'The Real Lincoln'
Thomas DiLorenzo deconstructs 16th president's abolitionist image with Metcalf
Back to the Lincoln Page
Sunday, April 14, 2002
Editor's Note: America's 16th president, Abraham Lincoln, is hailed as the abolisher of slavery in the United States. But Lincoln's reputation as an advocate of racial equality is questioned by author Thomas J. DiLorenzo. An economics professor at Loyola College in Maryland, DiLorenzo's new book "The Real Lincoln: A New Look at Abraham Lincoln, His Agenda, and an Unnecessary War" provides compelling evidence that calls into question Lincoln's commitment to racial equality. DiLorenzo recently discussed his book, which includes a foreword by Walter Williams, with WorldNetDaily's talk-radio host Geoff Metcalf.
Metcalf's daily streaming radio show can be heard on TalkNetDaily weekdays from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. Eastern time.
By Geoff Metcalf
© 2002 WorldNetDaily.com
Q: Since we can't cover everything in the content of this interview, let's start by busting some myths.
Q: Racial equality. What is the deal with Lincoln on racial equality, or did he really care?
A: The story of Lincoln and racial equality is there for anyone who wants to read it. In the Lincoln-Douglas debates, for example, he said, "I have no purpose to introduce political and social equality between the white and black races, and I have never said anything to the contrary." He went on in the same speech in Ottawa, Ill., in 1858 to say that he was not in favor of making voters or jurors of Negroes, nor qualifying them to hold office and not to intermarry with white people. Also, he supported the Illinois constitutional change in the 1840s that prohibited the immigration of black people into the state of Illinois. And his career-long position on the race issue was colonization. He advocated sending every last black person in America back to Haiti, Central America, Africa – anywhere but here. In his eulogy of Henry Clay in 1852, he said, "There is a moral fitness to the idea of returning to Africa her children …" He repeated that in a message to Congress in 1862: "I cannot make it any better known than it already is that I strongly favor colonization." Like you said, that's not what we learned in the history books in school.
Q: Didn't he once say in reference to the Negro that he didn't care? That his primary focus was to preserve the Union?
A: Right. There was a famous letter that he wrote to Horace Greeley, the editor of the New York Tribune. On Aug. 22, 1862, he wrote, "My paramount objective in this struggle is to save the Union and is not either to save or destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it." That was his position. He did not launch a war because of slavery; he launched a war to destroy the secession movement.
Q: When did perception overcome the reality? I mean, there weren't public relations people around back then to create "spin."
A: The old saying goes, the victor always writes the history in war. And we did have an increasing government takeover of the educational system after the war. The public school system was essentially started in New England. It was not that pervasive in the Southern states in 1860, but it was in the later part of the 19th century up to the present time. When Lincoln became a martyr with his assassination, Lincoln biographer David Donald, who was quite a fine scholar in my opinion, said that every politician – even Lincoln's bitter political enemies – started saying that they were the president's closest friends and latched onto his martyrdom. Even the Communist Party USA used to hold Lincoln-Lenin Days rallies in New York City every year.
Q: You have kind of debunked something I have been saying for a long time. People have asked me when the country started to go downhill and when the Framers' model was eviscerated. I always used to say around 1913, with Wilson, but that FDR was the finishing touch. After reading your book, I see I had it wrong. It really started with Lincoln.
A: That's exactly right. That's really what motivated me to write this. I realized that the great breaking point between the old republic of the founders and the mess we are in today was 1865. I can tell you an interesting story. I was giving a talk in Washington, D.C., a few years ago on the optimal size of government. Jack Kemp was in the audience. I was making the argument that I thought the optimal size of government was reached around 1860.
Q: Why 1860?
A: Because that's when we started getting away from the kind of government system that the founding fathers wanted. Jack Kemp, who was in the audience, started booing and hissing so loudly that I had to stop and ask if someone else was scheduled to speak at the same time. Kemp ended up storming out of the room. I took that as a signal that this hits home to some people. It was the breaking point in the republic. Before the war, the only contact the average citizen had with the federal government was mailing a letter, and that was about it. The great wheels of centralization were turning, I argue in "The Real Lincoln," in 1865.
Q: I hadn't seen the real agenda of Lincoln until I read your book. He defined his own politics as "short and sweet, like the old woman's dance." He said he was in favor of a central bank, internal improvement systems and high protective tariffs. What did he mean by "internal improvement systems"?
A: That was always Lincoln's agenda. He was a Whig, and that was the Whig Party agenda. Today, we call "internal improvements" corporate welfare. Lincoln was a very successful trial lawyer, and among his clients were the Illinois Central Railroad, other railroads and some big corporations. For decades the Whigs and Lincoln advocated doling out tax money to corporations for building railroads and canals. Presidents from James Madison on vetoed this, because Madison said he could find no place in the Constitution where you could justify giving any private business taxpayer money. This was a big, ongoing political debate during the last half of the 19th century that was ended at gunpoint when Lincoln was elected president.
Q: Lincoln pushed for high tariffs and bludgeoned the South with this stuff. Was that linked more to the politics of getting reelected, like it is today, or was there something philosophical attached to it?
A: I think the Whig Party was the party of empire. I think the Whigs, as well as the Republican Party, wanted to change government's role as a defender of individual liberty. I don't think the Republican Party was especially interested in the welfare of the black slaves in the South. They wanted the empire to be financed with high tariffs to protect Northern manufacturers, mostly, and Lincoln was a career-long protectionist.
Q: I'd be remiss if I didn't ask you to comment on the Cooper Institute speech that Lincoln gave. Some people claim that speech really launched him into national recognition.
A: It did. He says some things in there that don't sound like the Abe Lincoln we were all taught about in school. He wasn't entirely sympathetic to racial equality, as he wasn't in his whole life. But that speech did launch his political career.
Q: This country was founded in a revolution against England, yet we now believe the myth that secession equals treason. But the Constitution and the Bill of Rights recognize the right to rebel against an oppressive government.
A: The Declaration of Independence was a declaration of secession. I write in the book about how after Thomas Jefferson was elected, the Federalist Party was so upset that for more than 10 years they plotted to secede. The party actually held a secession convention in Hartford, Conn., in 1814. They decided not to secede, but all during that whole saga, no one really questioned the fundamental right of secession. In fact, the leader of the whole movement was Massachusetts Sen. Timothy Pickering. He said that secession was the principle of the revolution.
Q: Even John Quincy Adams, who was a Unionist, said that.
A: I quote John Quincy Adams in my book. All of the founding fathers wanted the Union to thrive. But Jefferson and John Quincy Adams, who were certainly the staunchest Unionists, also said in an 1839 speech about secession that in "dissolving that which can no longer bind, we would have to leave the separated parts to be reunited by the law of political gravitation to the center." In other words, let them secede if they want, and we'll hope that they'll come to their senses and reunite someday. Even the staunchest Unionists, like John Quincy Adams, said things like that, as did Alexander Hamilton. Alexander Hamilton said "to coerce the states is one of the maddest projects that was ever devised."
Q: You also quote de Tocqueville.
A: Yes. Tocqueville, the sage, recognized the Union was formed by the voluntary agreement of the states. He said, "By uniting together, they have not forfeited their nationality nor been reduced to a condition of one and the same people." He went on to say that "if one of the states chooses to withdraw from the compact, it will be difficult to disprove their right of doing so, and the federal government would have no means of maintaining its claims either directly or by force." He understood that there is a right of secession and that the federal government would have no right to force anybody to remain in the Union. In fact, newspapers all throughout the North, right before the Civil War started, recognized that you would really be destroying the Union by forcing it to remain a union at gunpoint, because a coercive union is really not worth much, is it?
Q: Was Lincoln a dictator in your opinion?
A: Even some of the most pro-Lincoln historians have called him a dictator – but a great dictator.
Q: I remember a teacher once told me that the best form of government is an "enlightened despot."
A: I think you could make the case that there have been some enlightened despots that have been better than the Bill Clintons of the world.
A: Even Lincoln's most worshipful biographers call him a dictator at times. And the reason was as soon as he got into office, he launched a military invasion without the consent of Congress, which is unconstitutional; declared martial law; blockaded Southern ports, which is unconstitutional without declaring war; and he suspended the writ of habeas corpus.
Q: Which is really the only thing that most people are aware of, even if they don't know what it meant. But most don't know about his jihad against American citizens.
A: Right. The historians seem to have set the number at 13,000 Northern citizens put in political prison without a warrant, without being charged with anything. The highest estimate I heard was 38,000, but just to be conservative, I stick with 13,000 in my book. No one seems to know with any precision. Those prisoners included dozens, perhaps hundreds, of newspaper editors. The Journal of Commerce in New York City published an article early in the Lincoln administration listing 100 newspapers in the North that were opposed to him. Lincoln ordered the Postmaster General to cease mail delivery of those papers, and that's how papers were delivered in those days. Only a relatively few number of those papers resumed publication, and only after they promised not to criticize Lincoln. Quite a few editors and owners of newspapers were thrown in prison without even being charged.
Q: When Clinton didn't like what the Western Journalism Center and others were publishing, he just sicked an IRS audit on us.
A: We didn't have an IRS at that time. But that's another legacy of Lincoln. The Internal Revenue bureaucracy was created for the first time on the part of the federal government. And it has never shrunk in size since then. You could say the Lincoln administration was the genesis of the IRS, among other things. We had the first income tax during the Lincoln administration.
Q: Was the war he waged against American citizens primarily against Southerners, or was it against anybody who dared to utter anything in opposition of him?
A: All the examples I just mentioned were all Northern citizens, including Frances Key Howard, who was the grandson of Frances Scott Key. He was a newspaper editor who criticized Lincoln. Ironically, he was thrown into military prison at Fort McHenry in Baltimore – the very place where his grandfather wrote "The Star Spangled Banner" – without being charged, without a warrant and just left to languish there for a while. He went on to write a book called "The American Bastille" about his days in the American Bastille. Also, there was a congressman from Ohio named Vallandigham, and he gave some stirring speeches defending the Constitution against all these encroachments upon the Constitution. He was a staunch opponent of protectionist tariffs and a staunch opponent of Lincoln's income tax.
Q: So what happened to Vallandigham?
A: As a result of his speeches, at 2:30 a.m. one day, federal soldiers broke down his door in Dayton, Ohio, snatched him away from his family, threw him in military prison and then eventually deported him out of the country merely for opposing Lincoln. He wasn't calling for secession or treason or anything like that. And he was in a loyal state. He came from the same state that Gen. Grant and Gen. Sherman came from.
Q: Why did Lincoln have such a draconian approach toward tariffs?
A: That was always the keystone of the Whig agenda and the Republican Party agenda. An historian named Richard Bensel wrote a really interesting book called "Yankee Leviathan." I quote him as saying, "The tariff was the keystone of the Republican Party platform of 1860." And remember the other component I mentioned earlier – so-called "internal improvement." They wanted to dish corporate welfare out to Northern corporations, and the money would come from tariff revenues. There was no income tax back then. The tariff was the main source of federal revenue, and that's how they planned to pay for all this.
Q: How many tariff bills did Lincoln actually sign during his administration?
A: Before he actually took office, there was the big Morrill Tariff bill. The average tariff rate had been around 15 percent. Then in 1857, the Republican Party came in with Lincoln having been elected and raised the average rate to 47 percent.
Q: He threatened in his first inaugural address to launch an invasion if they didn't pay it.
A: That's the astonishing thing that most every historian ignores. Consider this: The tariff was the main source of federal revenue, and since the South was so dependent on importing things – they didn't manufacture much – they were paying about 80 percent or more of all federal tariff revenue. They had been complaining for decades that most of the money was being spent up in the North, although the South was paying almost all of it, and that's when the rate was 15 percent. The Republicans came in and said they were going to triple the extent to which the South was taxed and raised the rate to 47 percent. In his first inaugural address, Lincoln said, "It is my duty to collect all the duties and revenues and tariffs and save so that there will be no invasion."
Imagine an American president saying it's his duty to collect the taxes, and as long as you pay the taxes, he will not send the Army down there to shoot you. That's a pretty bold thing. But if you read the first inaugural, it's right there in black and white.
Q: Too many people forget we can thank Lincoln for the first income tax. He handed out a lot of corporate welfare to his railroad buddies. He took us off the gold standard and totally trashed the monetary system. And yet, somehow, this guy is elevated to the status of national icon.
A: As I have said in another article I published on this, no wonder the politicians in Washington have built a huge monument to him and put his face on Mount Rushmore. These things were the birth of big government in America, and that's why there are government monuments everywhere of Abraham Lincoln. You are worshiping the state when you worship the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.
Q: What really happened during so-called "Reconstruction"?
A: In Reconstruction, the Southern economy was obliterated; it was burned out. The first thing that happened was the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, which has caused a lot of headaches in recent decades. The federal government kicked the Southern states out of the Union unless they agreed to vote for the 14th Amendment. Tennessee voted for it. The rest did not. So the federal government said, OK, we're putting you under military dictatorship until you vote for the 14th Amendment.
After a number of years, the other states finally did vote for the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, but at that time, Ohio and New Jersey were so outraged over the tyranny of the Republican Party that they rescinded their votes. So the South then just declared that the 14th Amendment was passed, even though it never did get the constitutionally required number of votes. Essentially, what the Republican Party did was to put its own people in charge of governments everywhere – state and local governments – and they raised tax after tax after tax. They disenfranchised white male Southerners for a number of years, and they registered to vote every black slave they could find, using them to raise taxes.
Q: What happened to the money?
A: Much of it was stolen. It's in the record – a big two-volume book called "The Documentary of Reconstruction" that documents how taxes often just "disappeared." The governor of Louisiana, named Henry Clay Warmouth, was paid $8,000 a year for four years. Somehow, that added up to $1 million after four years, and he retired. That gives you an idea of how the South was "reconstructed."
Q: Is it true that Robert E. Lee once said that if he had any idea how the Republican Party would treat the South, he wouldn't have surrendered at Appomattox?
A: Yes, he did. He said that to the former governor of Texas. Right before Gen. Lee died, he said if he knew the Republican Party would treat the people of the South the way they did, he would have preferred to die in one last battle with his sword drawn and with his own men. The exact quote is, "Governor, if I had foreseen the use that those people designed to make of their victory, there would have been no surrender at Appomattox courthouse. No sir, not by me. Had I foreseen these results of subjugation, I would have preferred to die at Appomattox with my men … my sword in my right hand." That was Robert E. Lee in 1870.
Q: You also have provided me with another epiphany. I frequently have said that when the Framers were forming the republic, Jefferson and Hamilton had this long series of debates. Jefferson was arguing for states' rights, and Hamilton wanted a big federal bureaucracy – like we have now.
Q: I have always been trying to figure out at what point in our history did Jefferson lose? I thought it was inertia building until 1913, and then FDR. But actually, Lincoln should get the credit for defeating Jefferson for Hamilton.
A: One of the main themes of my book is that Abraham Lincoln was the political son of Alexander Hamilton. Before Lincoln, Henry Clay was the heir to the Hamiltonian tradition. Clay died in 1852, and Lincoln took up the Hamiltonian mantle of big centralized government, centralized planning, autocratic leadership. The great debates between the Jeffersonians and the Hamiltonians were ended at gunpoint under the directorship of Abraham Lincoln, in my view. And I think that debate was ended by 1865.
Q: What did Lincoln ever veto during his administration?
A: He only ever vetoed two minor bills. They weren't big tax bills or the conscription law or anything like that; they were minor things. Some people say it was because he was managing the war. He was concentrating totally on the war, and he let Congress handle these things. Yes, he let Congress handle it, but if you look throughout history at the Whigs and the struggle to achieve the goal of the Hamiltonians, they were foiled again and again by Jeffersonians like John Tyler, who took over when William Henry Harrison died after a month in office. Finally, after 30 years, they had their man in the White House, and they controlled the Congress. So my interpretation of this is Lincoln had his people passing all the laws. They put in place subsidies for the railroads and income tax, extraordinarily high tariffs, a federal takeover of the banking system – all these things the Hamiltonians had been fighting for. They finally had monopoly power in politics, and they did it all in the first 18 months of the Lincoln administration. I think that's why he didn't veto anything. He didn't want to veto anything.
Q: You quote another historian I never heard of: Leonard Curry. There was a phrase that struck me as an oxymoron. He was talking of "constitutional scruples."
A: If you look at the history of this debate over so-called "internal improvements," you see that people like Jefferson and Madison were well-aware of what had happened in Europe. Columnists call this system "mercantilism" – the old system that fosters a cozy relationship between business and government. It ends up ripping off the taxpayer and ripping off the consumer for the benefit of special interests like corporations and whoever else. This political battle went on for decades. Leonard Curry wrote a book documenting what happened after Lincoln got in. Curry said there were constitutional arguments made for 70 years against this, but once the Lincoln administration pretty much decimated the Constitution, there were no longer any constitutional scruples – or constitutional arguments – that could be used against this.
Probably the biggest pro-Lincoln historian there is, Mark Neely, wrote a book called "Fate of Liberty." He said, "Even by the 1840s, Lincoln had been exhibiting a gruff and belittling impatience over constitutional argument against his economic agenda."
Q: Tom, I've spent a fair amount of time over the years talking about the evils and dangers of the central bank. Lincoln scored the big one in 1863.
A: 1863 was the National Currency Act.
Q: We had a national bank before Lincoln, but President Jackson got rid of it, right?
A: Yes. Alexander Hamilton, again, was the champion of that. He started the First Bank of the United States.
Q: Well, he was a banker.
A: Yes, but it wasn't a permanent thing. It had to be renewed from time to time. And in the late 1820s, Andrew Jackson let it slide. He was in a big battle with the proponents of central banking, and he let it fade away. For the next 30 years, the Whigs, and then the Republicans, fought a vicious political battle to bring the bank back. But people like Andrew Jackson saw it as an extremely dangerous centralizing influence.
Q: Because it is!
A: It's a federal money monopoly. What they were worried about primarily was using the federal government's ability to print money to create inflation and to play politics with it – to control the politics by printing money.
Q: I forget who first told me this, but smart presidents at a certain point in an election cycle will order the Fed to print up a whole bunch of money. You're the economist …
A: Nowadays, columnists talk about what they call the political business cycle, where politicians, six months before an election, will print money like crazy to spend on all sorts of pork-barrel projects to get themselves reelected. The end result is inflation that we all suffer from. Lincoln finally achieved this. The New York Times, which at the time was all in favor of a federal takeover of the federal money supply, said, "The Legal Tender Act and the National Currency Bill of Lincoln's crystallized a centralization of power such as Hamilton might have eulogized as magnificent."
Q: So it was recognized at the time that Lincoln pulled this off.
A: This was the coup of coups with regard to creating a centralization of power in Washington.
Q: And the second one followed shortly thereafter, which was the income tax.
A: Yes, the first income tax. It was rescinded several years after the war, but it established the precedent. I think the most dangerous precedent during the Lincoln administration, though, was the establishment of an Internal Revenue bureaucracy to collect income taxes and to collect the massive excise taxes that it had imposed throughout the economy. We've been suffering under that ever since. Military conscription was also established for the first time in American history. That's the link to the attack on the Constitution with the suspension of habeas corpus and so forth.
Q: What demonstrated what they could get away with?
A: I quote another historian, Dean Sprague, who very wisely pointed out that the federal government proved for the first time that it could get away with going into Maine or Ohio or South Carolina or anywhere, snatching a man from his family and putting him in prison merely for speaking up against the government. If the government can do that, it can have an income tax, a military conscription; it can do all these things because it proved to politicians it could get away with these things.
Q: That was the dream of the Clinton administration.
A: That's right. That's why to this day, if there is not a real crisis in government, then in government there is what I call a "crisis crisis." Government is constantly trying to create the perception of a crisis, because that is when they grab power like this. I argue in the book that Lincoln showed them the way.
Q: What was the cost of Lincoln's war?
A: The cost in death alone was 620,000 Americans in a population of 30 million. If you standardized that for today's population of about 280 million, that would be about 5.5 million deaths, or more than 100 times the number of Americans who died in Vietnam – and that was in just four years. The Southern economy was destroyed, and the Northern economy took a huge hit, too, because there was a lot of trade between North and South that was suspended during the war. So it was harmful overall to the North but not nearly as much.
Q: You also have an interesting observation in your book about other countries that ended slavery.
A: Every other country in the world in the previous 50 years that ended slavery, including the British Empire and the French and Danish colonies, did it peacefully through compensated emancipation. The British Empire ended slavery in six years, and there was no war involved, no massive deaths. The amount of death is astounding, unimaginable – the equivalent of 5 million men. Part of the cost of that is not only those deaths, but all the contributions to society they would have made and their never-to-be-born progeny. Surely, if citizens at that time had been given the option of doing what they did in England and spend approximately $3 billion, which would have been what it cost the North alone to pay for the war, every single slave could have been given freedom and some land. But Lincoln never presented them with that option.
Q: I know the book is just out, but what has been the reaction? I know you have been writing about Lincoln for some time, but what has been the response in academia?
A: It has been sort of polar. I've had great letters from professors of philosophy and professors of history saying they've always known about some of these things. They're glad I put it all in one spot in this book. And I have also had some hate mail from people who are sort of professional Lincoln idolaters. I've been surprised. We academics pride ourselves in criticizing each other a lot, but criticizing on the basis of facts and logic and argument. But there has been a lot of name-calling and that sort of thing. That tells me I must be hitting a responsive chord, because if my arguments were weak, they could just shoot them down and not have to call me names.
Thomas J. DiLorenzo's book, "The Real Lincoln: A New Look at Abraham Lincoln, His Agenda, and an Unnecessary War," is available at WorldNetDaily's online store, ShopNetDaily.
Visit Geoff Metcalf's archive for previous "Sunday Q&A" interviews.
Geoff Metcalf is a talk-show host for TalkNetDaily.