Skip to comments.Lincoln the Tyrant: The Libertarians' Favorite Bogeyman
Posted on 12/07/2010 11:31:03 AM PST by presidio9
On a recent pilgrimage to Gettysburg I ventured into the Evergreen cemetery, the scene of chaotic and bloody fighting throughout the engagement. Like Abraham Lincoln on a cold November day in 1863, I pondered the meaning of it all. With the post-Tea Party wave of libertarianism sweeping the nation, Lincolns reputation has received a serious pillorying. He has even been labeled a tyrant, who used the issue of slavery as a mendacious faux excuse to pummel the South into submitting to the will of the growing federal power in Washington D.C. In fact, some insist, the labeling of slavery as the casus belli of the Civil War is simply a great lie perpetrated by our educational system.
First of all, was Lincoln in fact a tyrant? For me the root of such a characterization centers on the mans motivations. A man of international vision that belied his homespun image, Lincoln saw the growing power of an industrialized Europe and realized that a divided America would be a vulnerable one. The central idea of secession, he argued, is anarchy. Hence, maintaining the Union was his prime motivation, not the amassing of self-serving power.
It is true that Lincoln unilaterally suspended the writ of habeas corpus. From a Constitutional standpoint, the power of the federal government to suspend habeas corpus in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety is clearly spelled out in Article 1, Section IX. And an insurrection of eleven states would certainly qualify as such. Whether or not Lincoln had the authority (Article I pertains to Congress) most significant to me is that the Constitution does allow for the suspension of habeas corpus in times of severe crisis. So, doesnt the question distill down to a more wonkish matter of legal procedure, rather than the sublime notion of denying the rights of man?
Constitutional minutia aside, the question remains whether or not Lincolns actions made him a tyrant. Consider the country in 1861-1862, the years in which the writ was suspended, re-instituted and then suspended again until wars end. The war was not going well for the North, and Southern sympathies were strong in the border states and the lower Midwestern counties. The federal city was surrounded by an openly hostile Virginia on one side and a strongly secessionist Maryland on the other. Copperhead politicians actively sought office and could only sow further seeds of discord if elected. Considering these factors, one wonders what other course of action Lincoln could have taken to stabilize the situation in order to successfully prosecute the war. Must I shoot a simple-minded soldier boy who deserts, he asked, while I may not touch a hair on the head of the wily agitator who induces him to desert?
It seems that ones appreciation for Lincolns place in history is largely an off-shoot of ones position on the rebellion itself.
If the South was within its rights to secede, then Lincoln was a cruel oppressor. If not, then he had no choice but to put down a major insurrection.
What most glib pro-Southern observers of the wars issues forget is that there were three million Americans enslaved in that same South, who would have been dragged into a newly formed Confederate States of America. How is it, asked Samuel Johnson as early as 1775, that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of Negroes? Can any true libertarian argue that using the power of the federal government to end a states perpetuation of human bondage is an act of tyranny, regardless of the reason? And whether or not either side was willing to admit it, slavery was indeed the core issue of the war.
For those who believe otherwise then I ask you: In 1861, if the entire country was either all free or all slave states, would war have still come? If secession was about securing the Souths dearest rights, I must ask a follow-up: the right to do what exactly? We know the answer of course.
Was the North without sin? Certainly not, as anyone who understands the economic symbiosis of the two regions can attest. But in the end it was a Northern president using Northern troops who freed the slaves, and erased from the American experience what Lincoln himself referred to as the base alloy of hypocrisy.
A common blasé position among the Lew Rockwells of the world (a man who never felt the lash himself of course) is that slavery would have eventually died out as modernization overtook the antebellum Southern way of life. Yes it can be argued that it was economically inefficient but its Marx not Mises who argues that systems of production necessarily dictate political forms. Consider that the de facto servitude of Blacks in the post-reconstruction South lasted well into the 1960s, and South Africas apartheid into the 1980s both of which were ended by external pressures rather than internal catharsis .
Given the cost in dead and treasure, would it have been best to let the South go and hope for the best in slaverys natural demise? As Patrick Henry, a southerner, once asked: Is life so sweet or peace so dear as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Certainly Lincolns steadfast prosecution of the war revealed his feelings on this fundamental question.
So when I look at Lincoln I see a man who, for myriad reasons ranging from realpolitik to moral imperative, released three million people from the shackles of slavery. I see a man who may have over-reached his legal authority by making the suspension of habeas corpus an executive rather than legislative initiative, but did not act outside the spirit of the Constitution regarding its position on whether such a right was untouchable.
I can only conclude that to think Lincoln a tyrant is to support the Confederacys right to secede in the first place
and take its enslaved Americans with them. Given what a weakened state a split country would have placed us in as we moved into the industrial age, given the force for good that a united and powerful America has been in the world since Appomattox, and considering even his most brazen suspensions of Constitutional rights were temporary, and resulted in no one swinging from the gallows for their opposition to the war, I must support the actions of this great President who was ultimately motivated by love of country, not lust for power. As Shakespeare might have said: Despotism should be made of sterner stuff.
I guess those folks in Lawrence, Kansas don't count huh?
IMHO, you are taking this thread way too srsly.
If you want to go with that analogy you have it all wrong. The South didn't ask for a divorce. They walked out. After helping to run up the credit cards, they walked away from their share of the responsibility. They walked out on family obligations. They took every bit of community property they could get their hands on. And they fired some shots at their spouse on their way out the door. Considering all that it was the North that was the aggrieved spouse and not the South.
We'll never know what might have been.
We can be pretty sure that the South would have fought as hard for their slaves in 1870 or 1880 or maybe even 1890 as they did in 1861.
It only took 700k dead and hundreds of thousands wounded to "prove" that political unions at the point of the sword might eventually work out OK after the better part of a century,...
It was their war, maybe the South should have fought harder for their chattel? Then we would be in different countries and not having this delightful conversation.
You might want to check your dates. The shooting started at Lexington over a year before the Declaration was issued.
That is debatable, but regardless the South walked away from their share of the national debt and from obligations the country had entered into while they were a part.
The South didn't assert it owned part of federal properties in the North.
No they stole every bit that they could get their hands on on the South.
Or perhaps if Northern industrialism, instead of being used to wage war, had instead been used for productive industry, the revolution which followed the civil war would have been accelerated by many times, making slavery less profitable of a venture.
That still would have required a desire by the South to give up their slaves and their plantation agriculture. There wasn't any such interest that I'm aware of.
More importantly, instead of banning what was the key to an entire economic system, the North could have used the industrial revolution to ease the transition - a revolution that largely bypassed the South due to it's economic shambles for decades.
This would have benefitted both sides. As despicable as slavery was for those 2 million in the Sout...
Closer to 4 million.
...how much better off were they in return for the awful carnage?
They were free. They weren't someone's property. How much value do you put on that?
The North ignored the Klan and Jim Crow for most of the next century, leaving the former slaves who couldn't or wouldn't leave closer to slavery than to freedom for generations.
Absolute nonsense. The federal government was passing laws against the Klam in the 1870's. As for Jim Crow, it was the South's invention and the South's choice. What would you have the government do about it?
With the money the North spent on the war and reconstruction, they could have bought a good portion of the slaves outright and transplanted them out of the South without a shot fired or a life lost.
Compensated emancipation? That would have required an interest on the part of the slave owners to sell, wouldn't it? That interest was non-existent. If they sold their chattel and allowed the North to take them away then who would have worked their fields?
Can you point out exactly where the federal government’s power to use force to stop secession is enumerated in the constitution? I have not been able to find it myself. Thanks.
Lincoln tried to push a compensated emancipation plan for the Union slaves states. Delaware and Maryland rejected it.
No, it doesn't exist there either.
Look in Article 1; Section 8:
“To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions;”
A state voting to leave the union is not an insurrection. The South was not trying to topple and replace the federal government, they just wanted to leave the Union. If state legislatures have the authority to vote for joining the Union I think it defies logic to argue that they do not have the authority to vote for leaving it. I am glad that when member states left the Soviet Union in 1990 the communists were less vicious than the Yankees in 1860 or there would have been a lot of havoc in eastern Europe. I assume you would have supported the USSR’s right to murder the citizens of the member states who left that Union?
You assume wrong.
Texas wasn't the only one. Even several original states, like New York, Virginia, and Rhode Island, entered the union with reservations or explicit indication that they could back out.
James Madison, "Father of the Constitution":
"The assent and ratification of the people, not as individuals composing an entire nation, but as composing the distinct and independent States to which they belong, are the sources of the Constitution. is, therefore, not a national but a federal compactOne other problem...Lincoln ignored Federalism, too.
Britian had outlawed slavery long before the Civil War. The abolitionist movement had been in place in this country as well as Europe since officially 1688, and probably for centuries before.
In any case, I'm glad you took the bait as well. The point is that slavery was an atrocity that denied black people their humanity. A response to earlier comments about Union Generals.
I just bet you have a list of slavery's finer points. In any case this is where it ended forever in this country, and that was worth whatever it took .
Um, my question was by no means rhetorical. Either you got that 70% figure from somewhere, or it came, as I suspect, from somewhere in your butt. We're not big fans on this website of people who make up their own facts to bolster their lame arguments.
Any arguments against the period resulting from reconstruction would fall at the feet of another DUmocrat, Andrew Johnson who allowed the slaveocracy to regroup, rebuild, and continue terrorizing long after the last shots had been fired against them by the free states.
Those that blame Lincoln do so while turning a blind eye to the real tyrants like Woodrow Wilson, FDR, and Lyndon Johnson while giving a pass to Jimmy Peanut, BJ Clinton and King Hussien for growing government and stifling freedom.