Although he is called the Great Emancipator, Abraham Lincoln embarked on a war that led to 620,000 deaths and the destruction of 40 percent of the American economy, not to free those held in slavery, but to centralize power in Washington, create “the American System” of Henry Clay and build an empire.
So says Thomas J. DiLorenzo, author of The Real Lincoln, which has the subtitle: A New Look at Abraham Lincoln, His Agenda and an Unnecessary War.
DiLorenzo turns the myth that surrounds Lincoln on its head, and uses Lincoln’s own words and actions to do so. DiLorenzo writes that:
“According to one source, more than 16,000 books have been written on virtually every aspect of Lincoln’s private and public life. But much of what has been written about Lincoln is myth… Anyone who delves into this literature with an open mind and an interest in the truth cannot help but be struck by the fantastic lengths to which an entire industry of ‘Lincoln scholars’ has gone to perpetuate countless myths and questionable interpretations of events.”
DiLorenzo examines many of those myths in this book.
Lincoln was a proponent of Henry Clay’s American System (taxpayer subsidies for railroads and corporations and infrastructure improvements) for 28 years prior to becoming president. As a Whig Party and later Republican Party activist, he pushed that agenda.
He thought of himself as the heir to the Hamiltonian political tradition, which sought a much more centralized governmental system, one that would plan economic development with corporate subsidies financed by protectionist tariffs and the printing of money by the central government.
As president he achieved or set in motion the achievement of those goals and many more. As a result, DiLorenzo writes, historian Richard Bensel has observed that any study of the American state should begin no earlier than 1865. That’s because Lincoln’s policies virtually wiped out the previous 70 years of America’s highly decentralized, limited government existence.
On the subject of slavery, DiLorenzo quotes Roy Basler, the editor of Lincoln’s Collected Works, who has written that before 1854 Lincoln barely ever mentioned the issue, and when he did mention slavery he did not seem sincere.
But what Lincoln did write and say about slavery will shock those who have learned about him through the filter of revisionist historians and Lincoln scholars.
For instance, Lincoln stated many times that he was opposed to political or social equality of the races; he was not an abolitionist but denigrated them and distanced himself from them; and his primary means of dealing with the racial problem was to attempt to colonize all of American blacks in Africa, Haiti, Central America or anywhere but the United States.
And his Emancipation Proclamation, taught in schools as having been a document that freed the slaves, proclaimed them free only in rebel-held territories and exempted Northern States and much of the areas held by the Union Army. It was recognized in editorials of the time as being nothing more than a political gimmick.
In a famous public letter to New York Tribune editor Horace Greely in 1862, Lincoln explained he wasn’t particularly concerned about emancipation per se; forcing the secessionists to remain in the Union was his main objective.
In fact, as DiLorenzo writes, Lincoln’s true feelings on race mirrored the overwhelming majority of white Northerners at the time who discriminated against free blacks so severely that several states, including Lincoln’s Illinois, amended their constitutions to prohibit the emigration of black people into those states.
DiLorenzo uses extensive footnotes to back his claims about Lincoln’s real agenda and also has a chapter the deals with the long history of the right of secession in America. This disputes Lincoln’s assertion that no such right ever existed and that the federal government created the states, which were therefore not sovereign, and waged a war to prove himself right.
He also deals with the claim by so many Lincoln scholars that Lincoln “saved” the Constitution by suspending constitutional liberty in the North for the duration of his administration. As DiLorenzo writes:
Quite a few Lincoln scholars have labeled Lincoln a “dictator” for launching a military invasion without the consent of Congress; suspending habeas corpus; imprisoning thousands of Northern citizens without trial for merely opposing his policies; censoring all telegraph communication and imprisoning dozens of opposition newspaper publishers; nationalizing the railroads; using Federal troops to interfere with elections; confiscating firearms; and deporting an opposition member of Congress after he opposed Lincoln’s income tax proposal during a Democratic Party rally in Ohio.
Even though many have labeled these acts as “dictatorial,” they usually add that Lincoln was a “good” or “benevolent” dictator. In reality, these precedents did irreparable harm to constitutional liberty in America…
For a truthful and unvarnished look at a president who has become larger than life—as depicted by his monument in Washington—but whose legacy is built on myths, mischaracterizations and lies, this book is a must-read.