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 agree a lot with this article.
First, I think yes, there were far more issues than slavery. One side has tried to make the war about nothing but slavery. However, the other side has tried to dismiss this reason completely. Anyone who has read the newspapers of the time or studied the Lincoln, Douglas debates knows that slavery was an overriding factor of the time and was one of the fuses that started the whole thing. It was also a foundational piece of the economics of the South and the reason why there were trade embargoes and tariffs.
Regarding slavery, I don't believe we could have or should have done what some Libertarian's suggest and just have ‘bought’ them. That continues to justify that they were property. An individual can't be bought or sold. An individual’s greatest right is self-ownership. The government buying everyone’s freedom would have sent a message that it considered humans nothing but chattel.
Regarding how we got into the war, I believe Lincoln didn't initially see this as a legal secession but an illegal insurrection. I believe he did find justification in Article 1, Section 10 of the Constitution: “No State shall enter into any Treaty, Alliance, or Confederation...” He may have even seen this not as an initial move by the States but by certain elements within the States.
Regarding the war, things snowballed, at first it was small rebellions that built and built.. it wasn't one day everybody was happy, the next day, it was all out war.
Regarding how the war progressed and suspension of Constitutional liberty. It is hard to live in a man's shoes, but there was Constitutional authority in for many of the amendments that allowed for variance in a time of war. For example, Amendment 3 includes: “in time of peace”, Amendment 5 includes: “except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger”...
Now, as to the other Libertarian philosophical arguments, and where my Objectivist leanings differ from Libertarian thought, is that Individual Rights always trump State's rights. At that, States do not have rights, only an Individual can have a right. A State has a role, just as the federal government does. The further away from the individual, the lesser the role should be. One of the arguments for succession was the continued right of the State to subvert individual rights- the right of self-determination (ownership). There is a proper role for the Federal Government to step in IF individual rights are being subverted. States Rights(sic) are not the be-all, end-all. Individual Rights are.
Was Lincoln a tyrant? IMHO, No. He was a man caught up in extraordinary circumstances trying to make the best of the situation he was in and preserve our country.
Could he have made different decisions that would have made the war unnecessary? Possibly, but none of us (nor did Lincoln) have a magic time machine where we can jump back and forth and test different solutions. All any of us have are the choices we make with the obstacle in front of us.
I bet I could grind the argument to a painful halt by citing the Lincoln-Douglas debates. However, I’m not that sadistic.
So instead, I’ll approach it from an objective point of view, and put the whole blame of the Civil War down to amazingly bad luck.
To start with, after the American Revolution, slavery was dying out, and pretty quickly, and was exclusively an upper class practice. Had things remained this way, slavery probably would have been outlawed around 1833, about the same time as the British outlawed it.
But Eli Whitney, and others, developed the cotton gin around 1800, which meant the previously tedious and expensive processing of cotton could be done by machine, instead of by hand. This made cotton production and wealth explode in the South, with cotton fields springing up all over the place. And it also meant that slavery became within reach of the middle classes.
So an event about 60 years before the Civil War was to a large part responsible. And ironically, 50 years after the Civil War hit, the boll weevil ended cotton production in the South, which would have also removed the reason for the war.
Okay, that was the first thing. Second, though there were some small fanatical groups, like that led by John Brown, who wanted to start a war, after the first real battle of the war, both sides retreated because they knew they needed to ramp up a lot to make a war happen.
This would have been a great time for diplomacy, or at least agreeing to try to hash out differences instead of wholesale bloodletting. But it was a missed opportunity.
And then, when Lincoln sent General McClellan to fight the Confederate forces, McClellan did everything but fight. He wanted to run against Lincoln for president, and conducting a bloody war was not a particularly good stepping stone for the office.
But again, this meant lots of time where there could have been a parlay, but again a missed opportunity.
So, in the final analysis, it takes two to tango, and if either side would have at least offered to settle things down, thing might have been different.
Yes, I am aware that I spelled Gettysburg wrong.
Remind me how wars start again? Who was it that fired the first shot?
It depends upon the conditions under which it was accepted.
I believe that you are mistaken on that.
Then so is Governor Perry (which wouldn't be a surprise). So I checked, and you are correct; Texas had reserved the right upon application but removed it from the final copy.
Perhaps the author didn't meniton it because it isn't true?
According to one author on the topic, Charles Adams, total Federal revenue during the 1830s and 40s was $105.7 million, of which $90 million came from the South. So I was wrong, it was over 85%.
Every State in the Union had surrendered its right to unilaterally secede.
State your sources. When and where did ANY state agree to create an "explicitely perpetual" union?
When and where has ANY state "surrendered its right to unilaterally secede?"
Your picture of General Sherman gets a slaveship for an answer, for this simple reason: We fought that war because your side didn't think that black people had any human rights.
A rhetorical question I am not going to dignify beyond this response.
Jefferson Davis was every bit as much a "tyrant" in the South as Lincoln was in the North (by the end of the war, some Confederate states were threatening secession), but he seems to have been forgiven by his "libertarian" fans in the name of sentimentalism. Furthermore, it was the Confederacy, not the Union, that experimented with state socialism towards the war's end.
Let's look at a few more heroes of these champions of liberty who so detest the "tyrant" Abraham Lincoln:
Antonio de Oliveira Salazar
Now please do not misunderstand me. I am not in any way saying these men were tyrants on the level of history's Communist dictators (they most assuredly were not) or that their regimes were "just as bad" as the Communists (they were not). What I am saying is that these men ran regimes that were highly centralized and that they curtailed civil liberties in order to fight Communism. Yet libertarians do not hold them to the same standard; to the contrary, they tend to glorify them.
Now if George Papadopoulos or Rafael Trujillo can be excused as acting in extraordinary times then how in the name of all that is reasonable can Abraham Lincoln not be given the same consideration? After all, all Lincoln's "tyrannical" actions occurred after the Confederacy had opened fire on a US military installation. Prior to that time he had done absolutely nothing, nor would he have done anything had the southern states not seceded. He most certainly would never have interfered with slavery in states where it already existed; the Republican party's position was nonextension, not abolition. And the South knew it!!! But based on nothing but this (and possibly an impending high tariff) seven states seceded from the Union before the man had even been inaugurated!
Now, why is it that Rafael Trujillo and George Papadopoulos and Chiang Kai-shek--or for that matter Confederate President Jefferson Davis--are not labeled as "tyrants" by these same "libertarian" hypocrites?
The answer is obvious.
Davis, Trujillo, Papadopoulos, and Stroessner were defending "white western European civilization." Lincoln was (supposedly) fighting for a corrupted and mongrelized Union and for the adulteration of European blood. That's it. Period. And in "palaeo" thought Communism isn't an evil ideology, but rather a defect of non-European blood. Thus the "tyrant" Lincoln was a Communist and the "tyrant" Davis was a shining knight fighting for freedom (even though he had to crush some liberties to do it).
Palaeoconservatives and "palaeolibertarians" do not recognize a single Objective Universal G-d over a unitary human race. They are multiculturalists who advocate a "planet of peoples," in which each of a plethora of unconnected peoples has its own "equally valid" worldview and "gxd." The idea of a single G-d and a single moral standard on the authority of that G-d is "race-mixing" and "one-worldism."
Civilizationism is racialism, and racialism is henotheism!!!
I'm pinging you, wideawake, in case some ignoramus accuses me of equating anti-Communist authoritarians with totalitarian Communist dictators (I explicitly rejected this equivalency but that won't stop them). I didn't even say slavery was wrong! All I am doing is pointing out hypocrisy!
Anyone who cheers Chiang Kai-shek or Francisco Franco for abolishing federalism and instituting highly centralized national governments has no business attacking Abraham Lincoln! (Though I suppose they'll say that centralization is valid for some peoples but not for others.)
I wouldn’t say that too loud in my neighborhood.
Another Palin threadjacking in progress ...
Sarah Palin, the next Abe Lincoln.
> 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.
If you thought my comments were not proper for FR then you should report me. Don’t need that “BTW”, btw.
I’m stating what I think the intent of that particular writer was. If the Tea Party dominates the Republican party you wouldn’t be in favor of a Conservative Party? Like some others? Hannity...
Not perpetual, but the Articles of Confederation established a union that could only be broken by approval of Congress with ratification by all the state legislatures.
Although this is pre-Constitution, it does matter because Article 6 of the Constitution states: “All Debts contracted and Engagements entered into, before the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be as valid against the United States under this Constitution, as under the Confederation.”
and I thought it was an Apple vs. Microsoft thread?
The Articles of Confederation established a union that could only be broken by approval of Congress with ratification by all the state legislatures.
: That's another well worn myth from the Lost Cause school.
Section 3 of the 14th amendment basically stripped Davis and all other confederate leaders who had once sworn an oath to the US constitution of their citizenship. It prevented them from voting or from ever holding public office again. It also prevented the president from issuing pardons for that offense.
To try Davis or any of the others in court on additional treason charges would have been a violation under the 5th amendment -- i.e. double jeopardy. They had already been punished under the terms of Section 3.
Many criticized congress for including that clause because they felt strongly that Davis and others should pay for what they did. Others saw Section 3 as a way to punish the confederate leadership in one stroke while avoiding endless trials and perhaps a renewal of conflict as a result of those trials. For most then, there was no strong desire for endless revenge. They wanted it all behind them.
Secession itself was found to be unconstitutional under other court decisions.