Commentary by Steve Scroggins, 3/18/07
OK, folks, this is a test of your knowledge of American history. Look briefly below at the hyperlink in the next paragraph—then return here. What was your first reaction? If it was laughter, a guffaw or incredulous bafflement (What!!!???), then perhaps there is hope for you. If your reaction was not immediate rejection of the premise, then you need education to overcome your indoctrination in Lincoln mythology.
Eric Foner, in his essay entitled "Abe Lincoln’s Antiwar Record — How falsified quotations have allowed conservatives to misappropriate Lincoln’s legacy.," (full text is below) is attacking current Republicans (Neocons! NOT true conservatives!) for invoking Lincoln’s name and words to justify the Bush Administration’s abuses of the Bill of Rights and other misdeeds with a war as the pretext.
Republicans should be wary of invoking Lincoln’s words, NOT because Lincoln was anti-war or pro-constitution, but precisely the opposite. In addition to being a tyrant who would violate the Constitution, imprison political opponents, and consign over 600,000 Americans to death in an unnecessary war (maiming millions), Lincoln was a liar and hypocrite.
Lincoln (along with Clay and others in Congress) attacked President Polk for starting war with Mexico on questionable causes, much as current Democrats (and the true conservatives who place principle above party) are criticizing Bush for making war on Iraq for questionable purposes and flawed intelligence.
This same Lincoln, about 16 years later, as a just inaugurated President would conspire with a Navy Captain and his Secretary of State Seward, to deceive and mislead Confederate emissaries sent for the purpose of peacefully resolving the Fort Sumter crisis, and to send in resupply ships and reinforcements to the garrison at Fort Sumter. Lincoln carried out this ruse for the express purpose of evoking a military response from South Carolina and Confederate forces to use as an excuse to make war on the South. This fact is well-documented by the letter Lincoln sent to Captain A. G. Fox after Fort Sumter was reduced.
Confederate President Jefferson Davis devotes an entire chapter to the Sumter affair in his book, "The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government." I recommend that Foner and every American read it.
Confederate and South Carolina units forced the garrison commanded by Major Robert Anderson to surrender by bombarding them into submission. It should be noted that there was no loss of life in the attack and the garrison was allowed to peacefully leave the fort after the surrender. Furthermore, it should be noted that Confederate forces fired on the U.S. ship "Star of the West" some weeks earlier without any formal complaint at all from the U.S. (it was attempting to sneak in supplies). The Confederates knew that they had to reduce the fort BEFORE the reinforcements and war ships arrived, or the loss of life on both sides would much more severe.
Based on a prolonged demonstration of bad faith, the Confederate government knew they could not trust Lincoln or his spokesmen to keep any promises. Seward had repeatedly promised to evacuate Fort Sumter and delayed and strung out the crisis for weeks when it could have been resolved by peaceful negotiation and withdrawal of the garrison. There was no loss of life at Fort Sumter when the Confederates took it by force. That event should not have resulted in war. But Lincoln was looking for an excuse to paint the Southern states as the aggressors.
Lincoln chose war because the War party that elected him did so for the purpose of keeping the Southern states in the union as economic colonies to the industrial north. It was his only means to hold on to power. Their expansionist and nationalist plans depended on keeping the South paying the tariffs (which were 75-80% of all federal tax revenues) for the purpose of expanding the railroads, transportation, and industrial infrastructure of the north via subsidies. That’s why I contend that the most appropriate name for the war is "The War to Preserve Federal Revenues."
In Lincoln’s first inaugural speech, he more or less said that he would enforce the tariff law by any means necessary. Everything else was negotiable.
Following Sumter’s evacuation, when Lincoln called for 75,000 troops to invade the Southern states that he said were "in rebellion," that induced a number of additional states to secede as well (NC, TN, VA, etc.) Their secession had been very doubtful, but the threat of unconstitutional and immoral coercion sealed the deal—they seceded to join the Southern Confederacy.
Actually, the Southern states were not in rebellion. They had followed correct protocol and by state conventions called for the purpose, they elected to withdraw peacefully from the United States and to form their own confederation, the Confederate States of America. There was never any intent to interfere with the government of the United States nor to occupy any territory of the remaining states in the U.S. Thus, the term ‘civil war’ is a ridiculous misnomer.
Obviously, Lincoln’s plans for a hasty war got out of hand and resulted in a crisis he never imagined. But he didn’t back down and he didn’t negotiate for peace, which he easily could have done. Nope, he was elected to keep the federal revenues flowing by any means necessary, and failing that, to prevent Southern independence which would have been a major economic blow to northern ports where their high import tariff would drive European imports to the low-duty Southern ports of Charleston, Savannah, Mobile and New Orleans. There are numerous editorials from Northern newspapers which illustrate this motivation. Click here to view a sampling.
But this above is not the only example of Lincoln’s lies and hypocrisy. There are many others, but I shall supply just one as an illustration.
In 1847, when Lincoln was a U.S. Representative in the House, Lincoln made the following remarks in a speech to the House in the context of the war with Mexico and the declaration of Independence of the Republic of Texas:
"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. This is a most valuable, –a most sacred right–a right, which we hope and believe, is to liberate the world. 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. More than this, a majority of any portion of such people may revolutionize, putting down a minority, intermingled with , or near about them, who may oppose their movement. Such minority, was precisely the case, of the Tories of our own revolution." –Abraham Lincoln, from the Congressional Record, Jan. 12, 1847.
Just 13 years later, Lincoln was singing another tune and claiming with bogus argument that the States did NOT have the right to secede. His argument was logically ridiculous. He claimed that somehow the union came before the states which formed the union by ratifying the Constitution. That’s like saying that a marriage came before the two people who were joined in the marriage.
Lincoln argued in his 1861 Inaugural address that "Perpetuity is implied, if not expressed, in the fundamental law of all national governments." Note that the Framers specifically avoided the use of the words "national" and "perpetual" and struck them from proposed documents. James Madison made it clear that the people, their liberties and their "safety and happiness" were more important than any form of government when he said, "The safety and happiness of society are the objects at which all political institutions must be sacrificed."
James Ronald Kennedy and Walter Donald Kennedy, in their book Was Jefferson Davis Right? expressed scorn for Lincoln’s ridiculous proposition that the union was perpertual.
"From his statement, it appears that Lincoln viewed goverment as having some form of everlasting life. Adolph Hitler predicted a mere one thousand years duration for his Third Reich; Abraham Lincoln, on the other hand, contemplated his government lasting forever."
Stated plainly, the Framers never intended for the government to be perpetual. In fact, they viewed occasional government "reform" to be healthy. Remember, from the Declaration of Independence, "…it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it and to institute new Government…." Abraham Lincoln himself expressed the concept very clearly and convincingly in his speech to Congress in 1847 (see above). From this, we can only conclude that Lincoln understood very clearly that secession was a right. Any 1861 arguments to the contrary were sophistry.
Suffice it to say that Lincoln’s words were not trustworthy and often did not match his actions. The well-documented facts of history make it all the more outrageous that propaganda and mythology combine to paint Lincoln as "Honest Abe" and "the Great Emancipator." The Lincoln Mythology is so ingrained that many Americans believe he was a "great president."
Foner and many other Americans need a history lesson. Lincoln was no poster-boy for peace nor for upholding the Constitution. Thomas DiLorenzo, in his essay entitled "The Unknown Lincoln," expresses the point this way:
"It is a testament to the effectiveness of 140 years of government propaganda that a 308 page book filled with true facts about Lincoln could be entitled "The Lincoln No One Knows." It is not a matter of a poorly-performing government education system but quite the opposite: The government schools have performed superbly in indoctrinating generations of American school children with a pack of lies, myths, omissions, and falsehoods about Lincoln and his war of conquest. As Richard Bensel wrote in Yankee Leviathan, any study of the American state should begin in 1865. The power of any state ultimately rests upon a series of government-sponsored myths, and there is none more prominent than the Lincoln Myth.
Foner contends that Republicans are wrong to compare Bush to Lincoln—-because Foner thinks Lincoln was a hero. Foner actually uses the word "conservative"…so clearly he doesn’t understand that there is a difference between a ‘conservative’ and a ‘Republican.’ I contend that it’s a very fair comparison to compare Lincoln and Bush. Both flagrantly abuse their power and stomp on the Constitution and the Bill of Rights and both used the crisis of war as their pretext for doing so. I view Bush as just another echo of Lincoln’s tyranny, an expression of the true legacy of Lincoln.
Abe Lincoln’s Antiwar Record
How falsified quotations have allowed conservatives to misappropriate Lincoln’s legacy
By Eric Foner, The Nation
Posted on March 7, 2007, Printed on March 16, 2007
An old marketing adage states that no product exists whose sales cannot be improved by associating it with Abraham Lincoln. The same seems to be true in politics. As Congress debated resolutions condemning the escalation of the Iraq War, the remaining supporters of George W. Bush’s Iraq policy invoked Lincoln to tar the war’s opponents with the brush of treason. But this reflects a complete misunderstanding of Lincoln’s record.
The latest example of the misuse of Lincoln came in a February 13 article in the Washington Times by conservative writer Frank Gaffney. Gaffney quoted Lincoln as declaring that wartime Congressmen who "damage morale and undermine the military" should be "exiled or hanged." Glenn Greenwald, on Salon, quickly pointed out that the "quote," which has circulated for the past few years in conservative circles, is a fabrication. (Conservative use of invented Lincoln statements is nothing new — Ronald Reagan used a series of them in a speech to the 1992 Republican National Convention. But today, when Lincoln’s entire works are online and easily searchable, there is no possible excuse for invoking fraudulent quotations.)
Greenwald did not point out that Lincoln’s record as a member of Congress during the Mexican War utterly refutes the conservative effort to appropriate his legacy. Lincoln was elected to the House of Representatives in 1846, shortly after President James Polk invaded Mexico when that country refused his demand to sell California to the United States. Polk falsely claimed that he was responding to a Mexican invasion.
Shortly before Lincoln’s term in Congress began, he attended a speech in Lexington, Kentucky, by his political idol Senator Henry Clay. "This is no war of defense," Clay declared in a blistering attack on Polk, "but one of unnecessary and offensive aggression." A month later, Lincoln introduced a set of resolutions challenging Polk’s contention that Mexico had shed American blood on American soil and voted for a statement, approved by the House, that declared the war "unnecessarily and unconstitutionally begun by the President."
Clay and Lincoln objected as strenuously as any member of Congress today to a war launched by a President on fabricated grounds. When Lincoln’s law partner, William Herndon, defended the President’s right to invade another country if he considered it threatening, Lincoln sent a devastating reply. Herndon, he claimed, would allow a President "to make war at pleasure. Study to see if you can fix any limit to his power in this respect. … If, to-day, he should choose to say he thinks it necessary to invade Canada, to prevent the British from invading us, how could you stop him?" The Constitution, he went on, gave the "war-making power" to Congress precisely to prevent Presidents from starting wars while "pretending … that the good of the people was the object."
Like Bush, Lincoln spoke of the United States as a beacon of liberty, an example to the world of the virtues of democracy. But he rejected the idea of American aggression in the name of freedom. He included in an 1859 speech a biting satire of "Young America," a group of writers and politicians who glorified territorial aggrandizement. Young America, he remarked, "owns a large part of the world, by right of possessing it; and all the rest by right of wanting it, and intending to have it. … He is a great friend of humanity; and his desire for land is not selfish, but merely an impulse to extend the area of freedom. He is very anxious to fight for the liberation of enslaved nations and colonies, provided, always, they have land." Substitute "oil" for "land" and the statement seems eerily relevant in the early twenty-first century.
Conservatives should think twice before invoking Lincoln’s words, real or invented, in the cause of the Iraq War and before equating condemnations of Bush’s policies and usurpations with treason.
© 2007 Independent Media Institute.
View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/story/48374/
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