THE DEIFICATION OF “HONEST ABE”

THE DEIFICATION OF “HONEST ABE”

DON C. MARLER

Historians painted themselves in a corner by attributing the discovery of America to Columbus. After more than 400 years defending this position against all evidence to the contrary, they began a few decades ago trying to extricate themselves from their self made trap. The causes of this major faux pas were more benign than those that were the impetus for the setting of another major trap: the deification of President Abraham Lincoln. Building a protective wall of misinformation around the mythical ‘Honest Abe” has been the task of a loyal, duped and perhaps  intimidated profession.

I was reared in Central Louisiana in the 1930s among people who were filled with prejudice against black people; yet, they held Lincoln in high esteem. Having been mostly successful in avoiding the disease of racial prejudice, I too always held a positive view of “Honest Abe.” Only in the last few years have I learned how brainwashed I have been. I was shocked and saddened to learn the true character of this politician whom I thought stood out from others in honesty, integrity, humanity and humility.

During and after the so-called Civil War, especially during the “Reconstruction Period”, the federal government put forth a gigantic propaganda campaign — as usual from the point of view of the winners. As public schools began to develop across the south after the war where there had been none, teachers from the north filled most of the positions. Southern teachers were frequently prohibited from teaching during the Reconstruction Period. This practice may explain why some southern historians joined the effort to deify Lincoln, and the heavy hand of the administration during and immediately after the war may explain why northern historians worked so hard to deify him.

The deification was nearly total; however, in the last few decades a few courageous historians north and south have mustered the courage to risk the wrath and scorn of their colleagues and have begun to uncover the real Lincoln. Seeing the real Lincoln is a painful experience; but, understanding what he and his regime was like in reality puts much of what has happened politically in the last 150 years and especially what is happening today in clearer perspective.

It is clear that Lincoln was not concerned with slavery. He most of all wanted the federal government to have total power and control over the states. And it is clear that the Constitution was blocking his ambition, so he ignored it.

The Confederate States withdrew from the Union legitimately. Lincoln ignored that fact and labeled their actions simply rebellious; thus giving him a platform upon which he could invade the new country and force a reuniting. The end of slavery was, for Lincoln, an unintended consequence of the war.

Early on he suspended habeas corpus for the duration of the war. This allowed him to hold over 13,000 political prisoners (northern legislators, newspaper editors and owners who spoke out against his policies and practices) in prison under the worst of conditions, without charges, trial or legal representation. He imprisoned most of the Maryland legislators and prohibited them (and a few other state legislatures, from meeting. He deported Ohio legislator (Congressman, Vallandigham) first to the Confederacy and when he returned sent him to Canada.  When he returned again he was imprisoned. The president quelled protest with federal troops, killing several hundred citizens in New York City alone. Lincoln prevented free elections. Different parties had ballots of different colors and troops at the poling places simply confiscated the colors of the party out of favor or considered the most threatening to the Lincoln administration. He ordered that ministers say a prayer in church for the administration—and had at least one minister arrested for omitting such. Several northern states were placed under martial law.

The Geneva Convention was ratified in 1863. It was signed by the federal government but was seldom observed. Lincoln micromanaged the war so he was in charge of all aspects including the plundering of civilian property, destroying cities composed of mostly civilians, destroying livestock, crops and homes as was done by General Sherman—all forbidden by the Geneva Convention and human decency. Lincoln instituted the personal income tax and disarmed citizens of the north. When the US Supreme court ruled against him he simply ignored it. He allowed Secretary Seward to develop his own secret police force. Seward boasted of what he could do with the long arm of his secret force.

Lincoln manipulated the Ft. Sumter affair to shift blame for firing the first shot to the Confederacy, then he ignored several overtures from Jefferson Davis for meetings to seek a peaceful resolution.  Throughout the war he sought to have all blacks, slave and free, relocated to some country away from America. During the war he sent some slaves back to their northern owners and continued using some as slaves on behalf of the war effort. He freed none, even in areas of the south where he had control. The Emancipation Proclamation exempted slaves under northern control; it applied only to those under Confederate control. Therefore, none were freed by it. These are just a few of the outrageous acts committed by this deified president. 

It is no stretch to see disturbing relationships between Lincoln’s approach and that of other Republican war making practices; the latest being President George W. Bush and his two wars. The salient similarities are: (1) declaring war on false pretenses, (2) abandoning the Geneva Convention, (3) violating the constitution and (4) severely limiting individual freedoms.

Karl Marx was known for his statement that the end justifies the means. He was ridiculed across America for this statement. When he was confronted with the statement, he answered with one question. If not justified by the end then by what? Indeed! Only the end justifies the means, but some means are not justified or justifiable.

Was keeping the states under one central leadership sufficient justification for an uncivil war, especially one, the execution of which, violated almost every founding principle of the parent country? How much more justifiable would the war have been if abolishing slavery had been the reason for it.

Sometimes good things happen for the wrong reasons. I am glad that the Union was saved and power was centralized. Mostly, I am glad that slavery ended. My objection to the story is that it is so distorted by the deification of President Lincoln that we can learn little from it.

*****

Notes:

Much of the material presented here is from: Dilorenzo, Thomas J. The Real Lincoln: A New Look at Abraham Lincoln, His Agenda, and an Unnecessary War. The book offers valuable documentation. You will never view the Civil War or the federal government the same way again. The author of this book is not a southerner.

See also:

David Donald, Lincoln Reconsidered.

Richard Bensel, Yankee Leviathan: The Origins of Central State Authority in America.

Roy P. Basler, ed., Abraham Lincoln: His Speeches and Writings.

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5 Comments

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5 responses to “THE DEIFICATION OF “HONEST ABE”

  1. Chris

    When you say, “(1) declaring war on false pretenses, (2) abandoning the Geneva Convention, (3) violating the constitution and (4) severely limiting individual freedoms.” I fail to see why you are limiting yourself to Republicans. Barrack Obama is George W. Bush on steroids. His drone war has killed thousands, most of them civilians. He’s abandoned the Geneva Convention just as much as any other president in US history. In addition, he has ignored the constitution in a staggering number of policies, and no one has sought to legitimize their limits on individual freedoms as much as Obama. You are absolutely right that Bush was terrible, but omitting Obama makes no sense at all.

    • Chris,

      Thanks for your note on The Deification of “Honest Abe”. The short answer as to why I did not bring in President Obama’s record into the discussion is that when I originally wrote the piece he had not accumulated much of a record. I did not update the article. Your observation gives me opportunity to do so.

      You charge Obama with 3 sweeping accusations without giving specific examples.

      1. Perhaps you cite the drone war as evidence of this violation. That is a complicated issue. Perhaps lives could have been saved by sending in ground troops, but whose lives is the question. Remember that the experts estimated that an invasion of Japan in WWII would have cost between 500,000 and 1 M military personnel. So, the Atomic bomb was the answer given. The Japanese were so entrenched and fanatical that one didn’t convince them—we dropped another before they got the message. I suspect that in view of that a ground invasion would have cost much more than was originally estimated. I went into caves in Japan that were carved into mountains and saw roads large enough for two large trucks to pass each other, There were hospitals, living and storage quarters, ammunitions, etc. They were prepared for a long siege. The Obama haters accuse him of doing nothing and when he does something it is wrong no matter what it is.

      2.

      Isn’t this overstated? The instances where this comes to mind is in his not taking action to stop or change ongoing policies, ie. using tax payer funds to support religion and other violations of Church and State separation. He should have put a stop to this as he promised.

      3.

      I am unhappy with Obama for not protecting Church/State separation, but more so for not trying to end the Patriot Act as he promised. He has though stood up for Gay rights, voter rights. Has stood up for women’s rights to use birth control, right to choose and right to equal pay for equal work, etc. etc. The Patriot act remains a major assault on our rights and though he was not the father of it, he has not killed it. As for the staggering number of limits on our rights that you say Obama has wrought upon us I am at a complete loss.

      I ask you to read the article again keeping in mind that the emphasis was on the SEVERITY of the constitutional breaches committed by Lincoln. Jailing opposition leaders, prohibiting state legislatures from convening, sending the military into cities to kill opposition, destroy printing presses, etc. etc.

      Don C. Marler

  2. Chris

    Mr. Marler,

    I don’t disagree with you in the slightest on Abraham Lincoln. He was the worst president we’ve ever had. I have trouble deciding who was the second worst, though. George W. Bush or Barack Obama. I didn’t cite specific examples originally, because it wouldn’t have mattered to my specific point, but I will be happy to do so for you.

    1) You will never convince me of 2 things. a) that the death of a fewer number of civilians is better than the deaths of a massive number of soldiers. I was a soldier. I joined the Marine Corps during the first Gulf War. As terrible as war is (and I am against war for any reason other than direct defense, FYI), it is still a soldier’s job to fight and die for his country. b) you will never convince me that “pre-emptive war” has merit. How does this statement make any sense, “I’m going to fight a war, so I can avoid fighting a war.” This is the height of insanity. If Obama did nothing other than end all foreign military involvements, I (and quite a few people besides myself) would climb off his back. We’d still have our problems with him, but they wouldn’t be anywhere near as heightened as they are, now.

    2) This is, if anything, understated. He promised, on the campaign trail, not to try to limit the second amendment. Then, after Sandy Hook, he states that “no amount of legislation could avoid this”. He immediately follows that up by stating that his administration will back legislation to limit gun rights. He not only signed the NDAA (the right to arrest anyone for any reason with no charges and no trial and to detain them indefinitely, is the specific part I’m taking umbrage with), he fought to keep it “legal” in court. OK, there’s the 2nd and 4th Amendment down, and I haven’t even had to do the first amount of research. He has jailed Bradley Manning for being a whistleblower on illegalities performed by our government. This has traditionally been protected by the 1st amendment, but Manning is still sitting in jail, years later, without a trial. Most of his first year was spent in solitary confinement while being psychologically tortured. There goes the 1st Amendment and the 6th Amendments (Yes, he is in the military and subject to the UCMJ (Uniform Code of Military Justice), which also calls for a quick court martial. Here’s a secret, the UCMJ doesn’t mean you give up Constitutional rights, though.) I could go on and on all night long on his abuses of our Contitution (of which separation of church and state is not one, by the way), but it’s kicking a dead horse, at this point.

    3) Specific rebuttal to your points: Separation of Church and State isn’t in the Constitution, the only time that is ever addressed is in private correspondence of our Founders. I agree that the Patriot Act is an abomination and should be killed with extreme prejudice. He stood up for Gay rights at the very end of his first term to get votes. He hasn’t cared one whit up until that point. I don’t buy the sudden interest. Your other points are all abuses of the government’s power. They have no right to decide any of these things. Unfortunately, they’ve sold Americans on the idea that they DO have that right.

    I thank you for your response. I think it safe to say that we can agree wholeheartedly all the way up until Barack Obama and then we can agree to disagree. Bush was terrible, but Lincoln was definitely the worst. The fact that he’s been sold to the public as “The Great Emancipator” should be a crime, but what can you expect when the government runs the schools.

  3. Tony Williams

    Obama is the second coming of Abraham Lincoln.

  4. Tony,

    Could we at least agree that GW Bush is in the running for 2nd place? It may be too soon to tell who the winner( er- loser) is?

    Don

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