- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 23, 2002


By Thomas J. DiLorenzo

Forum/Prima Publishing, $24.95, 333 pages


In an order to Gen. John Dix on May 18, 1864, Abraham Lincoln wrote: "You will take possession by military force, of the printing establishments of the New York World and Journal of Commerce … and prohibit any further publication thereof … you are therefore commanded forthwith to arrest and imprison … the editors, proprietors and publishers of the aforesaid newspapers."
So Lincoln skewered our precious rules of press freedom and habeas corpus.
Yet on goes our Lincoln obsession, if that's what it is. Yes, the Lincoln legend has epic proportions: some 16,000 biographies, a national holiday, a huge monument in D.C., a touching saga of the Great Emancipator, with most Americans deeming him the greatest president in U.S. history.
Greatest? Our author respectfully differs, and in the foreword Walter Williams, George Mason's John M. Olin Distinguished Professor of Economics and nationally syndicated columnist, endorses the difference. Mr. Williams says the War between the States (his phrase) was not fought to end slavery but to save the Union, adding war was hardly the way to end it.
Dozens of nations such as the territorial possessions of the British, French, Spanish, and Portuguese, had ended slavery peacefully in the 18th and 19th centuries via compensated emancipation. Mr. Williams sees the War with 620,000 dead as far and away America's bloodiest, that number would be the equivalent of 5 million today or 100 times greater than the toll in Vietnam. Too, he mourns the War's killing off "the great principle" in the Declaration of Independence that governments derive "their just powers from the consent of the governed." Was Southern consent crushed? And how.
Author of "The Real Lincoln," Thomas DiLorenzo, economist at Baltimore's Loyola College with 11 books and over 70 articles in academic journals, cites H. L. Mencken on the Gettysburg Address for more evidence on Lincoln's true legacy as that of the Great Centralizer, a destroyer of "states' rights" guaranteed in the 9th and 10th Amendments. Mencken said the Address is "poetry, not logic; beauty, not sense." He held that the Union soldiers actually fought against "government of the people, by the people, for the people," i.e. against self-determination, that indeed it was the Confederate soldiers who fought for the vital right of their people to govern themselves.
Mr. DiLorenzo, here with some 500 citations, holds that Lincoln wantonly warred on innocent women, children and old men with generals like William Tecumseh Sherman and Philip Henry Sheridan whose armies terrorized, pillaged, and torched cities from Atlanta to Harrisonburg, that in 1866 a Republican-dominated Congress blackmailed the South to pass the 14th Amendment to the Constitution by barring congressional representation to those states unless they ratified the amendment, a blackmail clouding the Amendment's constitutionality.
In fact, Mr. DiLorenzo pictures Lincoln as a man who was a Hamiltonian interventionist at heart, whose entire political calling was to win Henry Clay's American System and upset the Founders' plan from one limited in federal scope and decentralized via states' rights into the activist centralized power in the D.C. we know today. But barring the way was the South: independent states, John Calhoun-bred suspicion of Northern trickery, King Cotton's export dependency, ergo hatred of Northern protectionism as Lincoln and the Republican Paarty doubled the height of the (average) tariff wall, rising tension over slavery.
No wonder secession and war: a war far bloodier and longer-lasting than Lincoln had foreseen, an unnecessary war as free labor more and more triumphed competitively over slavery, as even Adam Smith had seen in 1776.
Protectionism was but one engine in the Lincoln centralizing machine. Others: subsidized corruptive "internal improvements" such as the Pacific Railway Act of 1862 granting millions of taxpayer dollars to the Union Pacific and Central Pacific railroads (both going bust in 1869), Lincoln legalizing fiat paper money known as "greenbacks" with his Legal Tender Act of 1862 sparking sharp inflation, his imposing America's first income tax.
While Lincoln saw slavery as a "monstrous injustice," he fought "social and political equality" of the races, thus denying blacks the right to vote, become jurors, and so on. In his 1860 Cooper Union speech he urged peaceful "deportation" of blacks. As he wrote in a famed 1862 letter to Horace Greeley of the New York Tribune on his war aims: "If I could save the Union without freeing a slave I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that." But those aims foiled his point in his First Inaugural Address that he had no constitutional power to undo slavery, a foil seen in the Proclamation which applied only to rebel territory and specifically exempted Maryland, Kentucky, West Virginia and many counties of Virginia.
So thousands of slaves were left unfreed. Secretary of State William Seward was cynical: "We show our sympathy with slavery by emancipating slaves where we cannot reach them and holding them in bondage where we can set them free." As Thomas DiLorenzo winds up his moving, reasoned, provocative if most iconoclastic book on the Lincoln legacy: Lincoln's war "let the genie of centralization out of the bottle, never to be returned."

William H. Peterson is an adjunct scholar at the Heritage Foundation and a contributing editor to the Foundation for Economic Education's Ideas on Liberty.

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