Browsing "Race and the North"

Broadening the Base of Democracy

Frenchman Alexis de Tocqueville observed that the democratic revolution in America was an irresistible one, and that to attempt to stop it “would be to resist the will of God.” The elevation of Andrew Jackson to the presidency in 1829 pushed the democratic revolution forward – in the North the friction became one between the commercial-financial aristocracy and the working men, and in the South the planters and the yeoman farmers. Against simple majority rule and “the tyranny of king numbers” stood John C. Calhoun and Abel P. Upshur in the South, as well as James Kent, Joseph Story and Orestes Brownson of the North.

Broadening the Base of Democracy

“To what extent was aristocracy weakened and democracy strengthened by the work of the [State constitutional] conventions of the 1830s? In the first place, property qualifications for voting were abolished . . . except Virginia, North Carolina, [New Jersey and Rhode Island], and with Louisiana [Connecticut, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Ohio] still requiring the payment of taxes. The last of the religious restrictions were also abolished.

In still another way these changes broadened the base of democracy. For the first time the people had been consulted as to the revision and amendment of their constitutions. The conventions were called directly or indirectly by action of the people. The revised constitutions were in turn submitted back to them for ratification or rejection.

In one matter there was a definite reactionary movement. This was the issue of Negro suffrage. Delaware, Connecticut, New Jersey and Pennsylvania took the ballot from the Negro. And New York in 1821 limited Negro suffrage by requiring that he possess a freehold valued at two-hundred fifty dollars over and above all indebtedness. Hence only five of the Northern States granted equal suffrage to Negroes.

Whether or not Jefferson, Mason, and other Revolutionary proponents of natural rights philosophy intended to include Negroes in the statement that “all men are created equal and endowed with certain inalienable rights” is a debatable question; but in actual practice the American people had decided by their constitutional provisions that Negroes were not included in the political people.”

(Democracy in the Old South, Fletcher M. Green; The Journal of Southern History, Volume XII, Number 1, February 1946, excerpts pp. 15-16)

A Radical Free Soil Party Formed in 1848

The Liberty party held its convention at Aurora, Illinois in January 1844, with spin-off tours sweeping the State afterward. At a rally in Lake County the following month, free colored man William Jones accompanied the speakers to tell of being robbed and kidnapped in Chicago. “It soon became the custom for the abolition orators to take around with them on their campaigns former slaves, or free Negroes whom slaveholders’ agents had attempted kidnap. The stories of these Negroes never failed to be received with telling effect.”

The antislavery Liberty and Free Soil parties had a brief life during the 1848 election cycle, but became a political cipher until being absorbed into the new Republican party of 1854. They made two more patches of the myriad quilt of that new party, of which the radical abolitionists became the more vocal, and the leaders of the rush to war with Americans in the South. As described below, the Free Soil party platform was at odds with the United States Constitution, which delegated no power whatsoever to the federal agent to control labor relations within an existing State, or to inhibit free access and enjoyment of all territories belonging to all citizens of all States.

Had the Free Soil advocates sought peaceful and practical solutions to the colonial labor system inherited from the British and perpetuated by slave-produced cotton hungry New England mills, peaceful relations with the South might have prevailed.

A Radical Free Soil Party Formed in 1848

“The result of the August convention at Buffalo is well known. It was a complete victory for the Free Soil advocates. Van Buren was nominated for President, and Charles Francis Adams for Vice-President. A new antislavery organization, called the Free Soil party, was organized . . . with the approval of all the delegates – Barn-Burners, Conscience Whigs, and Libertymen alike.

The main points in this platform were: the declaration that the Federal Government must exert itself to abolish slavery everywhere within the constitutional limits of its power; the demand that Congress should prohibit slavery in all territory then free . . . “No more slaves – no more slave territory.” [The] Liberty party placed the names Van Buren and Adams [on their banner] . . . They are for a total divorce of the government from slavery, and [a new] antislavery administration. A new principle had been established – “Union without compromise – Fraternization.”

In the [1848] State elections the Democrats were, as usual, victorious. The Democratic nominee, Governor French, was . . . elected without serious trouble. The period from 1849 to 1851 was a time of disintegration and depression in the Illinois antislavery forces. The Free Soil organizations . . . dissolved as soon as [the 1848 elections were] over.”

(Negro Servitude in Illinois, and of the Slavery Agitation in That State, 1719—1864, N. Dwight Harris, Haskell House Publishers, 1969 (original 1904), excerpts pp. 166-167; 174)

African Slavery in America

Nearly always missing in a discussion of slavery in North America is the question of how Africans arrived and who conveyed them – and it was not slave ships flying the Confederate Battle Flag of the Army of Northern Virginia.

The responsibility for African slavery begins with the African tribes themselves who enslaved each other, then the Portuguese, Spanish, French and British who needed labor for their New World colonies, and the New England slavers who ruled the transatlantic slave trade in the mid-1700s. By 1750, Providence, Rhode Island had surpassed Liverpool as the center of slave-ship construction, with the latter departing for Africa’s west coast laden with rum and Yankee notions, trading these for already-enslaved men, women and children, transporting them to the West Indies to be traded for molasses, and then returning to New England to distill more rum from the molasses. Add to this New England’s textile mills of the early 1800s whose fortunes depended upon slave-produced cotton.

African Slavery in America

“There are three important points to keep in mind in the study of the African-American population of the 1850s. First, we should avoid presentism. Attitudes toward working people of all races were different at that time than those we find acceptable today.

The Dutch did keelhauling of sailors as late as 1853 and the British did no ban the flogging of soldiers until 1860. The working classes in industrialized areas such as Manchester, England, worked under conditions that left many crippled and maimed from injuries of breathing dust from textile mills and mines. This left most unfit for work at 40 years of age and almost none at 50. Children as young as 7 or 8 worked up to 12 hours [a day], some “seized naked in bed by the overlookers, and driven with blows and kicks to the factory.”

Second, regardless of good treatment, being a slave has many costs which few of us would be willing to pay. Third, trying to have a realistic understanding of slavery is not an apology. It is a mistake to oversimplify slavery to chains, whips, and division of families; it is likewise a mistake to say that they were better off as slaves. The objective should be to understand as best we can.

A difficulty is finding objective writings at a time when Northern writers emphasized the horrors of slavery in a continuing regional attack, Southern writers emphasized slavery’s benefit to the African, and the bonded people themselves left few written records. The slave narratives collected by the Federal Writers’ Project in the 1930s offer the best testimony we have by the slaves themselves, although, of course, memories of 70 years ago have problems of certainty.

Many Americans, including Abolitionists, advocated that Africans be sent to Africa or some place in the New World where they would be removed from American society. Toward this goal, the American Colonization Society, to which many prominent Northern and Southern Americans belonged to, established the western African nation of Liberia.

The attitude of most Americans of the time was summed up by Abraham Lincoln during the Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858, “I will say, then, that I am not, nor ever have been, in making voters or jurors of Negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people . . . I, as much as any other man, am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race.”

It would not be until January of 1863 that the North would allow black men to serve in the Union army, and then in segregated units at lower pay and with white officers. U.S. “Colored Troops” were often used as labor or in “forlorn hopes,” such as fighting at the Crater and Battery Wagner.”

(Characteristics of the African-American People During the 1850s: American History for Home Schools, 1607-1885, with a Focus on the Civil War, Leslie R. Tucker, Society of Independent Southern Historians, 2018, excerpts Chapter 10)

The Aftermath of New England’s Thanksgiving

The Pequot tribe inhabited the coastline of southeastern Connecticut before the arrival of the Dutch in 1614, and shortly afterward, the English. The Pequots did not welcome strangers who settled on their land, took their wild game, and infected the tribe with smallpox — warring between the tribe and the strangers soon commenced. Early on the morning of June 5, 1637, the English “murmured their prayers,” descended upon a sleeping village, set fire to the wigwams and killed some 400 Pequots. “The brutality of burning people alive did not faze the English” and one commander wrote “Sometimes the scripture declareth women and children must perish with their parents. We had sufficient light from the word of God for our proceedings.” After finally extinguishing the Pequots in 1638, the English turned upon their Indian allies to continue their efforts to make New England safe for European settlement, selling many into slavery in the West Indies.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

The Aftermath of New England’s Thanksgiving

“The English were now determined to eradicate the remnants of the Pequots . . . The first band . . . were captured without resistance, and 40 of them were murdered by the English in cold blood. Some 80 of the women were handed over to the Narragansetts to become part of their tribe. The remainder were bound up and sent to Massachusetts Bay Colony to be sold as slaves, destined for the cane fields of the Caribbean.

Ultimately, according to [Commander John] Mason, some 700 additional Pequots were killed or captured in various groups. Those that had escaped became marked men. Hardly a week passed . . . that [English ally] Narragansetts or Mohegans didn’t appear with yet another grisly trophy. It brought joy to colonial leaders, who proclaimed gratefulness “that on this day we have sent 600 heathen to heaven.”

On October 1, 1638, in a document styled the “Treaty of Hartford,” the colonial government of Connecticut, along with its Indian allies, passed final judgement on the Pequots. Under the terms of the treaty, the remaining living Pequots were divided among the Narragansetts and Mohegans . . . [and] the Pequots could never again live in their homeland and could never again use the name Pequot.

The French traveler and historian Alexis de Toqueville recorded their extermination for the world after travelling New England in 1833. “All the Indian tribes who once inhabited the territory of New England – the Narragansetts, the Mohicans, the Pequots – now live only in men’s memories,” he wrote in Democracy in America after returning home.

Much of the 500 square miles of land that had once been under the domain of the Pequots was awarded to the winning commanders in the Pequot War. John Mason and Lion Gardiner were given huge plantations in what is now southeastern Connecticut. Thousands of settlers from the Massachusetts and Plymouth Colonies streamed into what today is the metropolitan area of Hartford.

Before the war, the body of water that flowed to Norwich was known as the Pequot River. The nostalgic English, after the war, renamed the waterway the Thames River.”

(The Revenge of the Pequots: How a Small Native American Tribe Created the World’s Most Profitable Casino, Kim Isaac Eisler, Simon & Schuster, 2001, excerpts 33-39)

 

Friends of the Black Race, North and South

Former North Carolina Governor and then Senator Zebulon Vance spoke in Congress in late January 1890 regarding the proposed bill (S.1121) “for the emigration of persons of color from the Southern States.” He believed the plan to convey black people to other lands impractical, and suggested that Northern and Western States assist in receiving black emigrants to disperse the black population then concentrated in the South.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

Friends of the Black Race, North and South

“Until 1877 the unstable fabric erected by the architects of reconstruction was upheld by the military of the United States, and when this was withdrawn the incongruous edifice toppled headlong and vanished away as the baseless fabric of a vision. It disappeared in cruel and ferocious convulsions which form one of the most shameful and shocking of all the tragedies of history. The attempt to reorganize society upon the basis of numbers failed.”

But the taking and keeping possession of the power of the States seems to be the wrong inflicted upon the colored man. The gravamen of that wrong is that the Negro can no longer send [to Washington] Republican Senators and Representatives, from the South, and the votes of Republican electoral colleges to aid in the manufacture of Republican presidents.

There are many errors of assumption required to make up this supposed wrong. In the first place, it is assumed that . . . every colored man is a Republican. The discovery of a colored Democratic vote in the ballot box is accepted as prima facie evidence of fraud. If those [Republican] majorities are not forthcoming, they conclude that the vote of their friends has been suppressed.

Neither has it entered into the consideration of the people of the North to place any stress upon the fact that there did exist, and still exists, between the former owner and the present freedman many of those kindly and controlling relations which existed between master and slave. It must be remembered that . . . the colored man still leans upon and looks to his former master for direction and advice – universally so except politics . . .

But a great mistake is made by those who assume that the whites exercise no influence over the Negroes except by force or fraud. The black man is attached to the South and the great body of its people. I believe I can say with truth that . . . any riot or disturbance anywhere in the South [was] at the instigation of some white scoundrel; and in every case the blacks have got the worst of the fray, being deserted invariably by their cowardly white allies when the bullets began to fly.

I think our Northern friends who so glibly undertake to settle the Negro question have yet to make the acquaintance of the Negro himself. You listen to the few who come here to make traffic of their wrongs, and in turn you endeavor to make profit for your [Republican] party by legislation directed toward those supposed wrongs.

Are you not aware of the difficulty . . . [and] vast amount of money you are compelled to employ to keep [the Negro] in subjection to a party whose active and respectable corporation is as far distant from them as its promises are from its performance; whilst the Democratic party, composed of the white men of the South, are their neighbors, landlords and employers?”

(Life of Vance, Clement Dowd, Observer Publishing Company, 1897, excerpts pp. 245-251)

Money Versus Morality Up North

In his “Lords of the Loom” study of the years preceding the war, author Thomas H. O’Conner asserts that “Throughout much of traditional historical literature, the conservative Northern Whigs in the decades before the Civil War have either been completely overlooked, or else dismissed out of hand with vague generalizations.” He further credits fellow author Vernon Parrington with cautioning his readers that “the Puritan and the Yankee were two halves of the New England whole.” Conner’s book is the story of what happened “when the Puritan conscience collided head-on with the Yankee zeal for profit – when the moral desire to uproot the evils of slavery reached the point where it had to be weighed against the economic demands for more slave-grown cotton” – for New England mills.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

Money Versus Morality Up North

“In 1941, Philip Foner, in his “Business and Slavery,” made an appeal for a more detailed study of the Northern businessman and his reaction to the coming of the Civil War. Countering the popular interpretation that the war was a product of two conflicting economic systems, Professor Foner presented his own observations regarding the concerted efforts of the New York financial interests to check any and all movements which tended to precipitate an intersectional struggle.

Foner’s challenge has failed to arouse very much historical enthusiasm, apparently, for many recent historical treatments of the critical years before the Civil War continue to generalize upon the essential economic antagonisms of the North and the South, and still look upon the Northern industrialist as the catalytic agent which propelled the sections into bloody warfare.

One of the most distinctive presentations of this economic point of view came into the twentieth century with the writings of Charles Beard. The South, according to Beard, was an area of “planters operating in a limited territory with incompetent labor on soil of diminishing fertility,” in contrast to the industrial men of the North who “swept forward . . . exulting in the approaching triumph of machine industry, [and who] warned the planters of their ultimate subjection.”

The economic interpretation was carried into the twenties by the work of Vernon Parrington . . . enthusiastic about the “agrarian democracy” of the West, sympathetic at times toward the interest of the South, Parrington had little regard for the ideals of a middle class which was busily engaged in “creating a plutocracy.” In the decades before the war, claimed Parrington, the major parties of the United States chose to follow the economic interests of “master groups, heedless of all humanitarian issues”; and once the war was over, the “slave economy could never again thwart the ambitions of the capitalist economy.”

[Despite considerable evidence to the contrary], Writers continue to generalize upon New England’s “hatred of Southerners and their institutions” and often describe this hatred so intense that New England would “do everything possible to destroy slavery.”

(Lords of the Loom: The Cotton Whigs and the Coming of the Civil War, Thomas H. O’Conner, Charles Scribner’s & Sons, 1968, excerpts pp. 1- 6)

Desperate War Measures of Dunmore, Cochrane and Lincoln

Lincoln’s desperation card of emancipation was played after it was clear the Southern States had no interest in rejoining the 1787 Union, and as Northern public opinion was building against the increasing carnage of his war. Lincoln abandoned the goal of preserving the Union and decided to follow the same strategy as Royal Governor Lord Dunmore in November 1775 – issue an emancipation proclamation to free slaves who would be loyal to the Crown and thus incite a cruel race war to win the war against American colonists. Another emancipation proclamation was issued in 1814 by Vice Admiral Sir Alexander Cochrane to strengthen British forces with freed black men during the War of 1812.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

Desperate War Measures of Dunmore, Cochrane and Lincoln

“Well-intentioned, right-thinking people equate anyone who thinks that the South did the right thing by seceding from the Union as secretly approving of slavery. Indeed, such thinking has now reached the point where people from both sides of the political spectrum . . . want to have the Confederate Battle Flag eradicated from public spaces. These people argue that the Confederate flag is offensive to African-Americans because it commemorates slavery and thus should be prohibited from public display.

In the standard account, the Civil War was an outcome of our Founding Fathers’ failure to address the institution of slavery in a republic that proclaimed in its Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal.”

But was it really necessary to wage a four-year war to abolish slavery in the United States, one that ravaged half the country and destroyed a generation of American men? Only the United States and Haiti freed its slaves by war. Every other country in the New World . . . freed them peacefully.

The war did enable Lincoln to “save” the Union, but only in a geographical sense. The country ceased being a Union, as it was originally conceived, of separate and sovereign States. Instead, America became a “nation” with a powerful federal government.

Although it freed 4 million slaves into poverty, it did not bring about a new birth of freedom, as Lincoln and historians such as James McPherson and Henry Jaffa say. For the nation as a whole it did just the opposite: It initiated a process of centralization of government that has substantially restricted liberty and freedom in America, as historians Charles Adams and Jeffrey Rogers Hummel have argued.

The term “Civil War” is a misnomer. The South did not initiate a rebellion. Thirteen Southern States in 1860-1861 simply chose to secede from the Union and go their own way, like the thirteen colonies did when they seceded from Britain. A more accurate name for the war that took place between the Northern and Southern American States would be the “War for Southern Independence.”

Mainstream historiography presents the victors’ view, an account which focuses on the issue of slavery and downplays other considerations.

The rallying cry in the North at the beginning of the war was “preserve the Union,” not “free the slaves.” In his first inaugural address, given five weeks before the war began, Lincoln reassured slaveholders that he would continue to enforce the Fugitive Slave Act.

After 17 months of war things were not going well for the North, especially in its closely-watch Eastern Theater. Did saving the Union justify the slaughter of such a large number of young men? The Confederates posed no military threat to the North. Perhaps it would be better to let the Southern States go, along with their 4 million slaves. If it was going to win, the North needed a more compelling reason to continue the war than to preserve the Union.

Five days after the battle of [Sharpsburg], on Sept. 22, 1862, Abraham Lincoln issued his Emancipation Proclamation . . . a war measure, as Lincoln put it.”

(The Economic Roots of the Civil War, Donald W. Miller, Jr., Liberty, October 2001, Volume 15, No. 10, excerpts pp. 42-43)

Oct 28, 2018 - Antebellum Realities, Lincoln Revealed, Northern Culture Laid Bare, Race and the North, Republican Party    Comments Off on The Real Abraham Lincoln

The Real Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln repeatedly stated that he was opposed to the political and social equality of the races, that he was not an abolitionist, and was supportive of colonizing black people from the United States to elsewhere. Lincoln himself admitted that his invasion of the South in 1861 was to “save the Union,” not to end slavery. His own State of Illinois amended its constitution to prohibit the emigration of black people, and Illinois Senator Lyman Trumbull, a Lincoln confidante, expressed the Republican Party’s position on the expansion of slavery into the Territories: “All the occupied territory shall be preserved for the benefit of the white Caucasian race – a thing that cannot be except by the exclusion of slavery.” Trumbull further identified his party as “the white man’s party” and pledged that he would never consent to “Negro equality” on any terms.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

The Real Abraham Lincoln

“Ask any school child: “Who freed the slaves?” and he’ll answer, “Abraham Lincoln.” But few school children are taught that in 1847 Lincoln defended a Kentucky slave owner, Robert Matson, in his attempt to recover runaway slaves. He was under no compulsion to take the case; he did so willingly.

Lincoln believed that the white and black races could not live together because blacks were inferior. In addition, he was obsessed for years with the idea of repatriating the slaves to Africa. He was following in the footsteps of his political mentor, Henry Clay, who championed the return of slaves to their native land.

One colonization plan was attempted to Haiti under Lincoln’s direction, which ended in disaster. Eliminating all Negroes from American soil would be a “glorious consummation,” Lincoln proclaimed on July 6, 1852, during a speech delivered in the Illinois State House. In 1857, as an Illinois legislator, he urged his colleagues to appropriate money to remove all freed Negroes from the State.

In 1860, he advocated the peaceful departure of all blacks so that “their places be . . . filled by free white laborers.” To denounce Lincoln as a racist is too easy, since the vast majority of whites North and South, were racists by today’s standards. The misconception today is that racism was exclusive to the South.

While practicing law in Illinois in 1847, Lincoln was hired to represent slave owner Robert Matson in the return of fugitive slaves Jane Bryant and her four children. His partner in the case was Usher Linder, who as attorney general of Illinois gave an anti-abolition speech in 1837, which resulted in the murder of abolitionist Elijah Lovejoy. [Lincoln] came down squarely in favor of slavery by seeking the return of Jane Bryant and her four children to slavery.

The man whom history has enshrined as the Great Emancipator not only spoke in support of slavery, but also actively worked for a slave owner to recover his runaways.

Lincoln apologists have tried to explain away his behavior in this case by claiming that his business was law, not morality. And that somehow the conduct of attorney Lincoln with his pragmatic approach to the law excused this attempt to send a mother and her children back into slavery.

Lincoln’s indifference to the fate of Jane Bryant and her children in hopes of a legal fee foreshadowed his indifference to the enormous loss [of life] in a war that he could have easily prevented, or ended at any time. Nearly every other country in the world ended slavery peacefully during the 19th century through compensated emancipation.”

(Lincoln’s Defense of Slavery, J.D. Haines, Southern Mercury, May/June 2005, excerpts pp. 14-15)

Negro Minstrel Origins in the North

The Northern army adopted a Southern song” “Say, brothers will you meet us, On Canaan’s happy shore?” – with the refrain “Glory, glory hallelujah, Forever, evermore.” This was written by a Charlestonian, used at many Southern camp meetings and no doubt had it origins in Negro congregations. It made its way north and was corrupted into “John Brown’s Body.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

Negro Minstrel Origins in the North

“In 1842 Negro minstrelsy had its birth in a northern theater in a mixed performance made up largely of songs and dances typical of Negro life and character; as a scientific presentation of plantation folk lore (as was never intended) it was faulty, still it served to introduce some phases of Negro folk-lore to the attention of a public ready to find amusement in it; and this prepared the way for the work of Stephen C. Foster, who is justly considered the folk song genius of America; and it also prepared the way for a later popular appreciation of Uncle Remus when his time should come.

Foster, although born in the North was the son of a Virginian, and he trained himself for the production of his peculiar style of song by attending Negro camp-meetings. He wrote in all about one hundred and sixty songs including “Old Susannah,” “Old Uncle Ned,” “My Old Kentucky Home,” “Massa’s in de Cold, Cold Ground,” and “De ‘Ol Folks at Home,” or “Suwanee Ribber,” the latter being a Negro corruption of San Juan, the Spanish name for the St. John’s River in Florida.

These are not folk-lore, excepting as they have received folk-adoption, so to speak, but it would be impossible to complete this survey of the subject of folk-lore in the South without mentioning this phase, the approximately good imitation of the best folk song of the country. Nor should another folk song by adoption be overlooked.

On the Fourth of July, 1861, while the Confederate army in Virginia was drawn up within hearing distance of the Federal army, General Kirby Smith wrote that the booming of the Federal guns had been ringing a national salute. Powder was too scarce in the Confederate army . . . to be wasted in salutes, “but,” wrote the general, “our bands have played “Dixie” from one end of the line to the other.”

“Dixie” would appear to have all the characteristics of a folk song. The name is undoubtedly a Negro corruption of Mason and Dixon’s Line, and it is thoroughly a Negro conception of the land south of that line as a “land of cotton” with cinnamon seas and sandy bottoms.” But the truth is that the senseless words were written by a white man in the North, Dan Emmett, the son of a Virginian, for the use of the Negro minstrels of which he was one of the founders; and the tune was probably appropriated from an old Negro air.

The people and the soldiers of the South liked it. It outlived the Southern Confederacy and now bids fair to become national.”

(Folklore, Arthur Howard Noll; History of the Literary and Intellectual Life of the Southern States, Volume VII, Southern Publication Society, 1909, excerpts pp. 68-70)

A Colossal Waste of Life

As evidenced by sergeants and lieutenants commanding Southern regiments in early 1865, the Northern war killed off the promising political and social leadership of the South. These men would have risen to positions of authority, achievement and genius had it not been for a war against their homes, State and country, which they died defending.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

A Colossal Waste of Life

“As we prepare for another slam-dunk cakewalk preemptive war, this time with Iran, it may be well to recall that the GOP had its origins in big government, which leads to, and thrives on, war. Only weeks after the first Republican president took office, the United States were at war against their estranged sister States,

It proved to be the bloodiest war in American history, consuming 600,000 young Americans [and not including another 400,000 American civilians, black and white]. Setting moral and political questions aside, we can really never know what was lost. How many of these young men, had they lived, would have blossomed into Edisons, Fords, Gershwins and other geniuses whose fruits we would still enjoy and profit from?

All we know is that the country was perpetually impoverished by this colossal waste of life. You never hum the tunes that never got written.

Nevertheless, we still celebrate – no, deify – the man brought on this horror by refusing to countenance the peaceful withdrawal of seven States. Of course Lincoln is chiefly honored for ending slavery. It’s a nice story, but it isn’t exactly true.

When the Confederacy was formed, so many Southern Democrats left both houses of the U.S. Congress that both the House and Senate were left with were left with Republican majorities. With this near-monopoly of power, the GOP – in those days, the GYP, I suppose – passed two “confiscation “ acts in 1861 and 1862, authorizing the seizure of any private property used to assist the “rebellion.”

These powers were so vaguely defined that they permitted limitless repression, such as the closing of newspapers critical of Lincoln’s war. In combination with Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus, anyone could be arrested for anything in the Land of the Free.

The 1862 act expressly declared slaves in the seceding State “forever free.” This was the real Emancipation Proclamation, but Lincoln was actually reluctant to act on it, doubting its constitutionality. For months the radical Republicans attacked him and egged him on, and finally he gave it effect in the most famous executive order of all time. He argued that in wartime he might take a punitive step that would be illegal during a time of peace.

Lincoln had other plans for ending slavery. He’d always thought it should be done gradually, with “compensation” to the slaveowners and the freed blacks to be encouraged to leave the United States. It was his conviction, repeatedly and openly stated, that though all men are created equal, abstractly speaking, the Negro – “the African,” he called him – could never enjoy political and social equality with the white man in this country; the black man would find his equality somewhere else, “without [i.e., outside] the United States.”

So Lincoln waged war to prevent the political separation of North and South, but in the hope of achieving racial separation between black and white. Both goals entailed vast expansions of federal and executive power. Limited government, anyone?

With its current Jacobin-Wilson zeal for spreading “democracy” around the globe, the Republican Party today is more or less back where it started. And once again, a Republican president is claiming wartime powers, under the Constitution, to act outside the Constitution.

Still, the myth persists that Lincoln lived his whole for the purpose of abolishing slavery, and was finally able to do this with a single inspired sovereign act. Like most historical myths, this one ignores all the interesting details. As Lincoln himself said, “I have not controlled events, but plainly confess that events have controlled me.”

(The Reluctant Emancipator, Joseph Sobran, Sobran’s, Volume 13, Number 8, August 2006, excerpts pg. 12)

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