Let’s put myths to rest

BALTIMORE–There is a good reason why the Lincoln legend has taken

on such mythical proportions: Much of what Americans think they

know about Abraham Lincoln is in fact a myth. Let’s consider a few

of the more prominent ones.

Myth #1: Lincoln invaded the South to free the slaves. Ending

slavery and racial injustice is not why the North invaded. As Lincoln

wrote to Horace Greeley on Aug. 22, 1862: “My paramount object in

this struggle is to save the Union, and it is not either to save

or destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any

slave, I would do it”

Congress announced to the world on July 22, 1861, that the purpose

of the war was not “interfering with the rights or established institutions

of those states” (i.e., slavery), but to preserve the Union “with

the rights of the several states unimpaired.” At the time of Fort

Sumter (April 12, 1861) only the seven states of the deep South

had seceded. There were more slaves in the Union than out of it,

and Lincoln had no plans to free any of them.

The North invaded to regain lost federal tax revenue by keeping

the Union intact by force of arms. In his First Inaugural Lincoln

promised to invade any state that failed to collect “the duties

and imposts,” and he kept his promise. On April 19, 1861, the reason

Lincoln gave for his naval blockade of the Southern ports was that

“the collection of the revenue cannot be effectually executed” in

the states that had seceded.

Myth #2: Lincoln’s war saved the Union. The war may have saved

the Union geographically, but it destroyed it philosophically by

destroying its voluntary nature. In the Articles of Confederation,

the Declaration of Independence, and the Constitution, the states

described themselves as “free and independent.” They delegated certain

powers to the federal government they had created as their agent

but retained sovereignty for themselves.

This was widely understood in the North as well as the South in

1861. As the Brooklyn Daily Eagle editorialized on Nov. 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will is withdrawn on either part, their Union is gone.” The New

York Journal of Commerce concurred, writing on Jan. 12, 1861, that

a coerced Union changes the nature of government from “a voluntary

one, in which the people are sovereigns, to a despotism where one

part of the people are slaves.” The majority of Northern newspapers


Myth #3: Lincoln championed equality and natural rights. His words

and, more important, his actions, repudiate this myth. “I have no

purpose to introduce political and social equality between the white

and black races,” he announced in his Aug. 21, 1858, debate with

Stephen Douglas. “I, as well as Judge Douglas, am in favor of the

race to which I belong having the superior position.” And, “Free

them [slaves] and make them politically and socially our equals?

My own feelings will not admit of this. We cannot, then, make them


In Springfield, Ill., on July 17, 1858, Lincoln said, “What I

would most desire would be the separation of the white and black

races.” On Sept. 18, 1858, in Charleston, Ill., he said: “I will

to the very last stand by the law of this state, which forbids the

marrying of white people with Negroes.”

Lincoln supported the Illinois Constitution, which prohibited

the emigration of black people into the state, and he also supported

the Illinois Black Codes, which deprived the small number of free

blacks in the state any semblance of citizenship. He strongly supported

the Fugitive Slave Act, which compelled Northern states to capture

runaway slaves and return them to their owners. In his First Inaugural

he pledged his support of a proposed constitutional amendment that

had just passed the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives

that would have prohibited the federal government from ever having

the power “to abolish or interfere, within any State, with the domestic

institutions thereof, including that of persons held to labor or

service by the laws of said State.” In his First Inaugural Lincoln

advocated making this amendment “express and irrevocable.”

Lincoln was also a lifelong advocate of “colonization” or shipping

all black people to Africa, Central America, Haiti–anywhere but

here. “I cannot make it better known than it already is,” he stated

in a Dec. 1, 1862, Message to Congress, “that I strongly favor colonization.”

To Lincoln, blacks could be “equal,” but not in the United States.

Myth #4: Lincoln was a defender of the Constitution. Quite the

contrary: Generations of historians have labeled Lincoln a “dictator.”

“Dictatorship played a decisive role in the North’s successful effort

to maintain the Union by force of arms,” wrote Clinton Rossiter

in “Constitutional Dictatorship.” And, “Lincoln’s amazing disregard

for the Constitution was considered by nobody as legal.”

James G. Randall documented Lincoln’s assault on the Constitution

in “Constitutional Problems Under Lincoln.” Lincoln unconstitutionally

suspended the writ of habeas corpus and had the military arrest

tens of thousands of Northern political opponents, including dozens

of newspaper editors and owners. Some 300 newspapers were shut down

and all telegraph communication was censored. Northern elections

were rigged; Democratic voters were intimidated by federal soldiers;

hundreds of New York City draft protesters were gunned down by federal

troops; West Virginia was unconstitutionally carved out of Virginia;

and the most outspoken member of the Democratic Party opposition,

Congressman Clement L. Vallandigham of Ohio, was deported. Duly

elected members of the Maryland legislature were imprisoned, as

was the mayor of Baltimore and Congressman Henry May. The border

states were systematically disarmed in violation of the Second Amendment

and private property was confiscated. Lincoln’s apologists say he

had “to destroy the Constitution in order to save it.”

Myth #5: Lincoln was a “great humanitarian” who had “malice toward

none.” This is inconsistent with the fact that Lincoln micromanaged

the waging of war on civilians, including the burning of entire

towns populated only by civilians; massive looting and plundering;

rape; and the execution of civilians (See Mark Grimsley, “The Hard

Hand of War”). Pro-Lincoln historian Lee Kennett wrote in “Marching

Through Georgia” that, had the Confederates somehow won, they would

have been justified in “stringing up President Lincoln and the entire

Union high command” as war criminals.

Myth #6: War was necessary to end slavery. During the 19th century,

dozens of countries, including the British and Spanish empires,

ended slavery peacefully through compensated emancipation. Among

such countries were Argentina, Colombia, Chile, all of Central America,

Mexico, Bolivia, Uruguay, the French and Danish colonies, Ecuador,

Peru, and Venezuela. (Lincoln did propose compensated emancipation

for the border states, but coupled his proposal with deportation

of any freed slaves. He failed to see it through, however). Only

in America was war associated with emancipation.

In sum, the power of the state ultimately rests upon a series

of myths about the alleged munificence of our rulers. Nothing serves

this purpose better than the Lincoln myth. This should be kept in

mind by all who visit the new Lincoln statue in Richmond.

THOMAS DILORENZO is the author of “The Real Lincoln: A New Look

at Abraham Lincoln, His Agenda, and an Unnecessary War” and a professor

of economics at Loyola College in Baltimore.

Date published: 5/4/2003

copyright © 2003, The Free Lance-Star Publishing Co. of Fredericksburg,


Originally Published at: http://fredericksburg.com/News/FLS/2003/052003/05042003/961921