Lincoln’s Greatest Failure (Or, How a Real Statesman Would Have Ended Slavery

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Published : November 20th, 2012
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Category : Editorials





"Every other country in the world got rid of slavery without a civil war . . . . How much would that cost compared to killing 600,000 Americans when the hatred lingered for 100 years."

~ Ron Paul to Tim Russert on "Meet the Press" in 2007

The new Steven Spielberg movie about Lincoln is entirely based on a fiction, to use a mild term. As longtime Ebony magazine executive editor Lerone Bennett, Jr. explained in his book, Forced into Glory: Abraham Lincoln’s White Dream: "There is a pleasant fiction that Lincoln . . . became a flaming advocate of the [Thirteenth] amendment and used the power of his office to buy votes to ensure its passage. There is no evidence, as David H. Donald has noted, to support that fiction". (Emphasis added).

In fact, as Bennett shows, it was the genuine abolitionists in Congress who forced Lincoln to support the Thirteenth Amendment that ended slavery, something he refused to do for fifty-four of his fifty-six years. The truth, in other words, is precisely the opposite of the story told in Spielberg’s Lincoln movie, which is based on the book Team of Rivals by the confessed plagiarist/court historian Doris Kearns-Goodwin. (My LRC review of her book was entitled "A Plagiarist’s Contribution to Lincoln Idolatry").

And who is David H. Donald, cited by Bennett as his authority? He is a longtime Harvard University historian, Pulitzer prize-winning Lincoln biographer, and the preeminent mainstream Lincoln scholar of our time. One would think that Goodwin would have considered his work, being a Harvard graduate (in political science) herself.

The theme of the Spielberg movie is the subtitle of Goodwin’s book: "The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln." Nothing gets a leftist’s legs tingling more than someone who is very, very good at the methods of political theft, plunder, subterfuge, and bullying. Goodwin the court historian has devoted her life to writing hagiographies of the worst of the worst political bullies – FDR, Lyndon Johnson, the Kennedys, and Lincoln. (It was her book on the Kennedys that got her in trouble and forced her to admit plagiarizing dozens of paragraphs, and paying a six-figure sum to the victim of her plagiarism. That got her kicked off the Pulitzer prize committee and PBS, but only for a very short while).

Lincoln’s "political genius" is grossly overblown in Goodwin’s book. In addition the book, like virtually all other books on the subject, completely misses the point. If Lincoln was such a political genius, he should have used his "genius" to end slavery in the way the British, French, Spaniards, Dutch, Danes, Swedes, and all the Northern states in the U.S. did in the nineteenth century, namely, peacefully. Instead, the slaves were used as political pawns in a war that resulted in the death of some 800,000 Americans according to the latest, revised estimates of Civil War deaths that has come to be accepted by the history profession. To this number should be added tens of thousands of Southern civilians. Standardizing for today’s population, that would be the equivalent of more than 8 million dead Americans, with more than double that number maimed for life.

Lincoln the "political genius" thanked his naval commander Gustavus Fox for helping him maneuver/trick the Confederates into firing on Fort Sumter, where no one was hurt let alone killed. This, Lincoln believed, gave him the "right" to ignore the constitutional definition of treason (Article 3, Section 3) as levying war upon the states, and levy war upon the (Southern) states in order to "prove," once and for all, that the American union was NOT voluntary, and NOT based on the principle of consent of the governed, as Jefferson declared in the Declaration of Independence. The main purpose of the war was to destroy the Jeffersonian states’ rights vision of government and replace it with the Hamiltonian vision of a highly centralized, dictatorial executive state that would pursue a domestic policy of mercantilism (the Federalist/Whig/Republican Party platform of protectionist tariffs, corporate welfare, and a national bank to finance it all) and a foreign policy of empire and imperialism. The purpose – and result – of the war was to consolidate all political power in Washington, D.C. and to render all states, North and South, as mere appendages of their masters and overseers in Washington. This of course is exactly what happened after the war and it happened by design, not coincidence.

A real statesman, as opposed to a monstrous, egomaniacal patronage politician like Abe Lincoln, would have made use of the decades-long world history of peaceful emancipation if his main purpose was to end slavery. Of course, Lincoln always insisted that that was in no way his purpose. He stated this very clearly in his first inaugural address, in which he even supported the proposed Corwin Amendment to the Constitution, which would have prohibited the federal government from EVER interfering with Southern slavery. He – and the U.S. Congress – declared repeatedly that the purpose of the war was to "save the union," but of course the war destroyed the voluntary union of the founding fathers.

Jim Powell’s book, Greatest Emancipations: How the West Ended Slavery, provides chapter and verse of how real statesmen of the world, in sharp contrast to Lincoln, ended slavery without resorting to waging total war on their own citizens. Among the tactics employed by the British, French, Spanish, Dutch, Danes, and others were slave rebellions, abolitionist campaigns to gain public support for emancipation, election of anti-slavery politicians, encouragement and assistance of runaway slaves, raising private funds to purchase the freedom of slaves, and the use of tax dollars to buy the freedom of slaves. There were some incidents of violence, but nothing remotely approaching the violence of a war that ended up killing 800,000 Americans.

The story of how Great Britain ended slavery peacefully is the highlight of Powell’s book. There were once as many as 15,000 slaves in England herself, along with hundreds of thousands throughout the British empire. The British abolitionists combined religion, politics, publicity campaigns, legislation, and the legal system to end slavery there just two decades prior to the American "Civil War."

Great credit is given to the British statesman and member of the House of Commons, William Wilberforce. After organizing an educational campaign to convince British society that slavery was immoral and barbaric, Wilberforce succeeded in getting a Slavery Abolition Act passed in 1833, and within seven years some 800,000 slaves were freed. Tax dollars were used to purchase the freedom of the slaves, which eliminated the only source of opposition to emancipation, wealthy slave owners. It was expensive, but as Powell notes, nothing in the world is more expensive than war.

Powell also writes of how there was tremendous opposition to ending slavery in the Northern states in the U.S, especially Connecticut, Maine, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island, where violent mobs wrecked abolitionist printing presses; a New Hampshire school that educated black children was dragged into a swamp by oxen; free blacks were prohibited from residing in Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, and Oregon; abolitionist "agitators" in Northern states were whipped; and orphanages for black children were burned to the ground in Pennsylvania. Nevertheless, Northern state abolitionists persevered and ended slavery there peacefully. There were no violent and enormously destructive "wars of emancipation" in New York or New England.

Cuba, Brazil, and the Congo also ended slavery peacefully in the nineteenth century by real statesmen in those countries. But not in the United States. "Some people have objected that the United States couldn’t have bought the freedom of all the slaves, because that would have cost too much," Powell writes. "But buying the freedom of the slaves was not more expensive than war. Nothing is more costly than war!" In fact, the North’s financial costs of war alone would have been enough to purchase the freedom of all the slaves, and then ended slavery legally and constitutionally.

It is a myth that Lincoln toiled mightily in his last days to get a reluctant Congress to pass the Thirteenth Amendment, as portrayed in the Spielberg movie. What he did spend his time on was micromanaging the waging of total war on Southern civilians, who he always considered to be American citizens, since he denied the legitimacy of secession. More importantly, as documented by historians Phillip Magness and Sebastion Page in their book, Colonization After Emancipation, Lincoln spent many long days at the end of his life communicating with foreign governments and plotting with William Seward, among others, to "colonize" all of "the Africans," as he called them, out of the United States once the war was over.



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Thomas DiLorenzo is professor of economics at Loyola College, Maryland, and a senior fellow at the Ludwig von Mises Institute. He is the author or co-author of ten books, on subjects such as antitrust, group-interest politics, and interventionism generally
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It is refreshing and enlightening to see Thomas DiLorenzo's article on one of our American icons. As a product of our public schools, I had learned to revere President Lincoln and his fight to end slavery. It wasn't until I visited a traveling exhibition of original documents written by Abraham Lincoln displayed at the Huntington Library in Pasadena, California years ago that I learned the truth. Mr. DiLorenzo is absolutely correct about Lincoln being a very reluctant latecomer to the abolition of slavery. If one bothers to read Lincoln's own words, it is clear that the Civil War was not fought by the North to free the slaves from their horrific circumstances.

We have all heard about how, "History is written by the victors." Time and again we are learning that the common history that we all learned is not the whole story or even an accurate version of history. The juvenile name calling by Mark H. says more about him than about Mr. DiLorenzo's scholarly abilities. Hollywood can produce some great and not-so-great entertainment, but we certainly can't rely on it for our history lessons.
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It must just kill Li'l Tommy that the public has overwhelmingly chosen a real scholar over his crackpot theories once again. But as I enjoy another delicious shot of salty wingnut tears with my winter porter, perhaps we can offer our suggestions for his next "bestseller". He can't come up with anything interesting except to leach off of Lincoln's corpse time and time again, so maybe a vampire or zombie book might be in order. Sadly, the genre has already been done. "Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Killer" is right up Li'll Tommy's skill level.

But let's get down to brass tacks: Lincoln is an American icon. He will be so now and forever. He has become part of American history and legend. The image of Lincoln as the savior of the union is fully ingrained and there is nothing that any contrary party will be able to wedge loose. Continued flailing away at a beloved American icon subjects the spitballer to rightful disdain. The Democratic Party would love to claim Lincoln but unfortunately, he is stuck at the hip to the neo-confederate, anti science, bigot party. There are those among the traitor states that would attempt to suggest the Civil War was something other than slavery; sadly for them, history is written by the winners, not to mention historical accuracy.

It was interesting to see reality accidentally penetrate the wingnut ignorance shield this past November 6, but it's really pointless to discuss political issues with 9th graders. DiLorenzo is click bait and I'm tired of refuting a useless human being like him. Far smarter people than I have refuted every single thing that he has ever farted out. Good bye Li'l Tommy... I don't care what you or your orcish followers believe either. Adios.
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Slavery ?
I know of people spending a lot of money for being a slave.
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One reason not to see this movie is because of Speilberg. One of the Zionist medias biggest trumpet blowers. I used to enjoy his early work but now he distorts the truth or just plain lies to further their media propaganda.
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Didn't think it would take long after the excellent movie about Lincoln was released before the neo-confederates came a running. And come a running they're coming. By the way, Lincoln the Movie is excellent history and details the struggle to abolish slavery forever in the United States with the passage of the 13th Amendment.

And then there is DiLorenzo of the Von Mises Organization: is he a neo-confederate, a racist? There is that possibility but the evidence points to extremism regarding states' rights. In any event his position is based on willful fallacy and extremely harmfull to the issue of individual rights. Is DiLorenzo an anamoly? No. His views are shared by Ron Paul and, sadly, Judge Napolitano.

The Civil War was always about slavery -- from the Missiouri Compromise of 1820 limiting the expansion of slavery to the Kansas-Nebraka Act of 1854 allowing its expansion into newly formed states. There is no denying the fact - which DiLorenzo does at every opportunity -- that the passage of the latter Act enflamed Lincoln and brought him back into politics. You see, as DiLorenzo would have you believe, slavery in the United States was NOT on a path to a quiet death. It was on the move pushed by Stephen Douglas and the Democrats. The contention by DiLorenzo and others that the North somehow pushed the South into secession is also fallicious: Southern Democrats were in control of the Presidency and Supreme Court for the majority of the early 19th Century. Nor did worldwide slavery die a quiet death as, again, DiLorenzo misrepresents: the British Navy pursued with extreme prejudice slavers on the high seas. As for slavery dying worldwide, it still exists in parts of the world.

As for the 600,000 Civil War dead, which DiLorenzo always mentions, no one at the time envisioned an extended conflict; and once the violence was initiated by the South it was a struggle to the death. DiLorenzo makes his argument from hindsight.

The views of DiLorenzo prohibit any critique of Southern slavery, of the population that supported it, of the generals and soldiers that murdered for it. Never a mention by DiLorenzo of the South's generational tortrue and rape of tens of thousands, of the forced separation of families -- mothers from children, wives from husbands -- not a godamn peep.

His blindness verges on mental disorder.
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I've been watching you and the others going back and forth on the matter of whether or not Lincoln went to war over slavery or control and I must say Jim, your repeated attempts to rewrite history amuses me. Long before a shot, resulting in no injury by the way, was fired the north was waging a war for control of the south, any mid school student with an interest on the topic will have already discovered this, why can’t you? This tactic of ‘Annoy an enemy to the point where they fire first’ has been around a long time and is still employed, look no further than what the US is doing with Iran.

I read your post under another article where you were challenged to answer a question regarding the reason Lincoln never out lawed slavery in the north or why it took him the better part of a year to do so after the civil war. Your answer was, well at best it was diarrhea of the keyboard. You tried some distraction, misguidance, misdirection, and then never fully answered the question. If you can’t back it up stop spewing it.

As for DiLorenzo, the man’s credentials go a lot further than yours (based solely on reading your comments) and yes he can be a bit of a schmuck at times, put things out there that provoke debate but he never lowers himself to your level of repeated character assassination of any one individual. His point, how other countries ended slavery is valid. Of course not everything went smoothly and one could never expect that slavery would come to a complete end in any land simply because it was outlawed. There would be no moonshiners in the US if things ended just because there was a law against it. The point is that Lincoln went to war under the guise of freeing the slaves. Period, end of, can’t fight what’s already happened. He was politically fortunate to have slavery as a cover.

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Latest comment posted for this article
It is refreshing and enlightening to see Thomas DiLorenzo's article on one of our American icons. As a product of our public schools, I had learned to revere President Lincoln and his fight to end slavery. It wasn't until I visited a traveling exhibiti  Read more
jmulsher - 11/21/2012 at 3:25 PM GMT
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