- The Washington Times - Friday, February 23, 2007


By Thomas J. DiLorenzo, Crown Forum, $22.95, 200 pages


By Jan Morri, Simon & Schuster, $13.95, 201 pages.

Full disclosure: For many years, I have I had a picture of Abraham Lincoln by my desk.

Daring to pierce the immaculate rings of purity that have circled the 16th president for almost seven score and two years, Jan Morris and Thomas J. DiLorenzo make the lonely argument that there is a dark side to the constellation Abraham Lincoln.

While Miss Morris gently tugs at the legend on the “high marble throne” by pointing out flaws in a forgiving manner, Mr. DiLorenzo wields a sledgehammer to unapologetically spew malevolent rants at Lincoln and the “professional historians” who prohibit any negative discussion about him. It’s hard to tell who Mr. DiLorenzo despises more, Lincoln or the historians and writers he calls the “self-appointed Gatekeepers of the Truth,” who have “poisoned the history profession by political correctness.”

Miss Morris, who argues that we are “almost deranged in our obsession,” points out that we have named at least 35 cities, 22 counties, 125 statues, a luxury car and a tunnel under the Hudson River after one of the most revered politicians in American history. Then there are all the other honors, including the penny and the $5 bill. The charge here is that perhaps the rural country boy should be remembered more as the wealthy trial lawyer and politician well-versed in manipulation and deceit.

Like today’s K Street lobbyists, Lincoln counted giant corporations and millionaires among his clients. That might explain how a new town along a railroad was named after him and how he traveled free in private rail cars, often accompanied by an entourage of railroad executives.

Perhaps also, as the authors argue, Lincoln was not the slave’s best friend. According to Mr. DiLorenzo, Frederick Douglass said “the Negro people are only the step-children” of Lincoln “by force of circumstances and necessity.” The civil rights activist William Lloyd Garrison said Lincoln did not have “a drop of anti-slavery blood in his veins.”

Lincoln made several comments to indicate that he did not consider blacks his equal and, in fact, favored a colonization plan to remove them from the United States. These authors criticize Lincoln for talking out of both sides of his mouth about slavery and mention that the farther south he went, “the whiter his principles” became.

The man with legendary political and persuasive skills talked about a plan for compensated emancipation as other countries had undertaken, but he never made it happen. The man who freed the slaves supposedly agreed to provide his formidable and highly paid legal skills to a slaveholder trying to get his runaway slave forcibly returned to him.

Lincoln spoke of God quite often, but was his religion just hardball politics? To what extent did politics play a role in Nevada’s gaining statehood on the eve of Lincoln’s re-election? Certainly he got the three freshly minted electoral votes. Lincoln said he wanted God on his side but he “had to have Kentucky.”

Along with shutting down hundreds of Northern newspapers that opposed his views on the Civil War, Lincoln jailed many political dissenters without due process. When the chief justice said these actions were unconstitutional, Lincoln simply ignored him.

More disturbing but less known is the charge that Lincoln ordered the execution of 38 Indians after an uprising. What Mr. DiLorenzo doesn’t tell the reader is that Lincoln, over vehement protests, commuted the death sentences of 265 other Indians.

Did the states, as the authors claim, have a legitimate right to secede? The New England states apparently believed secession from the Union was acceptable because they previously had threatened to do so in 1804 over the Louisiana Purchase and eight years later over the War of 1812. Mr. DiLorenzo points out that the Revolutionary War treaty with Great Britain named each of the states individually and referred to them as “free, sovereign and independent states.”

According to Federalist No. 39, authored by James Madison, the Father of the Constitution: “Each State … is considered as a sovereign body independent of all others, and only to be bound by its own voluntary act.”

The Gatekeepers, according to Mr. DiLorenzo, have overemphasized slavery and minimized tariffs as causes leading to the Civil War. Mr. DiLorenzo quotes from Virginia Democratic Sen. Jim Webb’s book about the Scots-Irish in America. According to Mr. Webb, the Scots-Irish and the Confederacy did not fight to defend and protect the institution of slavery for the minuscule 5 percent of their population who were slave owners.

Mr. Webb opines that “in virtually every major battle of the Civil War, Confederate soldiers who did not own slaves were fighting against a proportion of Union Army soldiers who had not been asked to give theirs up.” According to Mr. Webb, the Confederates fought simply because they were “provoked, intimidated and ultimately invaded.”

Two months before the Civil War started, Lincoln told a Northern audience that there was no issue more important to their congressional representatives than tariffs. Three decades earlier, South Carolina nullified a tariff act and made $200,000 available to enforce the nullification. Of the 107 “yes” votes in the House of Representatives and 25 votes in the Senate for the tariff act, just three and two, respectively, were cast by Southerners.

A peer-reviewed academic journal in economics included a 2002 study asserting that the tariff issue was more important as a cause of the Civil War than most historians believe.

Perhaps everyone can agree on Miss Morris’ line: “Abraham Lincoln’s was a martyrdom waiting to happen.”

These books, which raise legitimate issues, are chock-full of criticism but short on objectivity and context. Any evaluation of President Lincoln requires a discussion of all relevant issues, even those that are “politically incorrect” and out of favor. However, it also requires that those negative points be made in a comprehensive, fair and objective manner. Unquestionably, Lincoln was a great man. Although I’ll be the first to say he wasn’t perfect, the framed picture of Abraham Lincoln stays right where it is, prominently displayed on the wall above my desk.

Paul N. Herbert of Fairfax County writes occasionally for The Washington Times.

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