Lincoln’s Birthday

February 12, 2010 at 14:59 (General)

Firstly, happy birthday to Abraham Lincoln! I think we can all agree that he was a great leader who has turned into an semi-mythical icon of greatness over the decades. He held together the United States of America when we were on the verge of being torn apart. There is no doubting that. I do, however, have reservations about the resulting increase of federal power and decrease of state power, as well as reservations about whether or not a war was even needed at all. But once the war started, he did indeed do a good job holding it together. Will this post be arm chair quarterbacking? Maybe. That’s always easy to do, but I hope I am being both honest and consistent, both for my own sake and for yours. I had reservations about this post, because in general people nowadays think with their emotions and not with their heads. That tends to make people irrational and read into a post things you did not mean or say. It probably has more to do with what goes on in their own head that what is actually said. But anyway, here I am. I may or may not approve comments, depending on how hateful they are, but I assure you all I mean no offense by anything I shall say.

While I agree in general that Lincoln was a good man doing what he thought best, I think there are a couple of things here that are missing or slightly inaccurate from the usual simple minded portrayals of this era of history, and a lot that is shrouded in myth and emotion. Let’s try and be objective about it all. To that end, I present some facts regarding certain elements of the story that may change the way people view this era of history. At the very least I want to expand some horizons and get people to realize that the issue is much more complex than is usually being presented. And no, I am not a racist. No, I do not advocate slavery. No, I do not advocate the dissolution of the United States of America. I advocate clear thinking and truth. I advocate for the Constitutional Republic of the United States of America. I advocate for a color blind and fair society based on shared values and a love of God our Creator. I love this country and have server her faithfully, and will continue to do so – but that includes being intellectually and factually honest about one of the darkest chapters of our history!

Firstly, Lincoln was without doubt a big government guy and an admirer of Henry Clay, who by himself did much damage to relations between the North and South with the Tariff of Abominations and who also was a huge proponent of the idea of the supremacy of the federal government versus the states. He was also a huge fan of what today we call earmarks, or money to bribe desirable segments of society, and was extremely active in supporting rebellions and uprisings in Central and South America. I think there is no doubt that Lincoln admired him and was in this camp, which by default makes him a big government guy. And I don’t think there is any doubt that Lincoln used war to force the seceding states to accept his point of view. There is no other way to describe it. So when someone argues that a big government Lincoln subjugated the South, it is factually correct and arguments that Lincoln did not ‘subjugate’ the South are really factually incorrect. The problem with that term that raises everyone’s hackles is that the term subjugate is emotionally loaded. In addition, anyone that suggests such a thing is automatically considered a backwards racist, despite the fact that they are factually correct.

Secondly, a lot of people point to Lincoln’s inaugural address and other speeches and writings as support for the idea that he was a magnanimous and wise father/savior of the country. I fail to understand why they use a political speech or writing as supporting evidence. Why would the notion that it is a political speech just like any other not enter your head? Because Lincoln has been idealized, and some might say turned into a semi-religious demigod. I’m not arguing, just pointing it out, and I mean no offense.

Thirdly, one hears constantly about the South firing the first actual shot, which is technically true. But it did not happen in a vacuum. I think the Fort Sumter incident is being oversimplified (actually this entire bit of history is being oversimplified, and from what I can see nowadays is not much more than raw emotion and civil religion all rolled up into one). The incident could have ended peacefully through negotiations, but Lincoln decided to send reinforcements to Forts Sumter and Pickens to ensure a retaliatory blockade of the South was fully enforced (segments of the South had seceded at this point, formed their own government, and seized federal property). The Pickens expedition went well for the federal government, but seeing that success Jefferson Davis was left two choices regarding Sumter: he could either allow the reinforcements to arrive and seize control, by default giving up, or he could try and take the fort before they arrived. He chose the latter. Interestingly, after Secession, having seized federal property, the CSA sent delegates to Washington to pay for any federal property as well as negotiate a peace. Had they been heeded the whole thing could have blown over with some political wheeling and dealing, a few handshakes, and a nod to the authority of the states implied and outright stated in the Constitution. In general that’s what happened in every other country of the world (minus the Constitutional part of course, as many governments were and some still are very authoritarian). Slavery kind of died with a whimper and a few dollars compensation from the authorities. But Lincoln felt that would lend legitimacy to the CSA, so he refused to negotiate. Instead he sent his reinforcements, and voila.

Fourth, regarding slavery: the emotional hot-button issue of the whole story! It is not well known that not all slave states seceded. I think (can’t recall for sure) there were 8 that refused to join. While slavery was no doubt big business and was a factor in the entire affair, to boil it down to just slavery is to oversimplify the situation to the point of absurdity. Actually given the economics of the situation it was apparent to most that slavery would have died out anyway, as it became more economical to buy machines than it did to feed, house, and at least marginally care for a plantation full of slaves. As an aside, Lincoln initially supported a Henry Clay idea regarding what to do with the slaves once they were freed. I believe the plan was to export them to colonies in Central and South America and/or North Africa. The Emancipation Proclamation was a political tool for Lincoln, although he could personally have believed in abolition. If he did believe it personally and not just politically, it is hard to know if he believed it for it’s own sake, or if he believed it because it would weaken an overly independent South. Given his plain spoken views that blacks were not the equal of whites and his plans to export them, I just can’t tell beyond a shadow of a doubt, although I will give him the benefit of the doubt. The whole idea of the Emancipation Proclamation had as much to do with denying the South international aid as it did with freeing the slaves. Both ideas were there in an equal mix I think. By making the war a moral issue he denied that aid. Yes slavery was horrible, and yes it needed to be abolished, but I am pretty sure we didn’t necessarily need to kill a million people, leave a trail of burning civilian destruction throughout the South (thanks Sherman), and generally elevate the federal government to a position of power it should not Constitutionally have had to do so. Let’s recognize the evil of slavery, but let’s not let that stand in the way of a clear and rational look at the facts.

Fifth, the suspension of habeas corpus was absolutely a strong arm tactic. I don’t think you can say that it was anything else. Had it been selectively applied, one might have argued that it should be applied to the South during the war, but it was applied broadly, so much so that editors of northern newspapers that felt the federal governments actions to be heavy handed found themselves tossed into prison. It’s easy to say ‘suspended habeas corpus’, but the actual consequences of that act for some people show it to be much much worse as a practical matter. It did not affect just the rebels in the South, but anyone and everyone across the country who did anything but sing the praises of the federal government. I fail to see why it was necessary myself. Were the cause legally defensible, what would it hurt to have the court assess whether or not a US citizen was or was not legally imprisoned? I may be missing something obvious but I can’t think of it right off. It’s not like they were terrorists from another country fighting out of uniform and killing civilians as a form of terror (although I bet that happened on both sides enough for all of us, especially during Sherman’s march). Anyway, I don’t see why anyone would say because it was Lincoln it was okay, but nobody else should try it. Back to the Lincoln demigod theory?

This could go on and on but I hope everyone gets the point. That entire era is shrouded in myth and Lincoln is one of the founding myths of the so-called American civil religion. Actually, did you know that after the civil war school children were issued small books with patriotic themes, songs, and writing from the founding fathers to inspire patriotism and a feeling of being ‘The’ United States of America rather than the previous ‘These’ United States of America? But I digress. Anyway, once you sort the truth from the myth it becomes very plain that the situation is much more complicated than just slave states versus free states. That may very well have been an important part, and seems to be all we remember today, but there was undoubtedly a lot more going on. Some might argue that it is more important to have a cohesive myth that holds us together and teaches some moral lesson than have the messy truth, but I suspect the myth itself (not to mention the carpetbaggers) have done more harm to race relations and bad feelings between North and South that persist to this day than they have good. Truth is never a bad idea.

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