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 War of Southern Stupidity
Get thee back to Europe where you belong. Your radical opinions are no longer welcome here.
Frum-like attempt to drive a wedge between the tea party and republicans....
True, but thanks to the Federal Military Complex, our own Coast Guard and Navy got you safely back to San Diego, and you had all the booze and cold showers you wished for on the way. And, might I add, you probably weren't whipped more than once or twice, or forced to share a bed with a dead nieghbor.
There is nothing in the Constitution that precludes a state being expelled from the Union against its will either. Would you say that was a possibility?
Indeed, the fact that the Congress accepted Texas' specific reservation of that right in admitting it to the union belies any assertion to the contrary.
I believe that you are mistaken on that.
That said, that the article does not mention the way the South was paying 70% of the taxes shows that the author had no intention of a reasoned and balanced presentation.
Perhaps the author didn't meniton it because it isn't true?
Lincoln: father of Big Federal Government and the midwife for 100 years of segregation. It didn’t take long for many of the freed slaves to realize that they were far from free and that this newfound freedom had signifiantly diminished their economic lot in life. A freedom won through reason and the voluntary decision of the Southern populace would have given these poor folks a chance for real integration into society. As it was, the sanctimonious Northerns condemed the former slaves to squalid urban ghettos. The urban elites - the same crew which imposed the welfare state as a means of perpetuating the economic slavery of the poor - attempted to reach utopia be stepping on the backs of those they claimed to assist. Not much has changed since 1863.
A British slave ship, and the relevance to this thread is?
Within their own borders and so long as their actions don't violate the Constitution.
Too bad we didn't aquire Guantanamo Bay until after the the illegal Spanish American war. Another one that we started just to be the bastards of the world that we've always been, and then covered up in the history books, by the way.
Slavery was the prime motivator for the Southern side. Maintaining the Union was the prime motivator for the Northern side.
How so? Specifics please.
Nah, this was all settled in the movie Gettysburgh. The dialogue between Lieutenant Thomas D. Chamberlain and the Confederate prisoner explained everybody's motivations. It was about slavery. And preserving the Union. And state's rats (rights). See? Everybody's right. No struggle.
Lieutenant Thomas D. Chamberlain:
I don't mean no disrespect to you fighting men, but sometimes I can't help but figure... why you fightin' this war?
Confederate prisoner: Why are you?
Lieutenant Thomas D. Chamberlain: To free the slaves, of course. And preserve the Union.
Confederate prisoner: I don't know about other folk, but I ain't fighting for no darkies one way or the other. I'm fightin' for my rights. All of us here, that's what we're fighting for. [pronounces it 'rats']
For 10 years now you have been one of my private heros on this website. Time to take my feelings public. I don’t care what they say.
That's like saying the U.S. was at fault for not settling the fallout from the Pearl Harbor attack by diplomacy. The confederacy chose war. Lincoln fought the war that they forced on him.
Did you happen to notice that was a BRITISH slave ship, not American?
Should Lincoln (or a previous President) invaded Britain?
Are you aware that the SLAVE TRADE using American ships had been abolished long before the Civil War? Did you also happen to know that before that New England pay-rolled and provided the slave ships, not the South?
If anyone chose war it was the "Goon" himself, read his second inaugural again, Para. 2.
Abortion is the slavery of the 21st century and I am an abolitionist.
Abortion is not slavery. It is infanticide, the slaughter of innocents for self satisfaction. Abortion is the greatest crime of all. It destroys the future by destroying the present. There is no greater evil than abortion. Even slavery protected the life of the enslaved.
In 1861 the South saw slavery as an institution that would last for generations. Kind of hard to promote reason and a voluntary decision to end slavery under those conditions.
On the contrary: Some down the line Conservatives like myself (I attended the first Tea Parties in NY) wave moved away from the Tea Party when it became infested with libertarians. I respect the utility of the Tea Party, but as libertarianism appeals most to those who are incapable of thinking things through, can't have anything to do with them. Parse the recent comments of intellectuals like Ann Ann Coulter or Mark Levin, and you'll see that they are doing them same. The Tea Part is useful for getting ideas out, but the last thing we need is a third party candidacy in 2012. BTW, FR is a Conservative not a Tea Part website.
You are aware that the movie "Gettysburg" was based on a novel, aren't you? And that conversation most likely didn't occur?