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.
The Cruel Oppressor had a lot of willing help. Meet the "Torch of the North".
That's because the Constitution didn't create the Union, it had already been created - as an explicitly perpetual one.
Every State in the Union had surrendered its right to unilaterally secede. Texas was unique only in that it received permission to secede in advance.
All of that is irrelevant, though. The South would have been allowed to secede peaceably, if it had chosen that path. Instead, it chose war.
One comment I read once that I thought made sense was that say what you will of whether Lincoln was justified in making war on the South, the real issue is that he felt he had to make war. In other words, his real failure was in not ending slavery with diplomacy. The author of the article I read mentioned that several other contemporary countries, including Britain, our Mother country, had stopped slavery without going to war over it.
What diplomacy was left available to him when several states were already in open rebellion?
You'd like that. I'm sure you would volunteer to perform the ghoulish act.
I don't know.
But by the way; anyone who uses a Apple computer is probably a leftist and Obama supporter.
Windows based systems are vastly superior and easier to use.
Abortion is the slavery of the 21st century and I am an abolitionist.
After all of the fighting and dying and "reconstructing", the US Constitution is STILL silent on the subject. The Yankees couldn't even get that right. EVERYONE then and now knows that an amendment like that would be DOA, well except you.
Wait until we all get to see who is necessary for this time.
Who we will get may likely be vastly less charitable.
Also, Japan did nothing to deserve Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
I think we covered everything. Let the bodies fly!
central_vag says, “what are you griping about? Look, some of them got window seats.”
Hey! Did you hear? With the Libs getting booted in November, Microsoft just acquired Apple!
Hmm... just a tiny bit more room each than I had on my last Carnival cruise.
The Cruel Oppressor had a lot of willing help. Meet the "Torch of the North".
There was a tyrannical president in office during the Civil War but he was based in Richmond.
On the contrary, slavery was one of the reasons we found ourselves fighting a second war of secession with our own mother country in 1812. Our history books tell us that James Madison was annoyed that the Brits were seizing our vessels and impressing our sailors into His Majesty's Navy, right? Ever hear of the Slave Trade Act 1807?
Try again. Davis could have been tried for treason, perhaps should have been tried for treason, but the same Chief Justice of the Supreme Court who would later rule that secession as practiced by the Southern states was unconstitutional also said that trying Davis for his crimes after the ratification of the 14th Amendment would have violated his 5th Amendment protections.
So much for your "they couldn't try him without proving secession was legal" nonsense.
The War of Northern Aggression!
That said, has anyone looked into Executive Order 11, or been to the Lone Jack, MO, Civil War Museum? I've learned a great deal, to include a great deal of misery created from both North and South in the Kansas City area. There was what appears to be essentially a genocide executed by Lincoln in that area. Yes, I'm going to throw the G-word. There was a lot of ugly going on - a lot of good folks stuck in the middle, and a lot of soldiers feeling entitled to "take" whatever they wanted from even families and farmers on their own side who were following orders.
So, until I can further study, I'm reserving judgment.