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Abraham Lincoln's negative legacy

By Scott Tibbs, January 17th, 2005

A new book raises the question of whether Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States, was homosexual. This will certainly raise questions about Lincoln's legacy. I will leave questions about Lincoln's sexual preference to others. What I am more concerned about is an honest look at the legacy of a man often misunderstood.

When John Wilkes Booth assassinated Abraham Lincoln, he ensured that historians would look on Lincoln in a more favorable light than if he had not been murdered. I am convinced that if Lincoln had survived to finish his presidency, he would be viewed in a harsher light than he is today.

The most simplistic view of Abraham Lincoln is that he went to war with the Confederate States of America to free the slaves in the South. He is seen as "The Great Emancipator", and Republicans cling to the label of "The party of Lincoln". But a more in-depth study of history reveals that Lincoln was not the hero many Americans see him as after all. It was Abraham Lincoln, after all, who said this:

I will say, then, that I am not, nor have ever been, in favor of bringing about in anyway the social and political equality of the white and black races -- that I am not, nor have ever been, in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races... I, as much as any other man, am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race.

Abraham Lincoln did not invade the South, setting off the War for Southern Independence, because he wanted to free the slaves. Lincoln said that what he did with regard to slavery was dependent only on whether it would help keep the Union together. Indeed, his "Emancipation Proclamation" did not free slaves in lands under Northern control; it only applied to slaves in lands controlled by the Confederacy. This was done for two reasons. Lincoln hoped to gain political favor with Europe and he hoped to ferment a slave rebellion in Confederate-controlled territory.

In addition, the states of the South did not leave the Union to preserve slavery. The Constitution of the Confederate States of America contained a provision prohibiting importation of slaves from anywhere other than slave-holding states of the United States. Slavery was dying, and both the North and the South knew it. Joe Sobran writes: "By 1850 it was clear that slavery was doomed throughout the Christian world." As it was, fewer than 5% of Southerners owned slaves.

The question was whether there would be gradual emancipation (as was happening, slowly, in the South before the war) or whether it would be abolished in one fell swoop. Even if the war was fought over slavery (which it wasn't) was it worth it? Did Americans have to fight the most destructive war in our history, costing more lives than any other war before or since and devastating the South, to end slavery? Or could slavery have been ended, as it was nearly everywhere else, by gradual emancipation?

Abraham Lincoln was, more so than Franklin Roosevelt, the father of big government in America. In The Real Lincoln, the author details Lincoln's adherence to mercantilism, and his support for what today is known as "corporate welfare". For More, read a column by Walter Williams at Townhall.

More disturbing is Lincoln's disregard for the Constitutional liberties of not only Southerners, but Northerners as well. Lincoln jailed without a trial hundreds of people who publicly disagreed with his policies. Some of those jailed were legislators in Maryland who had disagreed with Lincoln's policies. As we consider whether to expand or roll back the "Patriot Act", it is important to look back on Lincoln's disregard for free speech and free thought, as well as his disregard for the right to a fair trial.

Lincoln's disregard for Constitutional liberties expanded to other Radical Republicans after the war. Jefferson Davis, the first and only President of the Confederate States of America, was held without a trial for years before finally being released. Davis was also mistreated by his Northern captors.

Who started the War for Southern Independence? Some say it was when Southerners fired on Fort Sumter. However, Lincoln broke an agreement that the fort would not be replenished. The South knew that the North was hostile to her independence, and having a Northern military institution in Southern territory was a security risk. Lincoln baited the South into firing on Fort Sumter, and used that incident to justify an invasion.

And it was a destructive war. At the end of the war, General Sherman led his troops on a "march to the sea" that is an example of modern war crimes. Northern soldiers looted and plundered the South, causing a tremendous amount of destruction. Ultimately, Lincoln invaded the South to force them to remain in the Union, against their will.

Some would say the question of secession was "settled" by the war. I would disagree. Whether or not states had a right to leave the union is a question of Constitutional authority, and what limits exist on federal and state powers. Jefferson Davis summed it up well when he said "a question settled by violence, or in disregard of law, must remain unsettled forever."