by Brad Nelson 8/1/15
American Thinker has what I think is a bizarre article: Lincoln vs. Lee: How History is Distorted to Preserve Legends. I’m all for free speech. But is it doing a service to readers to legitimize Lincoln Fever?
I don’t know if this is a purely Libertarian thing or an expression of the steadfast grievance of the South. It could be both. Certainly it isn’t a Progressive education that is putting it into the minds of yutes that Lincoln ushered in the era of Big Government (as if Big Government was a bad thing, which to the Left it is not).
I don’t consider myself a student of Lincoln. But I do believe my education has risen beyond the level of simplistic narratives and bumper sticker slogans. Let me give you what I think of Lincoln and the Civil War in a nutshell so you know what I’m arguing for and against:
Lincoln was a man of his times and indeed did initially view the idea of equality for blacks as problematic. Given that what most people saw of blacks was man in the state of severe ignorance and degradation, this isn’t a completely illogical point of view. No one would expect a gorilla or chimpanzee to smoothly integrate into society if such beings were given equal legal status. And what most people saw of the slaves was, for all intents and purposes, a lesser form of human being. Lincoln was not alone in believing that should political and legal equality come, social equality was a long haul.
Frederick Douglass did much to change Lincoln’s mind regarding the black man, as did the progression of the war. Lincoln certainly started out to save the Union and thought (correctly, in my opinion) that the conflict could be seen as a continent-wide battle of slavery vs. free. (I believe this government cannot endure permanently half-slave and half-free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved – I do not expect the house to fall – but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other.”)
The Civil War was not about stepping on tender Libertarian sensibilities. It was first and foremost about putting down a rebellion — a rebellion entirely based upon preserving slavery as a way of life. And it was the South that fired the first shot. Lincoln — yes, a politician through and through — did what he could through rhetoric (interpreted dishonestly by the fever-pitched minds as something darker) to assure the South that he would not mess with their peculiar institution. Unlike the fever-pitched minds of Libertarians and other kooks assert, he indeed did hold to the forms of the Constitution. Although the tide against slavery via public opinion was rising, he did what he could via the bully pulpit to assuage Southern feelings. He saw no Constitution power giving him or anyone else the right to abolish slavery by fiat.
Such assurances did no good because the South at this point had doubled-down on grievance and animosity. They ramped up their rhetoric to a fever pitch. They were going a little cuckoo, which is what tends to happen when people are trying to defend an evil. None of that is Lincoln’s fault.
As the war to put down the rebellion progressed, Lincoln’s attitude toward blacks and the slavery questioned changed (which certainly shows we was open to new information). He realized it was morally and politically impossible to bring this war to its conclusion and then, with the boundaries of the nation once again intact, let the South re-establish itself as a slave region. Too much blood had been shed. Slavery had to go. It would be an abomination to go back to the way things were. And by this long, hard point of the war, nothing less was demanded by the public.
And political realities during the war meant there were times when border states had to be coddled. Their slaves were not declared free…because these border states were needed in order to win the war. This had nothing to do with Lincoln’s attitude regarding blacks but reflected the realities of trying to hold a tricky coalition together in the dire circumstances of a Civil War as Commander in Chief.
Was this a war on the part of the South for “state’s rights” as fevered Libertarian brains insist? No. It was a war to preserve their “right” to enslave other men, which Lincoln himself said was a strange thing indeed to fight for a “right” to take those of other men away.
Did Lincoln begin the era of Big Government? No. In the fevered minds of ill-informed Libertarians, they saw the states as separate nations (and still do). They were considered free to leave the union at any time (a bizarre notion given that the Federal government itself created many of the states). That, and other notions, is a complete re-writing of history. Government itself was growing from the time of Washington. One can argue that the direct election of Senators and the institution of the income tax (and probably even giving women the right to vote) exploded the size and scope of government. But it was an ongoing process.
Well, roughly speaking, that’s how I see it. And I don’t know what psychological tic it serves to view Lincoln as another FDR or LBJ, both of whom specifically erected Big Government via their massive laws that meant to do just that. Lincoln, on the other hand, put down a rebellion via using the legitimate power of the Federal government…which is then somehow equated with the start of the era of Big Government. By that reasoning, it was Washington and the revolution against England that started it all.
But if you want to keep slaves, you could view it that way. Lincoln is the villain because he didn’t turn a blind eye when a coalition of Southern states made war on the nation with the specific and central goal of establishing slavery…there and in other states. But slavery itself was a long-festering issue that fell into Lincoln’s lap and was not of his making. This was an issue that had to be resolved one way or another. People back then tried, and the South broke every agreement in their fevered goal to not just preserve slavery but to spread it to every state.
I don’t know what psychological need it serves to re-write history. This certainly is a complex subject. But the broad outline is clear. And many simply skip past the broad outline and put together their own narrative based upon selected quotes here and there. Why? Why must Lincoln be the Father of Big Government and The Primal Villain regarding state’s rights? The article itself disingenuously turns the whole Civil War into a mere economic issue. This is bizarre considering Lincoln’s deep moral outlook on what was happening to the nation.
So what is the root of this sort of moral socio-pathology? Surely everything has economic implications. And no act of man is free from them. But was the Civil War really about the North oppressing the South and exploiting them for pure economic gain? Only a fever-pitched mind with an axe to grind could think of such a thing. Or one devoid of a true moral realm.
So that leaves me to wondering what psychological itch is being scratched by these fantasies. And if Lincoln truly was the father of Big Government and the Primal Villain in regards to eroding state’s right, the question then is: What is it that Libertarians or Southerns want to do now that they can’t?
For many libertarians, all these phony rationalizations are likely induced by the desire to legalize drugs and prostitution, thus any kind of moral exemplar such as Lincoln must be reduced to a mere economic phony — in fact, even lower than Lee in regards to his view of blacks. (Which side did Lee fight on again?)
Please substitute your own reasons for why you think there is this ongoing rewriting of Lincoln and the Civil War. What is it that people want so badly that they must rewrite this history? History is complicated enough without inserting our own narrow motivations. And within the context of the dastardly Left rewriting history for Marxist aims, that is even more reason to treat history with some respect instead of turning it into Silly Putty to stretch to fit whatever fevered narrative one is advocating that day.
Brad is editor and chief disorganizer of StubbornThings.
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