A Summary of: The Real Lincoln: A New Look at Abraham Lincoln, His Agenda and an Unnecessary War
by Thomas J. DiLorenzo
Compiled and Edited by
Dr. Jimmy T. (Gunny) LaBaume
Chapter 10: The Costs of Lincoln’s War
As Lincoln clearly said in his First Inaugural Address, he did not invade the South to free the slaves. In fact, Republicans were in favor of Southern slavery because they feared emancipated slaves living in their own northern States. Furthermore, there was only one reason for their opposition to the extension of slavery into the new territories—to preserve the territories as the exclusive domain of the white race. Another reason was to avoid further inflation of Southern representation in Congress.
The reason Lincoln gave for his invasion was to “save the Union.” In other words, he was willing to use military force to destroy federalism and the states’ rights doctrine that frustrated politicians who wanted a larger and more centralized state. Their major opposition for 70 years had come mostly from Southerners. The war would end this constitutional logjam which was the real reason Lincoln had to invade the South and rebuff all overtures to peaceably end the dispute. He believed that the war would last only a few months—probably the biggest political miscalculation in American history.
Lincoln adopted Daniel Webster’s novel theory that the union created the states—a theory with no factual basis whatsoever. None the less, the bloodiest war in human history was waged to “prove” it. This awful war killed a total of approximately 620,000 young men—the modern day equivalent of about 5 million. In four years it killed nearly a hundred times the number of the 10 year Vietnam war. These numbers include one fourth of the Southern white males between 20 and 40 years of age. Jeffrey Hummel estimated that more than 50,000 Southern civilians were killed—a figure that includes thousands of slaves. In addition, the war maimed thousands for life. It destroyed the Southern economy, Two thirds of Southern wealth was either destroyed or stolen.
Industries that receive military contracts always prosper from war. But, the taxes that are used to pay for this military material depress other areas of the economy. So, the war harmed the North as well. Overall, it destroyed at least 5 years of wealth accumulation. However, there is an even larger hidden (and incalculable) cost—the contributions to society that all those men and their never-to-be-born offspring would have made.
From the founding, American politics had consisted of two large camps: the Hamiltonians (who wanted a highly centralized state) and the Jeffersonians (who favored a decentralized government constrained by states rights.) In other words, states’ rights was an integral part of the federal system that the founding fathers created. Sadly, the Hamiltonians finally won the argument by force of arms. The mercantilist American System was imposed on the country literally at gunpoint.
Modern historians besmirch the Jeffersonian idea of states’ rights. A prime example is The Myth of the Lost Cause and Civil War History by Gary Gallagher and Alan Nolan (editors). The book’s premise is that states’ rights doctrine was not based in history but was fabricated after the war by disgruntled Confederates. However, the only “evidence” offered is a few quotes from Lincoln himself. He does this so he can claim that slavery was the sole cause of the war—in this case choosing to completely ignore Lincoln ‘s words on that issue. In his chapter in the book Lloyd Hunter dismisses actual history as a “myth” because he wanted to proclaim that there was never any such thing as a right of secession. He concludes: the “mythmakers in gray” fabricated another falsehood—that the “Constitution of 1787 had been a compact among equally sovereign states.” In other words, it is obviously those who deny that states’ rights and federalism had anything to do with the war that are spreading untruths and distorting history.
Forrest McDonald was the National Endowment for the Humanities’ 16th Jefferson Lecturer—the nation’s highest honor in the humanities. McDonald catalogs the history of states’ rights in his book, States’ Rights and the Union . The fact that Gallagher et al are obviously unfamiliar with McDonald’s work speaks volumes about their shoddy scholarship. The notion that states’ rights doctrine was invented out of thin air should not be taken seriously.
There is no doubt but what Lincoln’s (and the Republican) cause was centralized government and the pursuit of empire because they said it over and over. And, simply stated, they waged a war to make sure their cause prevailed over the cause of limited constitutional government.
- The Death of Federalism
Although its significance is lost on most Americans, the destruction of states’ rights was probably the biggest cost of Lincoln’s war. It was important because the people, as citizens of their states, would no longer be sovereign. The federal government would become master rather than servant.
The doctrine of states’ rights is not just unique to the South. It is a universally acknowledged check on the arbitrary powers of the central state. But unfortunately, it no longer exists. It was destroyed by Lincoln’s war.
The founding fathers believed that states’ rights were the “last best bulwark” of constitutional liberty. It is a question of the sovereignty of the people. Every political community must have a sovereign or final authority on political matters. In the united States , the people are said to be sovereign. As Professor Wilson explains: “The whole of the Constitution rests upon its acceptance by the people acting through their states…The sovereign power resides, ultimately, in the people of the states…states’ rights is the American government, however much in abeyance its practice may have become.”
The only real alternative is to hand sovereignty over to the “black-robed deities of the Court” (as Calhoun called them) who tell us what orders we must obey, no matter how nonsensical or unpopular.
James Madison said that the Constitution ”received all the authority which it possesses” at the state conventions. In other words, the father of the Constitution believed that the Constitution received all of its authority from the sovereign states and nowhere else.
The whole reason for federalism is the fact that the federal government will never check its own power. There is no check unless state sovereignty exists and state sovereignty is meaningless without the right of secession. Thus Lincoln ‘s war, by destroying the right of secession, also destroyed the last check on the potentially tyrannical powers of the central state.
As General Lee wrote in a letter to Lord Action, ”…the rights and authority reserved to the states and to the people…are…the…safeguard to the continuance of a free government…whereas the consolidation of the states into one vast republic, sure to be aggressive abroad and despotic at home, will be the certain precursor of …ruin.”
If by “union” one means a voluntary confederation of states, Lincoln was far from “saving” it. To the contrary, he actually destroyed it. Forcing states to remain in the union at gunpoint defeats the whole purpose of having a union in the first place.
Lincoln transformed the American government from a constitutional republic to a consolidated empire. And, just as Lee predicted, it quickly became more and more despotic at home and adventurous abroad. For example: As soon as the war ended, Grant planned an invasion of Mexico and the government began agitating England. As president, Grant proposed annexing Santo Domingo and waged a campaign of ethnic genocide against the Plains Indian for the benefit of the railroad industry.
The Lincolnian spirit of conquest, subjugation and imperialism was evident when William McKinley took over the Philippines and slaughtered 3,000 Filipinos. As a consequence of the Spanish-American War, Spain ceded Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippine Islands.
Furthermore, Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson would invoke Lincoln’s name as they unabashedly advocated wars of empire and “righteousness.” American foreign policy was overturned by Lincoln’s precedents. George Washington would be shocked to know that the uS government is now commonly called “the world’s policeman.”
Up until 1865 there had been an ongoing debate over who would be the final arbiter of what was or was not constitutional. Would it be the sovereign states or the federal judiciary? Lincoln’s war ended that debate. The death of federalism resulted in the federal judiciary becoming the final arbiter of constitutional interpretation.
Right up to the present day, advocates of ever-greater governmental powers continue to invoke the name of Lincoln. His “disregard for constitutional liberties opened the door to the whole array of unconstitutional government interventions that form the modern Leviathan state Americans labor under today.”
Many academics agree on the constitutionally issue but never-the-less praise the outcome. This is because they want the purpose of the government to be the pursuit of “egalitarianism” (i.e. socialism), not the defense of liberty.
- What if the South Had Been Allowed to Leave in Peace?
Had the South been permitted to go in peace, democracy would have continued to thrive in both nations. Secession would have tempered the imperialistic proclivities of the central state. The federal government would have been forced to moderate its high-tariff policies and slow or abandon its quest for empire. Commercial relationships between the two nations would have continued. After a few years, reasons to form a union would likely have become more appealing and the union might have been reunited.
After that, with secession a genuine threat, the federal government would have stuck closer to the constitution. The threat of peaceful secession would have had the effect of checking its imperialistic tendencies and large tax increases. There may have never been a Spanish-American War or a president like Woodrow Wilson eager to involve Americans in a foreign war. If America had not intervened in World War I, the monarchies involved would likely have worked out a peace that would not have been as punishing on Germany as the Versailles treaty—which actually led to the rise of the Nazi Party.
Furthermore, the Confederate Constitution explicitly outlawed protectionist tariffs and internal improvement subsidies and eliminated the general welfare clause of the uS constitution. This would have made for a much smaller government with a traditionally minimal role in economic policy which, in turn, would have been more conductive to economic growth than the Northern mercantilist state. Due to the elimination of the general welfare clause, thousands of special-interest expenditures would have been avoided.
The Confederate Constituting also required a 2/3 majority vote for all congressional appropriations; limited the president to one, 6 year term and gave him the line-item veto; and allowed state legislatures, as well as the House of Representatives, to impeach federal officials.
All of these things would have helped to keep the federal government in check. With a smaller, more efficient government to the south, the uS government would have been forced to compete by sticking closer to the original intent of the uS Constitution. Thus, the Leviathan state would have been indefinitely delayed or perhaps never have come into existence at all.
Undoubtedly, the abolition of slavery was an unequivocal good. However, the way it was done could not have possibly been more decisive.
Dozens of countries ended slavery peacefully. Only the united States made it an issue of war (after 18 months of war). Just the monetary cost of the war would have been enough to purchase the freedom of every slave in the South and give each of them 40 acres and a mule.
Northerners feared emancipation because it might have meant that the freed blacks would have come to live among them. During Reconstruction, Republicans did all they could to keep ex-slaves in the South. They were not welcomed in the North.
Furthermore, political support for slavery was breaking down by 1860 due to the Enlightenment philosophy of freedom and recognition that it was profoundly contradicted by slavery. Support for the Fugitive Slave Law was waning just as was support for the state and local laws that artificially propped up slavery. Slavery was already declining in the border states where it was less costly for slaves to run away because they did not have as far to go. The Underground Railroad was thriving. All of these things served to increase the costs of slave ownership.
It is likely that stage legislatures would have ended slavery in the border states before long, which would have made it easier for more slaves to escape. The industrial revolution also made slavery more uneconomical compared to capital intensive agriculture and manufacturing.
All of these things combined would probably have caused the demise of slavery long before the end of the century. Had this happened, race relations would not have been so irreparably poisoned. Had the Republicans not used the ex-slaves as political pawns, acts of violence against the ex-slaves and the institution of Jim Crow laws might never have came about. Peaceful separation might have resulted in black Americans receiving justice much sooner while preserving more freedoms for all Americans.
Even some prominent Northern abolitionists were critical of Lincoln ‘s use of slavery to disguise his ulterior motives. Lysander Spooner, a Massachusetts abolitionist and legal scholar, had produced natural rights arguments that were popular in New England prior to the war. These arguments were essentially the same as those made for limited government by the Southern secessionists. So, Spooner was soon drowned out by supporters of the American empire. And the federalized education system saw to it that such arguments would be eliminated from the education system for generations to come.
But, these ideas were deeply ingrained in the American psyche. As a result, the postwar years saw something of a revolt as personified by Grover Cleveland’s presidency. Although this temporarily slowed the march of the state, it didn’t last long. Lincoln’s war had let the genie out of the bottle, never to be returned.
The Essence of Liberty Volume I: Liberty and History chronicles the rise and fall of the noble experiment with constitutionally limited government. It features the ideas and opinions of some of the world’s foremost contemporary constitutional scholars. This is history that you were not taught at the mandatory government propaganda camps otherwise known as “public schools.” You will gain a clear understanding of how America’s decline and decay is really nothing new and how it began almost immediately with the constitution. Available in both paperback and Kindle versions.
You might be interested in the other two volumes of this three volume set: The Essence of Liberty Volume II: The Economics of Liberty and The Essence of Liberty Volume III: Liberty: A Universal Political Ethic.