his income tax and tariff policies; confiscating private property, including firearms; and effectively gutting the Ninth and 10th Amendments to the Constitution. As Clinton Rossiter wrote, “this was considered by nobody as legal.” Such behavior would have been unimaginable to true champions of constitutional liberty, such as Jefferson and Madison.
Ferrier and Quackenbush look at these same facts, along with the fact that Lincoln’s war ended up killing 620,000 Americans (the equivalent of more than 5 million standardizing for today’s population) and conclude that they show Lincoln’s “disciplined restraint” and his “commitment to the lawful regime of self-government.”
These two writers may be blind to facts and reality when it comes to Lincoln but the great literary critic H.L. Mencken was not. In criticizing what historian Garry Wills approvingly calls Lincoln’s “open air sleight of hand” in the Gettysburg Address, Mencken pointed out that, “It is difficult to imagine anything more untrue” than the bizarre assertion that Lincoln’s army was fighting for self government. “The Union soldiers actually fought against self determination; it was the Confederates who fought for the right of their people to govern themselves.”
In a final bizarre twist, Ferrier and Quackenbush acknowledge Ilana Mercer’s point that the roots of so much contemporary political corruption “are partly to be found in the expansion of federal power that was occasioned by the Civil War,” but they then argue that none of this is Lincoln’s fault. They can’t have it both ways: They can’t praise Lincoln for being “our greatest president” while simultaneously claiming that he had nothing to do with the policies that were put into place during his administration. Only ideologically-blinded zealots could take such a position.
Thomas J. DiLorenzo is author of “The Real Lincoln: A New Look at Abraham Lincoln, His Agenda, and an Unnecessary War” (Forum/Random House) and professor of economics at Loyola College in Maryland.