Saturday, March 17, 2012

Lincoln in London, Ron Paul and Revisionist History

Lincoln in London (courtesy James Hooper)
The Conservative tour of London continues.  Near Westminster Abbey and the houses of Parliament you will find the remarkable statue of Abraham Lincoln pictured above.  The 16th President of the United States faced the gravest crisis in the history of the United States -- the American Civil War.   Lincoln was the first Republican President, the founder of the Republican party.  He was the great Emancipator who helped win freedom for millions and set us on a path to greater justice for all.  He was the ultimate Conservative who preserved the "last best hope for mankind" in our nation's most desperate times.

But not according to one Republican candidate.  Just listen to what Ron Paul had to say in 2008 on the subject of Lincoln...

Paul shamelessly exploits the fallen of the US Civil War in front of a confederate flag to advance his own neo-isolationist agenda...

Ron Paul, who has locked up the John Wilkes Booth wing of the Republican party, has read the works of revisionist historian Thomas DiLorenzo and takes them for the definitive word on Lincoln and the US Civil war or "War of Northern Aggression" as he would prefer to call it.  DiLorenzo is a Libertarian/Marxist professor of economics from Virginia Tech.  According to him, the US Civil war was unnecessary and an excuse for Lincoln  to expand the role of the federal government at the expense of individual liberty.  He cites Lincoln's suspension of Habeus Corpus, the deportation of  the Democratic politician Vallandingham to the Confederate states (his Copperhead body could go 'where his heart already was'), and the institution of  the country's first-ever draft (also adopted by the CSA).  With Lincoln, the gravest crisis in the nation's history was combined with the most eloquent man to ever hold the office--the result was greatly expanded Presidential powers.   

DiLorenzo seems to have discovered that Lincoln was not a Brie and Chardonnay-sipping 21st century liberal with regard to racial politics (e.g. he supported at various times shipment of slaves to Liberia).  He makes much of Lincoln's tepid support of the Corwin amendment in his first inaugural address which would have perpetuated slavery, ignoring the fact that President Buchanan had already endorsed and signed the amendment and the fact that this was a "hail Mary" play designed to avert the coming effusion of blood that was looming.

DiLorenzo is unabashedly libertarian and a strong supporter of Ron Paul.  I label him "Marxist" as well due to his insistence on explaining the outbreak of the US Civil War in terms of economic causation--an argument over tariffs.  Not all political problems, however, are truly economic and it was the moral dilemma of slavery that was the root cause of the US Civil war.   Moreover, Paul and DiLorenzo both express great admiration for the crank abolitionist Lysander Spooner who opposed the Civil war and became a socialist member of the First International.

Ron Paul seems to accept the 21st century, and quite un-libertarian, premise that we can solve problems by simply throwing money at them--that slavery could have been ended with a negotiated settlement.  This is simply a gross distortion of the historical record. During the 80+ years from the ratification of the Constitution to 1860, there was no successful "deal" to end slavery in the Southern states.  Moreover, Lincoln actually DID try to arrange a compensated emancipation during the civil war (see below).

In 2002 a debate between DiLorenzo and the distinguished Lincoln scholar, Harry Jaffa, took place in California.  Here is what Harry Jaffa has to say, " In the first place, the idea that the Federal government in 1860 should have offered to buy the slaves is a political absurdity. Any claim by Lincoln or his party of any jurisdiction over slavery in the states would have been regarded, and justly regarded, as completely unconstitutional, and advocating the overthrow of the Constitution.

Now, during the Civil War, Lincoln did endorse a program of compensated emancipation. In his 1862 message to Congress, he proposed a series of Constitutional amendments that would have authorized the Federal government to reimburse states that adopted programs of compensated emancipation. He was very anxious. This was before the Emancipation Proclamation, the final one, was issued on January 1, 1863.

But he did want to see to it that loyal slave owners were not expropriated by his emancipation policy. But he couldn’t get the Congress to adopt it. He couldn’t get any Representatives, and people from Kentucky, or Missouri, or the border states to vote for it, and so he failed. This is the message to Congress which ended with those wonderful words, “Gentlemen of the Congress, we cannot escape history. The fiery trial through which we pass will light us down in honor or dishonor to the latest generation. We shall nobly save or meanly lose the last, best hope of Earth.” Well, it failed.

And comparing what happened in England—after all, in England the Parliament in Westminster was making laws for the West Indies. The West Indians didn’t have any representation in the Parliament. The laws were made for them, and they had to go along with it. There was no such power within the Federal government to interfere with slavery, except by limiting the expansion of slavery. And it was Lincoln’s belief—and I think the best economic analysis that we have of the American economy in the antebellum United States indicates—that if the expansion of slavery had been ended, and if it was no longer possible for surplus slaves to be sold from the old states to new territories, that the pressure within the states to adopt programs of emancipation would become great enough to do that."

Paul and DiLorenzo assert that the US Civil war, the costliest war in US history with around 625,000 killed, was unnecessary and avoidable.  Was the US Civil war really necessary?  This is a profound metaphysical question not easily answered.  The original US constitution continued fateful ambiguities regarding both the institution of slavery and the right of secession that contained the seeds of the eventual armed conflict. Seven Confederate states had seceded form the Union before Lincoln even took the oath of office.  It was the Southern attack on Fort Sumter on April 12th 1861 that made the war necessary, forcing Lincoln's hand and rallying the North to the cause of Union.

Lincoln believed that when the original 13 states ratified the US Constitution they formed a nation thereby.  Jeff Davis believed that when the states ratified the Constitution they formed an voluntary alliance somewhat akin to NATO today.  The constitutional case regarding the legitimacy of secession was definitively adjudicated in the case of Grant versus Lee, near the Appamatox courthouse.  

Surrender at Appamatox
It was only after Lincoln that we would recite a pledge of allegiance that said that we live in "one nation, indivisible with liberty and justice for all."

Did Lincoln expand the powers of the federal government and the executive branch?  Of course he did--he defined what it is to be a successful and energetic executive.  This expansion IS fraught with the potential for abuse.  Power still corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.  This is precisely why voters today must be particularly vigilant when selecting our elected officials and particularly our President.

During the Jaffa/DiLorenzo debate of 2002 an audience member asks whether Lincoln violated the Constitution during the US Civil war.  Jaffa responds as follows...

"Well, in the first place, I deny that Lincoln acted unconstitutionally at any time during the Civil War. It was a civil war. There were traitors in the midst of all of the free states. The possibility of recruiting soldiers and keeping them from deserting. There was lots of desertion on both sides of the Civil War, and it just happens that there were more Confederate soldiers executed for desertion than there were Union soldiers. But there were plenty of executions on both sides.

It was a terrible war. The idea that the cost of the war is due to Lincoln is simply absurd. It was a terrible war because the country was deeply divided, and the question of the future of the nation—whether or not it would be based upon principles recognized as principles of individual liberty, or whether the idea of one race dominating another race would be accepted as a means for governance. Let me just read one short statement here that might interest you. “Since the Civil War, in which the Southern States were conquered, against all historical logic and sound sense, the American people have been in a condition of political and popular decay…. The beginnings of a great new social order based on the principle of slavery and inequality were destroyed by that war, and with them also the embryo of a future truly great America.” That has been the position of defenders of the Confederacy from Alexander Stephens through Thomas DiLorenzo. Do you know the man who said that was Adolf Hitler?"  For the full and very interesting debate in which the octogenarian Jaffa trounces DiLorenzo please check out...

Lincoln himself put the matter even more pithily, "the Constitution is not a suicide pact." 

Overlooked by the Paul-bots is the fact that Habeus Corpus was fully restored in 1866.  Nor has been it suspended by any President including FDR during World War II.   Civil war conscription ended at the war's conclusion as well.

Oswald Moseley, British Paulbot!

The lightly-educated Ron Paul is a proponent of peace in much the same way that Oswald Moseley was a proponent of peace during World War II.  Moseley, a veteran of World War I and an English MP, was the founder of the British Union of Fascists (BUF) -- Hitler actually attended his second wedding to Diana Mitford in Berlin at Goebbel's house.  After the outbreak of the Second World War, Moseley agitated for a negotiated peace with Germany.  On May 23 1940, shortly after Churchill became Prime Minister, both Moseley and his wife--in spite of having committed no crime--were interned at Holloway prison for the duration of the war.  Churchill acted just as Lincoln surely would have to protect their respective homelands.

For those who believe that strong federal power is incompatible with liberty I would present the counterexample of the USS Abraham Lincoln -- which I had the privilege to see in the spring of 2011 at Pearl Harbor.  The crew stood on the decks and saluted the fallen heroes of the USS Arizona.  The existence of this nuclear powered vessel is a clear example of appropriate federal power that can be used to protect and preserve the US Constitution and liberty around the world.  For goosebumps check out Whitney Houston singing the Battle Hymn of the republic to the returning Gulf war vets below!

USS Abraham Lincoln
In conclusion, Ron Paul would make an excellent President of the United States -- had we maintained the articles of Confederation!

For DiLorenzo's Revisionist history see...

For Jaffa's works see...

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