An almost palpable rumble passed through the audience. Even some of the spectators who were still under the spell of the public school fairy tale about Lincoln seemed stunned by the speaker’s claim that we still live in great freedom today. Those who knew more facts about Lincoln wondered how someone who claimed to have a knowledge of history could equate forcing central government on a people by rampant slaughter with anything to do with fighting for freedom.
And now you know my bias. About 6 years ago, my thinking benefitted from reading Thomas Sowell’s The Quest for Cosmic Justice. I realized I had finally tapped into a logical evaluation of current reality. I began to read from a variety of sources, including the Foundation for Economic Education. I had previously been frustrated by pro-government material, knowing that it wasn’t quite right, but not being able to explain why or how. But now I could understand the distortions and manipulation.
Then, last year, I read Thomas DiLorenzo’s book, How Capitalism Saved America. My daughter, a high school senior being educated at home, read many excerpts from another book of his, The Real Lincoln, out loud as she studied it. My public school induced brain fog continued to dispel. When we heard about the debate, we were both prepared to listen intelligently. I wondered how anyone could possibly present a solid argument that Lincoln was a good man or president.
The presentation of this particular night followed the modern debate format. It was very controlled, giving limited opportunity for addressing the opponent’s claims. This is one reason I rarely watch televised political debates. The politicians don’t say anything different than their previously marketed, diffuse promises. They often avoid directly answering the questions, and they frequently rely on dramatic grandstanding. Talking about who “won” is misleading, at best. There is so little in the way of facts and honesty in the show. A real discussion would be refreshing, but is admittedly unlikely.
This played a part in Tuesday night’s forum in Boise, Idaho. The topic was “Lincoln: Friend or Foe of Freedom.” The moderator was Austin Hill, a local radio figure who discusses current issues. From what I have heard on the radio, I was sure he would be a good host, which he was.
The pro-Lincoln representative was a former Lt. Governor of Idaho, David LeRoy. We are told that because he held this position of government that we are required to give him the ongoing reverence of calling him Governor. You might as well tell me that I am required to bow to the king. Mr. LeRoy was a politician from the moment he walked on the stage. His background that might make us respect his input on the subject was unclear, but he did seem to have some books on sale after the event.
The man who would make the case against Lincoln was Thomas DiLorenzo, a professor of economics at Loyola University Maryland. As mentioned already, he has studied the history of Lincoln extensively, which led to writing at least 2 books about it. He came across as confident, but without any pretension. That is, there was no air that he had something to prove or that he was ever ruffled by the proceedings. He was simply there to give people a chance to hear the facts.
Each speaker was given 15 minutes to sway the audience toward his evaluation of Lincoln. Mr. DiLorenzo went first. He spoke swiftly and clearly, stating facts and resource references as someone who had explored the possibilities in depth. He wove in relevant facts about economic affects, using multiple eye-witness accounts of abuse of presidential power. In summary, he presented evidence that Lincoln not only didn’t care about slaves being slaves, but considered himself superiour to those thought of as “negro.” The war was fought, from Lincoln’s perspective, as a matter of imposing central federal control and taxes on the southern states. If those states refused to voluntarily acquiesce to economic bleeding and sharp curtailing of their freedom of self-determination, he was happy to literally bleed and bludgeon them into submission.
Mr. LeRoy completely ignored or made excuses for these verifiable historical facts. This isn’t terribly surprising coming from a politician, the like of which generally think there are all kinds of good reasons to force “citizens” to bend to the will of the government for the “good of all” as they see it. He began his 15 minutes with a display of ancient slave shackles, coming across as condescending to the audience, like we might not have known that slavery is a horrible thing. He also snidely commented that Mr. DiLorenzo must be an advocate of slavery.
His argument hinged on the states not being allowed to secede and war being the only sure way of erradicating slavery. With this premise, he said the states were bound to the Union (which I will note, they had entered voluntarily more as a coalition than putting themselves under authority), and so any force to make them stay was justifiable. However, he stated we “can’t just let people go around deciding on their own government on a daily basis,” which is not a word for word quote, but definitely captures the gist of his statement. Why he gets to decide how often people can choose their government, is beyond me. His statements also seem at odds with the Declaration of Independence, which encourages revolt against any form of authoritarian government.
He maintained, as is commonly done, that the seceding states were only breaking away in order to preserve slavery. However, a reading of their Confederate Constitution reveals that slavery ownership is not mentioned until well down in the document. There is mention of how slaves were counted in a census, but it is not until guaranteeing fairness in taxation, inhibiting preferrential treatment of any industry, and prohibiting any further imporation of “Negroes,” that the concept of slave ownership is mentioned down in Article IV, Section 2. Here it is in the context of keeping property laws uniform across the states being joined in government. The language of that section, combined with the methods of making ammendments in Article V, Section 1, imply that there were significant other reasons for seceding. Since slavery was still present to some degree in many of the northern United States, and “negreos” were even discriminated against by law, this mention does not seem to stand out for the time period. For someone who kept trying to use the word “presentism,” as he accused Mr. DiLorenzo of doing by holding Lincoln to morals of today, it is significant that Mr. LeRoy left out reference to northern attitudes toward “negroes.” It is also noteworthy that in what are termed the “ordinances of secession,” only a couple of states describe themselves as “slave holding.” Most of them simply say they no longer want to be part of the United States.
Now, before you go yelling at me about people not being property, let me refer you to my earlier statement that slavery is horrible. As Mr. DiLorenzo replied at one point, criticizing Lincoln does not equal agreeing with the Confederacy. Similarly, noting the context and emphasis of ideas does not make one pro-slavery. The point is that slavery was not central in the documents. In fact, slavery was acceptable to many in the north, where Lincoln was making his own attempts to make it a more permanent fact of life. Any effort of the southern states to do this was not unique.
All of the ways that Lincoln manipulated the economy, silenced dissenters, and generally ruled by terror still happened whether or not the southern states had their own faults. In fact, the whole conflict could be seen as a power struggle, with the common man caught in the middle, sometimes convinced that he was fighting “for himself” when he was really just fighting about who would have power over him. Lincoln just ended up on top of the bloody heap.
The fact that the south was building up a a force and was actually the first to fire a shot in what is considered the official war, was made much of by Mr. LeRoy. This is a very limited view of any conflict. If a visitor in your home barricades himself behind the couch and points a gun at your family, you might go get your gun and shoot him first! Mr.LeRoy neglected to mention that the forces commanded by Lincoln were already set up in forts in the south and had their “military” gathered.
Another contention of Mr. LeRoy’s was that no matter what [Lincoln did], it all had to happen to get rid of slavery. He said Lincoln offered peaceful solutions. Mr. DiLorenzo cited evidence that these attempts were late and half-hearted at best. There is stronger evidence that Lincoln had no interest in freeing the slaves for their own benefit. Mr. LeRoy said southern slave owners were stubborn and brought the war on themselves. Mr. DiLorenzo pointed out that a very large percentage of slaves were freed around the world (including in the northern colonies) by non-violent and economically sound programs. Mr. LeRoy quoted some noble sounding speeches of Lincoln as evidence of character. Mr. DiLorenzo gave example after example of much less noble words and actions that are conveniently ignored.
It is disappointing that the effects of slavery on an economy were never brought up in the debate. Many times, people make the claim that the economy of the south “relied on” slave labor, implying that it was best for them so they needed to be shaken from it. In Basic Economics, Thomas Sowell shows how any form of slavery or discrimination will weaken a business in an economy with free trade practices. True competition leads to the demise of businesses that would cling to such prejudices. Understanding this should cause people to examine Lincoln from yet another vantage. It means that he was at best an ignorant, ineffective leader who didn’t understand economic realities. If he wan’t an outright foe, he was at least a fool.
Possibly, some people view all of this as “just history,” so why are we debating it anyway? The reason is that Lincoln’s policies and war are still impacting us today. Discovering what really went on illuminates how our government wields propaganda and distorts reality. The Lincoln story has been used for years to engender awe and loyalty to our political system (not truly the original one, though it is mentioned when it is convenient). It has been used to help us “realize” how wonderful and compassionate our government is, saving us from ourselves and each other. Once a person sees that this “beloved” figure was another corrupt politician, trying to feed the “public” purse so that he could work on pet projects, while giving special favors to some, it is not so surprising to become aware that he would kill to consolidate power. A knowledgeable people are less susceptible to political manipulation and more likely to push back against tyranny.
So, who won the debate? The only people who can win or lose in all of this are you and me. We are winners if we are free, taking advantage of that for positive opportunity. We are losers if we continue down a path of believing that our government “cares” for us by regulating our lives, taking our money to force services upon us, and letting us die in battle for them as they flex their muscle against other governments. If we are losers, we must ask, “Who are the slaves now?”
I would love to hear what you thought of the debate. I just ask that you keep it friendly. :-)