book, Lincoln Reconsidered, Pulitzer prize-winning Lincoln biographer David Donald remarked
that, after Lincoln’s death and "reincarnation" as a secular
political saint, politicians of all stripes began attaching themselves to his
legacy. Men who were his bitterest political enemies during his lifetime all
of a sudden claimed to have been his closest friends and associates. The
Communist Party U.S.A. adorned its New York City headquarters, writes Donald,
with huge portraits of Lincoln and held annual Lincoln-Lenin Day parades.
of course, has taken the worshipping of Abraham Lincoln to greater extremes
than the Republican Party and some of its affiliated foundations and think
tanks. The Republican Party has long sought to give its political agenda
moral authority by reminding us all that it is, after all, "The Party of
Lincoln." That is certainly true but, unfortunately, the Republican
Party and some of its associated think tanks have apparently found it
necessary to do what they once accused the Soviet Union of doing: rewriting
history in order to enhance its prestige and power.
for instance, a Washington, DC, outfit known as the "Declaration
Foundation" that is purportedly devoted to the principles embodied in
the Declaration of Independence. It does so by lionizing Lincoln (as though
he still needs more lionizing) and constantly reminding Republican
politicians to do this or that because "Lincoln would have done
it." One of its slogans is the Lincolnian phrase, "Liberty and
Union Forever" (emphasis added).
Declaration Foundation does some good work, judging by its Web site, but its
very name is somewhat Orwellian. Consider the one principle of the
Declaration of Independence that Thomas Jefferson is most noted for, the idea
that governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed,
and that whenever governments become destructive of liberty it is the duty
of citizens to abolish that government and replace it with a new one.
Declaration, after all, was a Declaration of Secession from England.
The American Revolution was a war of secession, just as the War for Southern
Independence was. Massachusetts Senator Timothy Pickering, who served as
George Washington’s adjutant general, Secretary of War, and Secretary
of State, once said that secession was "the" principle of the
American Revolution – the very right that the revolutionaries fought
for. The Declaration Foundation, on the other hand, preaches exactly the
opposite with its "Union Forever" philosophy.
political triumph was, if anything, a repudiation of the Jeffersonian
philosophy of government and a victory for his political adversaries, the
Hamiltonians, who by 1861 had morphed into the Republican Party. Like all the
founding fathers Jefferson wanted the Union to thrive, but he also agreed
with his colleague Timothy Pickering that secession was a fundamental right.
In his First Inaugural Address he declared, "If there be any among us
who would wish to dissolve this union . . . let them stand undisturbed as
monuments of the safety with which error of opinion may be tolerated where
reason is left free to combat it." He was championing the right of free
speech here, but also the right of secession.
letter to James Madison in 1816 Jefferson reiterated his support of the right
of secession by saying, "If any state in the Union will declare that it
prefers separation . . . to a continuance in union . . . I have no hesitation
in saying, let us separate."
de Tocqueville, whom everyone regards as a brilliant observer and chronicler
of the American system of government, wrote in Democracy in America that
"The Union was formed by the voluntary agreement of the States; and in
uniting together they have not forfeited their nationality . . . . If one of
the states chooses to withdraw from the compact . . . the Federal Government
would have no means of maintaining its claims directly either by force or
right." (Tocqueville could never have imagined that barely thirty years
later an American president would commit the barbaric act of having his
armies murder 300,000 fellow citizens and destroy their economy to deny them
the right of secession).
Abraham Lincoln voiced support for the right of secession when it served his
political purposes. He enthusiastically embraced (and orchestrated) the
secession of western Virginia (a slave state) when it joined the Union. And
on January 12, 1848, he announced that "any people anywhere, being
inclined and having the power, have the right to rise up and shake off the
existing government, and form a new one that suits them better. . . . Nor is
this right confined to cases in which the whole people of an existing
government may choose to exercise it. Any portion of such people, that can,
may revolutionize, and make their own of so much of the territory as they
inhabit." Don’t look for this quote, though, in any of the
materials produced by the Declaration Foundation.
1860 most Northerners and Southerners believed in the Jeffersonian
right of secession as enshrined in the Declaration of Independence. In Northern Editorials on Secession Howard
Cecil Perkins surveyed about 1,000 Northern newspapers and found that the
majority of them agreed basically with what the Bangor Daily Union wrote
on November 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 that
is coerced to remain in the Union becomes a "subject province" and
can never be "a co-equal member of the American Union."
York Tribune editor Horace Greeley, a prominent Republican,
editorialized on December 17, 1860, that if tyranny and despotism justified
the Revolution of 1776, then "we do not see why it would not justify the
secession of Five Millions of Southrons from the Federal Union in 1861."
On February 5, 1861, Greeley continued on that "The Great Principle
embodied by Jefferson in the Declaration is . . . that governments derive
their just power from the consent of the governed." Therefore, if he
Southern states want to secede, "they have a clear right to do so."
At this time, Northerners knew that if there was to be a war it was not a war
"to free the slaves," but to deny Southerners the right of
secession. In an 1862 letter to Horace Greeley Lincoln himself declared that
his "paramount objective" in the war was to destroy the right of
secession or, as he rephrased it, to "save the Union," and that if
he could do that without freeing a single slave he would gladly do so.
Declaration Foundation, the Claremont Institute, and other self-proclaimed beacons
of the Lincolnian philosophy, preach exactly the opposite. They perpetuate
the preposterous myth that there was never any such thing as a right of
secession – in a country that was formed by a war of secession. In
doing so they rewrite history to legitimize the highly centralized
welfare/warfare state that Lincoln, more than anyone else, helped bring about
in America. The Declaration Foundation, in other words, repudiates the
principles of the Declaration of Independence while trying to convince the
public that it is actually championing them.
second most notable principle of the Declaration is the notion that "all
men are created equal." The Declaration Foundation and the Claremont
Institute portray Lincoln as an almost Christ-like figure because of his
supposed embrace of this principle, but this is hard to square with many of
Lincoln’s own lifelong beliefs and clear, unambiguous statements. In
his 1858 Ottawa, Illinois debate with Stephen Douglas, for example, he stated
that "I have no purpose to introduce political and social equality
between the white and black races . . . . I . . . am in favor of the race to
which I belong having the superior position. I have never said anything to
went on to declare that he had never been in favor "of making
voters or jurors of Negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to
intermarry with white people." He literally mocked the
Jeffersonian dictum that "all men are created equal" by claiming
that, with the possible exception of Siamese twins, "I am sorry to say
that I have never seen two men of whom it is true."
topic of emancipation Lincoln said, "Free them, and make them
politically and socially our equals? My own feelings will not admit of this .
. . . We cannot, then make them equals."
doesn’t get any clearer than that. Lincoln unequivocally denounced the
principle of the Declaration of Independence that all men are created equal,
especially when it comes to men of the white and black races. Ever the slick
politician, he rhetorically defended the "natural rights" of all
people, but blacks could never enjoy such rights if they were denied all the
rights that Lincoln would deny them. In his 1852 eulogy to Henry Clay Lincoln
stated that he agreed with Clay that slavery was regrettable, but ending it
would produce "a greater evil, even to the cause of human liberty
itself." Don’t look for this line, either, in any of the
Declaration Foundation’s publications.
career-long goal, which he clung to until the day he died, was colonization
– to send every last black person in the U.S. to Africa, Central
America, Haiti – anywhere but the U.S. This, said Lincoln, would
be a "glorious consummation." They could be "equal" all
right, but not here. This led America’s most prominent abolitionist,
William Lloyd Garrison, to denounce Lincoln as "the President of African
Colonization" and to declare that he "had not a drop of
anti-slavery blood in his veins." Again, don’t look for this in
any Declaration Foundation or Claremont Institute publications.
the Declaration Foundation and the Claremont Institute are
"conservative" organizations, they join hands with prominent
hard-core leftists in distorting the real meaning of the Declaration of
Independence. In Lincoln at Gettysburg the far-left journalist Garry
Wills celebrates this "open air sleight of hand" and
Lincoln’s use of military force to "remake America" in a way
that made egalitarianism, rather than liberty, the prevailing political
Columbia University law professor George P. Fletcher concurs with Wills in Our Secret Constitution,
where he praises Lincoln for "reinventing the United States"
government from one whose main goal was the defense of liberty to
"nationalism, egalitarianism, and democracy."
the past century nationalism has been the chief source of the wars that have
killed millions of civilians; egalitarianism has helped create socialist and
welfare states that have destroyed economy after economy; and unbridled
democracy has decimated liberty. The Republican and Democratic parties have
championed all of these things over the past century, and they use what
Joseph Sobran has called the "Fantasy Lincoln" to help prop up
their corrupt regimes.
by Thomas DiLorenzo
J. DiLorenzo is professor of economics at Loyola College in Maryland and the
author of The Real Lincoln; Lincoln Unmasked: What You’re Not Supposed To Know about
Dishonest Abe and How Capitalism Saved America. His
latest book is Hamilton’s Curse: How Jefferson’s Archenemy Betrayed
the American Revolution – And What It Means for America Today.
© 2009 by LewRockwell.com