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‘Starbursts’ from Harry Jaffa: On Rich Lowry’s Embarrassing Lincoln Screed

National Review editor Rich Lowry’s two most notably unwise statements are defending [1] the idea of nuking Mecca, and his odd reaction [2] to a Sarah Palin speech. But his red-blooded sort of militarist nationalism has a pretty long paper trail. After cheering the war in Iraq, he said more troops wouldn’t make much of a difference [3], then changed his mind and called for [4] escalation, even after the surge [5]criticized [6] Obama for not being tough enough in Libya, and has been calling for Syrian intervention since 2003 [7]. And yet fisticuffs with Al Franken were a bridge too far [8].

Bear in mind Lowry’s—and there’s no other way to say this—callous disregard for American lives and unintended consequences as he defends the president in large part responsible for the war that took the most American lives. He’s written a new book about Abraham Lincoln, Lincoln Unbound, and has been conducting promotional interviews this week in which he repeatedly refers to him as an “apostle of opportunity. [9]

Now that Lowry’s written the book, he’s a mind-reader:

“He certainly would have loved the constitutionalism of the Tea Party.” (with [10] Ed Driscoll)

“I believe he would consider having a car company named after him a high honor.” (with [11] Jamie Weinstein)

In contrast to today’s “debt-obsessed” GOP, Lincoln was “solutions-focused.” (on [9] Morning Joe)

Being one of the most studied figures in history—there are literally dozens of new books on Lincoln every year—one might wonder what the purpose of writing this book was. He has a helpful explanation in this [12] cover story in the National Review; it’s to claim him for the respectable conservatives like himself—“he is much more one of us than one of the [13]m”—and to exonerate Honest Abe from his critics on the right. And so the brave editor rides to the sound of the guns Schlesinger polls.

He indicts them all: “The list of detractors includes left-over agrarians, southern romantics, and a species of libertarians — “people-owning libertarians,” as one of my colleagues archly calls them — who apparently hate federal power more than they abhor slavery.”

That’s a false choice and an outrageous smear, but writing off the critics is just a necessary step before conservatism can redeem itself, or something. The debate over Lincoln “can be seen, in part, as a proxy for the larger argument over whether conservatism should read itself out of the American mainstream or — in this hour of its discontent — dedicate itself to a Lincolnian program of opportunity and uplift consistent with its limited-government principles.”

So there you have it. Lincoln is to be our model for conservative reform, and if you don’t agree, you’re an apologist for slavery. Never mind that not a single Founding Father would have met Lowry’s moral standard of abolition as a categorical imperative justifying any cost in lives, treasure, or lost liberty. Nuanced argumentation isn’t his strong suit.

It seems to me that to be conservative is to be aware of costs and unintended consequences. Therefore, it’s possible to view the abolition of slavery as a glorious thing, while remaining ambivalent toward the man who ended it but also sent hundreds of thousands to their deaths, shuttered newspapers, and imprisoned critics. To Lowry, who is constantly agitating for intensifying wars or starting new ones without any regard to their costs, this is not possible.

The presumption of National Review has always been to think of itself, as Buckley put it in an interview with the New York Times when he stepped down as editor, as “a crucible through which conservative thought gets laundered and ventilated.” Lowrey assures us he’s working in this tradition by quoting one of Buckley’s letters to the editor calling National Review contributors’ criticisms of Lincoln a “Thing.” He doesn’t advance the analysis much. At least back then Lincoln’s record was a topic well-intentioned people could disagree about.

On two key matters, a more activist domestic policy and military intervention, Lowry’s perspective is similar to Michael Lind’s, the New America Foundation director who has been on a tear lately. Their tactics are also similar—Lind insinuated [14] libertarians were racist in his last column. Robert Tracinski pushes back and accuses him of trying to “poison the well [15]” in the face of growing sentiment against centralized government. And indeed, the debate today is less left-versus-right, but centralization versus self-government. With this piece, Lowry comes down strongly in the first camp, and is trying to poison the well against a libertarian populist opposition.

But let’s give the good editor the benefit of the doubt he wasn’t willing to extend, and look at the substance of his cover story [12].

Getting past more hilariously effusive epithets—Not just an “apostle of opportunity,” Lincoln is a “paladin of individual initiative” advancing a “gospel of discipline and self-improvement” (what president doesn’t play at these things?)—the kernel of his piece is a defense of Lincoln’s Declarationism, the belief that the Constitution exists to preserve the universal principles of 1776.

There are good [16] reasons [17] for conservatives to be ambivalent or even hostile to this idea.

Lowry dings Lincoln for affirming that “The legal right of the Southern people to reclaim their fugitives I have constantly admitted,” but defends it as a deference to Constitutional principle. Isn’t this a contradiction?

He doesn’t mention that Lincoln mocked [18] the idea of interracial sex in 1858, before reaffirming his stance that it should be illegal, or that he supported colonization for former slaves. You simply can’t defend Lincoln as a champion of equality without mentioning his own racism (in fact, the words “race,” “black,” or “African-American” don’t even appear). He calls the Emancipation Proclamation an “an inherently limited war measure,” but doesn’t mention that it didn’t emancipate anyone.

He points to the Fugitive Slave Act as an example of Southern hypocrisy on federal supremacy, which it is, but fails to mention Wisconsin and Vermont nullified it. That would undermine his point. If these strategic omissions are characteristic of his book, it isn’t worth your time.

Lowry writes, “Yet another favorite count against Lincoln on the Right is that he was the midwife for the birth of the modern welfare state — a false claim also made by progressives bent on appropriating him for their own purposes.” Okay.

It’s pretty well accepted among scholars that the Civil War paved the way for a centralized nation-state, and Lowry even admits that one of Lincoln’s goals was to speed that process along. Conveniently, given his pro-war views, he completely neglects how war contributes to it, preferring to focus on how the income tax was temporarily eliminated and the deficit reduced. Drew Gilpin Faust writes, in a book with which Lowry is apparently only familiar [9] with the title:

The meaning of the war had come to inhere in its cost. The nation’s value and importance were both derived from and proved by the human price paid for its survival. This equation cast the nation in debt in ways that would be transformative, for executing its obligations to the dead and their mourners required a vast expansion of the federal budget and bureaucracy and a reconceptualization of the government’s role. National cemeteries, pensions, and records that preserved names and identities involved a dramatically new understanding of the relationship of the citizen and the state.

This is not Tom DiLorenzo, it’s the president of Harvard.

He quotes Walter Williams’ characterization of Lincoln as the Great Centralizer, then does nothing to rebut the fundamental charge, instead taking a cue [19] from the New Republic and going on a fashionable rant about Calhoun. This is so beside the point today it’s maddening—the decentralist coalition goes far beyond Calhounite revanchists; it is on the left and the right, and includes Maine farmers nullifying FDA regulations, starry-eyed Second Vermont Republicans, New Hampshire libertarian colonists, Colorado and Washington voters interposing against the drug war, and many more.

These people, in their reservations about Lincoln, are said to employ “tendentious revisionism and blasphemy” as their “favorite tools.” Yet another religious term. Read Lowry’s essay for yourself and see who’s guilty of revisionism. I’m not even sure it counts as history or even serious thought, but rather a sort of ideological enforcement. What else are we to make of his insecure references to his mentor at the end—see, Buckley agrees with me!—while being vastly less charitable than he was? It’s embarrassing to watch.

Which is why I don’t plan to read Lowry’s book. I’m waiting on Alan Sked’s biography [20], which comes out this November and promises to be far more interesting. In the meantime, be sure to check out “Copperhead [21].”

*some context [2] for the title of this post.

Update: Lowry compares [22] the NSA snooping to Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus.

Follow @j_arthur_bloom [23]

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Comments Disabled To "‘Starbursts’ from Harry Jaffa: On Rich Lowry’s Embarrassing Lincoln Screed"

#1 Comment By Mr. Patrick On June 13, 2013 @ 12:09 pm

“That’s a false choice and an outrageous smear, but writing off the critics is just a necessary step before conservatism can redeem itself, or something.”

It’s a smear when applied to modern day libertarians who merely appropriate and rehabilitate the memory of the Confederacy without addressing the moral problem of slavery, rather than actually promote the revival of slavery. It was not a false choice in 1861-5.

#2 Comment By reflectionephemeral On June 13, 2013 @ 12:29 pm

And indeed, the debate today is less left-versus-right, but centralization versus self-government.

I don’t really think that’s true. The debate is more us vs. them.

When “one of us” was in charge of the executive branch, folks like Paul Ryan were happy to vote for No Child Left Behind, the USA PATRIOT Act, Medicare Part D, fiscal policies designed to ameliorate the “problem” of surpluses, etc. (Pres. Bush’s record earned him over an 80% approval rating as he left office from “conservative Republicans”, later rebranded as the “Tea Party”.)

It’s about being part of a team, not about any particular policy results.

Incidentally, the Lincoln debate ties into the Michael Lind debate. Modern wealthy states have developed certain features such as social insurance and licensing and regulation of economic activity. The libertarian perspective is that this process was in error. That’s a plausible position, but obviously it’s tough to establish that societies would be better off if they were structured in a manner that has not been attempted.

#3 Comment By Dennis On June 13, 2013 @ 12:40 pm

The intellectual decline of National Review and NRO over the last 13 years or so has been embarrassing to watch (it started before 9/11) . The likes of Lowry and Lopez have turned a once-venerable and intelligent conservative institution into a mouthpiece for shallow thinking and a simplistic militarist/jingoist mindset that ultimately serves to feed the federal leviathan these so-called ‘conservatives’ claim to abhor. As long as it’s in support of Big Military, true federalism and conservatism are just thrown out the window.

#4 Comment By CDK On June 13, 2013 @ 12:53 pm

@Mr. Patrick

How?

#5 Comment By Jeremy On June 13, 2013 @ 12:58 pm

After your too-long diatribe that accomplished nothing, you ended your critique of Rich Lowry’s book by acknowledging that you will not read it. Nice intellectual endeavor in this article. And by “intellectual endeavor” I mean “waste of time.”

#6 Comment By Ed On June 13, 2013 @ 1:09 pm

“That’s a false choice and an outrageous smear …”

Lowry may have expressed himself in an unfortunate fashion, but whatever your attitude to slavery, do you really want to find yourself in Tom DiLorenzo’s company? While he may not actually be in favor of slavery, the man makes a mockery of scholarly standards and civilized behavior.

“It’s pretty well accepted among scholars that the Civil War paved the way for a centralized nation-state …”

What didn’t, though? Do you really think you could have democracy and the Jacksonian expansion of the franchise without “big government” coming along sooner or later? And it was “later” rather than sooner, since the major permanent growth of government came generations after Lincoln was assassinated.

“He calls the Emancipation Proclamation an “an inherently limited war measure,” but doesn’t mention that it didn’t emancipate anyone.”

That’s a tiresome, oft repeated canard. No president could “free the slaves” with a stroke of the pen. The Emancipation Proclamation, which did affirm, uphold, and encourage liberation in the areas where the war would be fought, was a major step on the way to the ultimate end of slavery with the Thirteenth Amendment. Denying that is just churlish.

“This is not Tom DiLorenzo, it’s the president of Harvard.”

It shows. Faust writes better than DiLorenzo, but what is she really saying here? That the country required federal pensions, cemeteries, and records after the Civil War? That may have been unprecedented at the time, but it doesn’t count as a “vast expansion” by later standards.

“I’m waiting on Alan Sked’s biography, which comes out this November and promises to be far more interesting.”

Really?

“Writing in the Daily Telegraph, January 12, 2013, the historian Alan Sked says “Abraham Lincoln was a racist who deliberately started a war that killed more than 650,000 people.”

Sounds like a real winner. Sure to contribute so much to filling in the gaps in our understanding. And how are Sked’s assumptions and insinuations really any better than what you object to in Lowry’s article?

#7 Comment By Ray S. On June 13, 2013 @ 1:20 pm

Lincoln would not have been a Tea Partier. He was a big government guy. Not to mention his disregard for civil liberties.

#8 Comment By Johnny Silence On June 13, 2013 @ 1:45 pm

To reinforce a point Ed makes about the Emancipation Proclamation, it absolutely DID free slaves, in that any slave able to escape their masters and reach the Union Army or areas under its control were freed. This really happened, and it was the whole point. The EP was intended to achieve both the moral good of freeing slaves and the strategic goal of wrecking the Southern slave economy, and it did a fair bit toward both, and (as Ed also says), it laid the foundation for the 13th amendment.

And of course Lincoln wasn’t what we would now consider a racial egalitarian. He was an elected politician in the mid-19th century, for frying out loud! Can he be considered a racial egalitarian by the standards of his own time? Well, he thought African Americans ought to be legally equal to whites, as full citizens with voting rights. Now, if I remember my history classes correctly, I seem to recall that a goodly number of Americans thought that black folks were things that could and should be owned. I further seem to remember that it would be a century after his presidency that the right of African Americans to vote was recognized in certain parts of the country. So yes, I feel it safe to say that by the standards of his own time, Lincoln was pretty darned egalitarian on the subject of race.

#9 Comment By Patrick Harris On June 13, 2013 @ 1:59 pm

I always found it interesting that Russell Kirk was a pro-Licolnite, even as has found things to admire about men like Calhoun. For him, Lincoln’s statesmanship exemplified the prudence, the foremost conservative virtue. And it’s hard to argue that preventing the breakup of the republic isn’t a conservative end, even if that process ended up changing the nature of American government in unforeseen ways.

#10 Comment By J.D. On June 13, 2013 @ 2:57 pm

“He calls the Emancipation Proclamation an “an inherently limited war measure,” but doesn’t mention that it didn’t emancipate anyone.”

He didn’t mention it because it isn’t true.

From Wikipedia:

It is common to encounter a claim that the Emancipation Proclamation did not immediately free a single slave. As a result of the Proclamation, many slaves were freed during the course of the war, beginning with the day it took effect. Eyewitness accounts at places such as Hilton Head, South Carolina, and Port Royal, South Carolina, record celebrations on January 1 as thousands of blacks were informed of their new legal status of freedom. Estimates of the number of slaves freed immediately by the Emancipation Proclamation are uncertain. One contemporary estimate put the ‘contraband’ population of Union-occupied North Carolina at 10,000, and the Sea Islands of South Carolina also had a substantial population. Those 20,000 slaves were freed immediately by the Emancipation Proclamation.”

#11 Comment By David Frisk On June 13, 2013 @ 3:00 pm

Patrick, good point. And Bloom hasn’t made his case well here. I would think AmCon could do better.

#12 Comment By sglover On June 13, 2013 @ 3:20 pm

I’m just trying to imagine the audience for this book. I’m trying to imagine that there are people who are:
1) even slightly acquainted with Lowry’s output, and
2) think that said output would be even better padded out to book length, and
3) believe that he’d have anything to add to a topic that the previous [24] have somehow overlooked.

#13 Comment By Josh McGee On June 13, 2013 @ 3:25 pm

I enjoy reading some folks at NR: Mark Steyn, Jay Nordlinger, Victor Davis Hanso, and to some degree, Jonah Goldberg. I don’t agree with them on everything, but they each have talent as writers. Although there are clear differences between those writers and the group at TAC, I usually don’t pit them against each other the way many do. I’d rather read them all, enjoy them all as writers, and form an opinion later…

Yet, I have never enjoyed reading Lowry, even as a writer. Not only that, I have never understood how he became editor of National Review. It has always seemed like an odd choice. Then again, what do I know?

I have learned to become very wary of people who pick historical figures (of any sort) and use them to argue that this person would have been on ‘my’ side today, if they were still alive. It can be of value (learning how one in the present is connected to those in the past is important), but most of the time it just becomes entirely self-serving.

#14 Comment By Fran Macadam On June 13, 2013 @ 3:32 pm

Well, this isn’t about Lincoln at all, it’s about using Lincoln’s halo in Lowry’s effort to convince people that Lincoln’s warmaking is the neocons’ warmaking. Since Lincoln has been mythologized as the closest the Presidency has been to having Jesus Christ in office it’s hoped that this imprimateur will compel the faithful to endless middle eastern holy war, “this crusade” as it were, in President Bush’s vernacular.

National religion and money-worship in an unholy mix.

#15 Comment By Clint On June 13, 2013 @ 3:34 pm

Abraham Lincoln, First Inaugural Address, Washington, D.C., March 4, 1861,

“This country, with its institutions, belongs to the people who inhabit it. Whenever they shall grow weary of the existing government, they can exercise their constitutional right of amending it, or their revolutionary right to dismember or overthrow it.”

#16 Comment By SP On June 13, 2013 @ 3:36 pm

We can go on and on about the CONSEQUENCES of Lincoln’s actions. But all of us who are not consequentialists (whether we’re virtue theorists or Kantians or something else) should judge the man by his actions per se and his beliefs. On those notes:

1. Lincoln disliked slavery. He thought it was cruel to slaves and corrupting to slaveowners
2. Lincoln wanted the slaves to be freed and ideally sent back to Africa. He did not envision an integrated society working out in the US.
3. Lincoln mobilized the U.S. army to invade and occupy the first seven states that had democractically voted to secede, which caused four more to vote to secede, and two others [KY, MD] to more or less remain neutral.
4. Lincoln knowingly contravened the constitutional guarantees of habeas corpus, freedom of speech, and freedom of the press on the basis that it was necessary to win the war.
5. Lincoln instituted the first national conscription.
6. Lincoln promoted and approved of generals who conducted total warfare against Southern non-combatants.

As a Christian conservative, I approve of the first point, am ambivalent on the second, and disapprove of the last four.

That calculation doesn’t come out particularly well for Mr. Lincoln.

#17 Comment By Jordan Bloom On June 13, 2013 @ 3:36 pm

Look, y’all, I don’t mean to demonize the man. I just think deifying him is silly and in Lowry’s case, serves as a stand-in for favoring centralized government and war.

#18 Comment By SP On June 13, 2013 @ 3:37 pm

Just realized I should clarify my previous post- when I said I am ambivalent regarding Lincoln’s belief that slaves should be freed and sent to Africa, I should have said that I approve of his plan to free them and disapprove of his plan to send them all to Africa.

#19 Comment By jaylib On June 13, 2013 @ 3:48 pm

He ought to just come out and proclaim: “Lincoln is God.” He literally, not figuratively, worships a man — even accuses the man’s critics of “blasphemy.”

#20 Comment By Mia On June 13, 2013 @ 4:56 pm

SP–

In order to change the status quo, you have to challenge the status quo. That includes the institution itself. Our history shows an inherent institutional bias against minorities. In those days, blacks were seen as inferior — if Lincoln waited for public opinion to change wind (and by extension, its representatives to vote accordingly), we may still be fighting slavery today.

Conservatives are failing today because despite their claims of fighting for Christian rights, Christianity has been the status quo since this country was founded. It is hard to sell to the public that white, religious men are systematically being discriminated against when they still hold the majority of the power.

#21 Comment By Flavius On June 13, 2013 @ 4:56 pm

Brave article by Bloom: good commentary by SP.

Slavery as an institution was doomed.

There was more than cause of the War between the States, Slavery being one of them. There was more than one result, Union being one of them but not all of them were provident.

Among the improvident were the loss of half a million lives, the radiating grief, the enduring scar, the affront to self determination, the legacy of total war, the militant boost to Manifest Destiny, “war leader” reified in the institution of the Presidency, an enduring propensity for doing bad poetry, history, politics and policy; and some others.

Seems like it’s not a bad thing for the Devil’s Advocate to get some of this bad stuff out before the church militant before it gets too far overboard with its hagiography.

#22 Comment By Dennis Brislen On June 13, 2013 @ 5:13 pm

“Look, y’all,…”

Uh-oh!

Jordan Bloom now you’ve really stepped in it

It’s not bad enough you’ve aroused the Lincoln Our Secular Saint crew, you have replied using a well known southran idiom.

Oh well. It’s out there now but fear not, I will defend you in the same manner used by Lincoln hagiographers:

He may have said it, but he really didn’t mean it.

Carry on young man, but be assured these interminable Lincoln debates will age you if you persist.

Attempts to consign any of the seven deadly sins to Father Abraham are simply too heretical for consideration.

Now Jefferson, that’s another story, flail away and watch them praise you.

#23 Comment By Archon On June 13, 2013 @ 5:22 pm

I find it fascinating that Lincoln detractors are holding him accountable for not having views on race relations that would have been unpopular with the white electorate in 1958, for less 1858.

It’s a despicable way for confederate apologists to put Lincoln on the same moral plane as slaveholders because he didn’t have a modern view on race intergration.

#24 Comment By Gus On June 13, 2013 @ 5:30 pm

“I’m just trying to imagine the audience for this book. I’m trying to imagine that there are people who are:
1) even slightly acquainted with Lowry’s output, and
2) think that said output would be even better padded out to book length, and
3) believe that he’d have anything to add to a topic that the previous 15,000 titles have somehow overlooked.”

The same people who would buy a Calvin Coolidge biography by Amity Shlaes?

#25 Comment By J.D. On June 13, 2013 @ 6:16 pm

I look forward to the day when Lincoln’s “conservative” critics spare an ounce of their hard-earned vitriol for Jefferson Davis, who censored newspaper articles, suspended habeas corpus, introduced conscription, presided over a prison that resembled a concentration camp, allowed private mail to be opened and censored, was locking up political prisoners even before the war started, seized private property on a massive scale, and had nationalized much of the economy by the end of the war.

#26 Comment By EarlyBird On June 13, 2013 @ 7:37 pm

Lowry, like so many mainstream right wingers today (I don’t dare call them “conservatives”) doesn’t really want small government. They want big wars, big foreign footprints, big military-industrial complexes, big drug laws, big prisons, big social engineering (by the right), big anti-gay discrimination laws, and an America consumed with big consumerism. (Yikes, I sound like a lefty.)

They just don’t want any big taxes to pay for anything.

#27 Comment By Clint On June 13, 2013 @ 7:47 pm

Abraham Lincoln, Fourth Debate with Stephen A. Douglas at Charleston, Illinois, September 18, 1858,

“I will say then that I am not, nor ever have been in favor of bringing about in anyway the social and political equality of the white and black races – that I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race. I say upon this occasion I do not perceive that because the white man is to have the superior position the negro should be denied everything.”

#28 Comment By Viking On June 13, 2013 @ 9:03 pm

Very interesting comments all, particularly J.D.’s on Jeff Davis. J.D., is there a good bio of the Confederate president which details these remarks? I knew of a number of them – the prison in question is Andersonville, correct? – but some are new to me.

#29 Comment By Ray S. On June 13, 2013 @ 9:20 pm

Lowry never was one for limited government. Or freedom.

#30 Comment By EliteCommInc. On June 13, 2013 @ 9:29 pm

“3. Lincoln mobilized the U.S. army to invade and occupy the first seven states that had democractically voted to secede, which caused four more to vote to secede, and two others [KY, MD] to more or less remain neutral.”

As someone who likes to say, “I have no illusions about Lincoln.” And I think my posts reflect as much. But this comment,

“3. Lincoln mobilized the U.S. army to invade and occupy the first seven states that had democractically voted to secede, which caused four more to vote to secede, and two others [KY, MD] to more or less remain neutral.”

I place in the context of the attack on Fort Sumter and in my mind is quite appropriate as a response.

As For Habeas Corpus, it was also in response to an invasion — though I would question – whther the section noting it permissibility applaied to the President of the US.

#31 Comment By Red Phillips On June 13, 2013 @ 10:57 pm

Good grief! I knew Lowry had written a hagiographic article on Lincoln. I didn’t know he had written a book as well. As if the world needs another hagiography of Lincoln.

#32 Comment By Red Phillips On June 13, 2013 @ 11:12 pm

Patrick Harris: “it’s hard to argue that preventing the breakup of the republic isn’t a conservative end”

No it isn’t if the “republic” he was trying to “conserve” is a republic that existed only in his mind rather than the one handed down to us by the Founders. In Lincoln’s “republic” the Federal Government created the States rather than vice versa. This is so ridiculously ahistorical, it’s laughable. Lincoln was actually the revolutionary engaged in a revolutionary project. It was the Confederacy that was attempting to conserve the Republic as intended.

#33 Comment By Fran Macadam On June 13, 2013 @ 11:13 pm

Recent studies have amended the civil war dead number to more accurately be around 750,000. At the old numbers, it was already the most deadly single conflict to that time in human history.

All the leaders involved in the killing on both sides share the blame for this American exceptionalism, which has also become too often the preferred American method for resolving conflict.

The supposed positive outcome by this “redemptive” violence didn’t really occur for another hundred years, since reconstruction was soon overthrown. Only by the means of non-violent resistance to evil by Dr. King and others, real change and reconciliation began.

#34 Comment By cka2nd On June 14, 2013 @ 12:36 am

SP says: “3. Lincoln mobilized the U.S. army to invade and occupy the first seven states that had democractically [sic] voted to secede, which caused four more to vote to secede, and two others [KY, MD] to more or less remain neutral.”

It’s been some years since I read William Freehling’s “The South Vs. The South: How Anti-Confederate Southerners Shaped the Course of the Civil War” and “The Reintegration of American History: Slavery and the Civil War,” but I remember him making a very strong case that secession was forced on the Southern white masses by their slaveholding elites with distinctly undemocratic methods. I highly recommend Prof. Freehling’s scholarship on the origins and conduct of the war.

He also acknowledged that Lincoln’s military actions pushed many Southerners off the fence and into the army.

#35 Comment By Fulton On June 14, 2013 @ 12:45 am

Every other industrialized nation ended up going the bigger more centralized government route, so I fail to see how that can fairly be blamed on Lincoln. He was a politician and man of his time and therefore did things that do not sound well at best by standards today, but the war he fought ultimately lead the abolition of slavery and that’s an unalloyed good thing.

I suppose I really do take the view of “abolition as a categorical imperative justifying any cost in lives, treasure, or lost liberty.” I’m afraid I just can’t bring myself to regret the lost liberty of Southerners who only wanted to be left to live free and own human beings as property. Or get outraged that their “democratic” (really? did the slaves get a vote on that?) right to leave the union got trampled.

#36 Comment By cka2nd On June 14, 2013 @ 12:52 am

Karl Marx with an interestingly balanced analysis of Abraham Lincoln (and enthusiastic endorsement of the Emancipation Proclamation) in an article published in Vienna’s Die Presse, October 12, 1862:

“Lincoln’s proclamation is even more important than the Maryland campaign. Lincoln is a sui generis figure in the annals of history. He has no initiative, no idealistic impetus, no cothurnus, no historical trappings. He gives his most important actions always the most commonplace form….His latest proclamation, which is drafted in the same style, the manifesto abolishing slavery, is the most important document in American history since the establishment of the Union, tantamount to the tearing up of the old American Constitution.

“Nothing is simpler than to show that Lincoln’s principal political actions contain much that is aesthetically repulsive, logically inadequate, farcical in form and politically, contradictory, as is done by, the English Pindars of slavery, the Times, the Saturday Review and tutti quanti. But Lincoln’s place in the history of the United States and of mankind will, nevertheless, be next to that of Washington! Nowadays, when the insignificant struts about melodramatically on this side of the Atlantic, is it of no significance at all that the significant is clothed in everyday dress in the new world?

“Lincoln is not the product of a popular revolution. This plebeian, who worked his way up from stone-breaker to Senator in Illinois, without intellectual brilliance, without a particularly outstanding character, without exceptional importance—an average person of good will, was placed at the top by the interplay of the forces of universal suffrage unaware of the great issues at stake. The new world has never achieved a greater triumph than by this demonstration that, given its political and social organization, ordinary people of good will can accomplish feats which only heroes could accomplish in the old world!”

#37 Comment By SP On June 14, 2013 @ 12:36 pm

Fulton- it wasn’t specifically the South that lost liberty. The entire constitution (in the traditional political theory sense, not the capital C document) of the U.S. was changed forever, moving the regime strongly towards greater centralized control.

And of course, it was a good thing that Lincoln was opposed to slavery, but presidents do not take an oath to preserve the political unity of the states or to end slavery, but rather to defend the Constitution. He broke that oath repeatedly by ignoring the Constitution’s guarantees of habeas corpus, freedom of the press, and freedom of the speech. Had this been done in the South, he would have had a good excuse, but this was done in Northern states that had not seceded.

#38 Comment By J.D. On June 14, 2013 @ 5:58 pm

“In Lincoln’s “republic” the Federal Government created the States rather than vice versa. This is so ridiculously ahistorical, it’s laughable.”

No, Lincoln said that the “union” of colonies preceded the individual states that came into existence when the United States became an independent nation. The states prior to the Revolutionary War were not “sovereign states”; they were colonial holdings of Great Britain. Lincoln never argued that the post-1787 federal government had created the states.

“Lincoln was actually the revolutionary engaged in a revolutionary project. It was the Confederacy that was attempting to conserve the Republic as intended.”

Lincoln was elected on what looks, today, to be a very moderate platform — primarily, opposing the spread of slavery to the territories. Can you please explain what this supposedly “revolutionary project” was?

#39 Comment By Fulton On June 14, 2013 @ 7:39 pm

SP- I’m getting back to this late so apologies. And I take your point, but would reply that, yes, I know it wasn’t just the South that lost liberty, but in calculating “lost liberty” you have to also set against that the “gained liberty” of the slaves, which in my view outweighs anythingelse. To the extent it meant a loss of liberty to a more centralized government then that is “the wages of sin” for both North and South in building a society in which owning human beings was a core component. Really, boohoo, white folks you have to deal with a more centralized government as opposed to a less centralized government that let you have the option of owning human beings.

I can understand Southerners getting annoyed at the implication that Northerners were some how more moral, etc, but personally I find myself to be a “radical abolitionist” on this issue who thinks the cost was worth it because it ended slavery.

#40 Comment By Red Phillips On June 14, 2013 @ 8:58 pm

“No, Lincoln said that the “union” of colonies preceded the individual states that came into existence when the United States became an independent nation. The states prior to the Revolutionary War were not “sovereign states”; they were colonial holdings of Great Britain. Lincoln never argued that the post-1787 federal government had created the states.”

J.D., you’re parsing words instead of making an argument. Are you a lawyer? You understood my point, but OK, let’s do it your way. The idea the the union of the former colonies, now free states, preceded the colonies—>states is just as ahistorical and just as laughable. The related idea that “the people” as a mass created the Union rather than the States creating the Union is equally ahistorical and equally laughable. So where have you gotten us with your cleverness?

“Can you please explain what this supposedly “revolutionary project” was?”

Sure. The Karl Marx quote above, believe it or not, is right in a way. Lincoln was not a revolutionary character. But his project was revolutionary. He sought to reinvent the United States as something it wasn’t. It was a federation of states, a “federated republic” as some have called it. He sought to transform it into a unitary state with states as administrative subunits. He sought to transform it into a modern post French-Revolution unitary nation state.

#41 Comment By Michael Blonde On June 15, 2013 @ 9:59 pm

The Constitution created a strong central government – the weak coalition neoconfederates imagine was the Articles of Confederation. It also allows for suspension of habeas corpus in times of rebellion or invasion, ie the Civil War. As J.D. said, Davis’ civil liberties violations were far worse than those of Lincoln. The war was started by the slaveholders after they lost an election. The reason for the war was slavery, plain and simple. The only way any “liberty” was lost is if blacks aren’t people and slavery is a right. Any questions?

#42 Comment By Red Phillips On June 17, 2013 @ 2:31 pm

“The Constitution created a strong central government – the weak coalition neoconfederates imagine was the Articles of Confederation.”

It is certainly true that some factions wanted a stronger central government, but that is not the agreement they left the Convention with and it’s not the agreement the States believed they were ratifying. FTR, I certainly wish that we had stuck with the Articles.

#43 Comment By J.D. On June 19, 2013 @ 3:52 pm

Viking: “Southern Rights” by Mark Neely is a good overview of the Davis record on civil liberties.

#44 Pingback By Two White Pillars, Yankee Style | The Ümlaut On June 23, 2013 @ 1:06 am

[…] on Lincoln, the “apostle of opportunity,” and for the last couple weeks has been on a PR blitzkrieg during which he often mentions some variation of his desire to “clear away the anti-Lincoln […]

#45 Comment By Viking On June 25, 2013 @ 3:30 pm

Thank you, J.D. Sorry I wasn’t able to get back to you before now, I have trouble navigating this site when particular pieces go off the home page, as this one did.

#46 Comment By Tom Perkins On July 3, 2013 @ 9:14 pm

1. Lincoln disliked slavery. He thought it was cruel to slaves and corrupting to slaveowners

He was right.

2. Lincoln wanted the slaves to be freed and ideally sent back to Africa. He did not envision an integrated society working out in the US.

He was in good company, including many of the Founders.

3. Lincoln mobilized the U.S. army to invade and occupy the first seven states that had democractically voted to secede, which caused four more to vote to secede, and two others [KY, MD] to more or less remain neutral.

Democracy is mob rule, and never prettier, we are a Constitutional Republic to prevent it. The South’s treason was just that, treason to just law, and undertaken under no nobler circumstance than that someone who condemned them for their crimes against humanity quite gently was justly and properly elected President. They rebelled against the true law.

4. Lincoln knowingly contravened the constitutional guarantees of habeas corpus, freedom of speech, and freedom of the press on the basis that it was necessary to win the war.

The constitution makes no guarantees of habeus corpus in times of rebellion or insurrection, and never has. It is an object of the civil courts, and was endorsed by the Congress in any case.

5. Lincoln instituted the first national conscription.

What of it? The militia who are the common people standing to arms may be called up in defense of the laws, and constitutionally too, how is that not conscription?

6. Lincoln promoted and approved of generals who conducted total warfare against Southern non-combatants.

Good for him, treason to the Constitution and Revolution of 1775 should be destroyed.

And the South was engaged in just that treason, they wanted to stay the biggest sharks in their pond, by making their pond smaller. There is no higher or better purpose in them than that, and to hell with them.

#47 Pingback By To Mayberry, Minerva, or the Matrix? | The Ümlaut On February 15, 2014 @ 11:14 am

[…] people like Goldberg or Rich Lowry or, my god, Victor Davis Hanson, take up the legacy of civil rights and equality as a […]