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Rewriting History, American Style

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  • Mike Schneider
    http://www.lewrockwell.com/dilorenzo/dilorenzo13.html Rewriting History, American Style by Thomas J. DiLorenzo In his book, Lincoln Reconsidered, Pulitzer
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 1, 2002
      http://www.lewrockwell.com/dilorenzo/dilorenzo13.html

      Rewriting History, American Style
      by Thomas J. DiLorenzo

      In his book, Lincoln Reconsidered, Pulitzer prize-winning Lincoln biographer
      David Donald remarked that, after Lincoln’s death and "reincarnation" as a
      secular political saint, politicians of all stripes began attaching
      themselves to his legacy. Men who were his bitterest political enemies
      during his lifetime all of a sudden claimed to have been his closest friends
      and associates. The Communist Party U.S.A. adorned its New York City
      headquarters, writes Donald, with huge portraits of Lincoln and held annual
      Lincoln-Lenin Day parades.

      No one, of course, has taken the worshipping of Abraham Lincoln to greater
      extremes than the Republican Party and some of its affiliated foundations
      and think tanks. The Republican Party has long sought to give its political
      agenda moral authority by reminding us all that it is, after all, "The Party
      of Lincoln." That is certainly true but, unfortunately, the Republican Party
      and some of its associated think tanks have apparently found it necessary to
      do what they once accused the Soviet Union of doing: rewriting history in
      order to enhance its prestige and power.

      Take, for instance, a Washington, DC, outfit known as the "Declaration
      Foundation" that is purportedly devoted to the principles embodied in the
      Declaration of Independence. It does so by lionizing Lincoln (as though he
      still needs more lionizing) and constantly reminding Republican politicians
      to do this or that because "Lincoln would have done it." One of its slogans
      is the Lincolnian phrase, "Liberty and Union Forever" (emphasis added).

      The Declaration Foundation does some good work, judging by its Web site, but
      its very name is somewhat Orwellian. Consider the one principle of the
      Declaration of Independence that Thomas Jefferson is most noted for, the
      idea that governments derive their just powers from the consent of the
      governed, and that whenever governments become destructive of liberty it is
      the duty of citizens to abolish that government and replace it with a new
      one.

      The Declaration, after all, was a Declaration of Secession from England. The
      American Revolution was a war of secession, just as the War for Southern
      Independence was. Massachusetts Senator Timothy Pickering, who served as
      George Washington’s adjutant general, Secretary of War, and Secretary of
      State, once said that secession was "the" principle of the American
      Revolution – the very right that the revolutionaries fought for. The
      Declaration Foundation, on the other hand, preaches exactly the opposite
      with its "Union Forever" philosophy.

      Lincoln’s political triumph was, if anything, a repudiation of the
      Jeffersonian philosophy of government and a victory for his political
      adversaries, the Hamiltonians, who by 1861 had morphed into the Republican
      Party. Like all the founding fathers Jefferson wanted the Union to thrive,
      but he also agreed with his colleague Timothy Pickering that secession was a
      fundamental right. In his First Inaugural Address he declared, "If there be
      any among us who would wish to dissolve this union . . . let them stand
      undisturbed as monuments of the safety with which error of opinion may be
      tolerated where reason is left free to combat it." He was championing the
      right of free speech here, but also the right of secession.

      In a letter to James Madison in 1816 Jefferson reiterated his support of the
      right of secession by saying, "If any state in the Union will declare that
      it prefers separation . . . to a continuance in union . . . I have no
      hesitation in saying, let us separate."

      Jefferson’s close friend Alexis de Tocqueville, whom everyone regards as a
      brilliant observer and chronicler of the American system of government,
      wrote in Democracy in America that "The Union was formed by the voluntary
      agreement of the States; and in uniting together they have not forfeited
      their nationality . . . . If one of the states chooses to withdraw from the
      compact . . . the Federal Government would have no means of maintaining its
      claims directly either by force or right." (Tocqueville could never have
      imagined that barely thirty years later an American president would commit
      the barbaric act of having his armies murder 300,000 fellow citizens and
      destroy their economy to deny them the right of secession).

      Even Abraham Lincoln voiced support for the right of secession when it
      served his political purposes. He enthusiastically embraced (and
      orchestrated) the secession of western Virginia (a slave state) when it
      joined the Union. And on January 12, 1848, he announced that "any people
      anywhere, being inclined and having the power, have the right to rise up and
      shake off the existing government, and form a new one that suits them
      better. . . . Nor is this right confined to cases in which the whole people
      of an existing government may choose to exercise it. Any portion of such
      people, that can, may revolutionize, and make their own of so much of the
      territory as they inhabit." Don’t look for this quote, though, in any of the
      materials produced by the Declaration Foundation.

      As of 1860 most Northerners and Southerners believed in the Jeffersonian
      right of secession as enshrined in the Declaration of Independence. In
      Northern Editorials on Secession Howard Cecil Perkins surveyed about 1,000
      Northern newspapers and found that the majority of them agreed basically
      with what the Bangor Daily Union wrote on November 13, 1860: "The Union
      depends for its continuance on the free consent and will of the sovereign
      people of each state, and when that consent and will is withdrawn on either
      part, their Union is gone." A state that is coerced to remain in the Union
      becomes a "subject province" and can never be "a co-equal member of the
      American Union."

      New York Tribune editor Horace Greeley, a prominent Republican,
      editorialized on December 17, 1860, that if tyranny and despotism justified
      the Revolution of 1776, then "we do not see why it would not justify the
      secession of Five Millions of Southrons from the Federal Union in 1861." On
      February 5, 1861, Greeley continued on that "The Great Principle embodied by
      Jefferson in the Declaration is . . . that governments derive their just
      power from the consent of the governed." Therefore, if he Southern states
      want to secede, "they have a clear right to do so." At this time,
      Northerners knew that if there was to be a war it was not a war "to free the
      slaves," but to deny Southerners the right of secession. In an 1862 letter
      to Horace Greeley Lincoln himself declared that his "paramount objective" in
      the war was to destroy the right of secession or, as he rephrased it, to
      "save the Union," and that if he could do that without freeing a single
      slave he would gladly do so.

      The Declaration Foundation, the Claremont Institute, and other
      self-proclaimed beacons of the Lincolnian philosophy, preach exactly the
      opposite. They perpetuate the preposterous myth that there was never any
      such thing as a right of secession – in a country that was formed by a war
      of secession. In doing so they rewrite history to legitimize the highly
      centralized welfare/warfare state that Lincoln, more than anyone else,
      helped bring about in America. The Declaration Foundation, in other words,
      repudiates the principles of the Declaration of Independence while trying to
      convince the public that it is actually championing them.

      The second most notable principle of the Declaration is the notion that "all
      men are created equal." The Declaration Foundation and the Claremont
      Institute portray Lincoln as an almost Christ-like figure because of his
      supposed embrace of this principle, but this is hard to square with many of
      Lincoln’s own lifelong beliefs and clear, unambiguous statements. In his
      1858 Ottawa, Illinois debate with Stephen Douglas, for example, he stated
      that "I have no purpose to introduce political and social equality between
      the white and black races . . . . I . . . am in favor of the race to which I
      belong having the superior position. I have never said anything to the
      contrary."

      Lincoln went on to declare that he had never been in favor "of making voters
      or jurors of Negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to
      intermarry with white people." He literally mocked the Jeffersonian dictum
      that "all men are created equal" by claiming that, with the possible
      exception of Siamese twins, "I am sorry to say that I have never seen two
      men of whom it is true."

      On the topic of emancipation Lincoln said, "Free them, and make them
      politically and socially our equals? My own feelings will not admit of this
      . . . . We cannot, then make them equals."

      It doesn’t get any clearer than that. Lincoln unequivocally denounced the
      principle of the Declaration of Independence that all men are created equal,
      especially when it comes to men of the white and black races. Ever the slick
      politician, he rhetorically defended the "natural rights" of all people, but
      blacks could never enjoy such rights if they were denied all the rights that
      Lincoln would deny them. In his 1852 eulogy to Henry Clay Lincoln stated
      that he agreed with Clay that slavery was regrettable, but ending it would
      produce "a greater evil, even to the cause of human liberty itself." Don’t
      look for this line, either, in any of the Declaration Foundation’s
      publications.

      Lincoln’s career-long goal, which he clung to until the day he died, was
      colonization – to send every last black person in the U.S. to Africa,
      Central America, Haiti – anywhere but the U.S. This, said Lincoln, would be
      a "glorious consummation." They could be "equal" all right, but not here.
      This led America’s most prominent abolitionist, William Lloyd Garrison, to
      denounce Lincoln as "the President of African Colonization" and to declare
      that he "had not a drop of anti-slavery blood in his veins." Again, don’t
      look for this in any Declaration Foundation or Claremont Institute
      publications.

      Although the Declaration Foundation and the Claremont Institute are
      "conservative" organizations, they join hands with prominent hard-core
      leftists in distorting the real meaning of the Declaration of Independence.
      In Lincoln at Gettysburg the far-left journalist Garry Wills celebrates this
      "open air sleight of hand" and Lincoln’s use of military force to "remake
      America" in a way that made egalitarianism, rather than liberty, the
      prevailing political philosophy.

      Left-of-Center Columbia University law professor George P. Fletcher concurs
      with Wills in Our Secret Constitution, where he praises Lincoln for
      "reinventing the United States" government from one whose main goal was the
      defense of liberty to "nationalism, egalitarianism, and democracy."

      Over the past century nationalism has been the chief source of the wars that
      have killed millions of civilians; egalitarianism has helped create
      socialist and welfare states that have destroyed economy after economy; and
      unbridled democracy has decimated liberty. The Republican and Democratic
      parties have championed all of these things over the past century, and they
      use what Joseph Sobran has called the "Fantasy Lincoln" to help prop up
      their corrupt regimes.


      March 1, 2002

      Thomas J. DiLorenzo [send him mail] is the author of The Real Lincoln: A New
      Look at Abraham Lincoln, His Agenda, and an Unnecessary War (Forum/Random
      House 2002) and professor of economics at Loyola College in Maryland.


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