Defending Abraham Lincoln
Jude Wanniski
June 25, 2002

 

Memo To: Professor Clyde Wilson, U. of S.Carolina
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Lincoln and Secession

Lew Rockwell's website is one of my favorites, because it always avoids conventional wisdom, even though some of the commentaries he cites are marginal at best. Someone who moves between my website and Lew's last week sent me a copy of Professor Thomas DiLorenzo's book, "The Real Lincoln: A New Look at Abraham Lincoln, His Agenda, and an Unnecessary War." Because Lew has been carrying on a full-fledged campaign to discredit Abe Lincoln as a racist with a ravenous thirst for power and blood, I figured I did not need to read the DiLorenzo book, which is also in that vein. Your book review http://www.lewrockwell.com/orig/wilson7.html was helpful, though, in that you take his basic argument seriously, but end with an intriguing Lincoln quote from 1848 that unwittingly cuts down your argument and DiLorenzo's:

"Any people anywhere, being inclined and having the power, have the right to rise up and shake off the existing government and form a new one that suits them better. This is a most valuable, a most sacred right a right which we hope and believe is to liberate the world."

In other words, Lincoln agrees that any people have the right to TRY to shake off a government they do not like, and can succeed if THEY HAVE THE POWER. The South tried to do so, but did not have sufficient power, at least not the power that Lincoln had, to resist the attempt at secession. This is why Lincoln is admired. He used all his powers to preserve the union. I find DiLorenzo's book trivial, even sophomoric. Then again, I am 66 years old and have been reading about Lincoln and the Civil War from high school days. I did not really appreciate him until I read the Benjamin Thomas [1952] biography, which captures the core of what it was that drove Lincoln. It is not even listed in the DiLorenzo bibliography, which includes far less weighty material...the Sandburg bio, for example.

As for Lincoln's racism, professor, I cannot find a single example of a white political leader north or south who was not a racist in the 19th century. DiLorenzo does not seem to know that. The black man was considered intellectually inferior at birth, three-fifths of a white man. Most adult white men I've known in my life have assumed this to be true to a much smaller degree, and when polled, at least 15% of black men answer that they believe they are inferior at birth, genetically. The Bell Curve by Richard J. Herrnstein and Charles Murray, which "scientifically" proved that blacks are behind the curve at birth, was embraced by some of my closest friends, I was shocked to see. I'm talking five years ago, not 1862. "Benevolent racists," I called them, and this was 140 years AFTER Lincoln. Yet I suppose all our heroes have to run the gauntlet of revisionism ever century or so, so we will come to appreciate them for their real heroics. I went through this exercise a few years ago when Mort Zuckerman ran a stupid COVER STORY in his Atlantic magazine by a British journalist who discovered Thomas Jefferson was a slaveowner!! Holy smokes. We must blow up the Jefferson Memorial asap!!! I see you are working on the John Calhoun papers. Is there a new Calhoun book in the works?

Sincerely,
Jude Wanniski

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To which Professor Wilson responded:

I think some such book is needed at the popular level to chip away at the self-congratulatory belief that a war of conquest was a war of racial benevolence and that the "Union" should take precedence over self-government. The false belief, I think, is part of the infrastructure of imperialism, promoting false innocence (as well as libeling my ancestors).... I just turned 61 and have been reading about the war for well over a half century now. Best wishes, Clyde Wilson

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Dear Professor:
Thanks for the note.... It does help set matters straight.

As you may have gathered from my note, Lincoln's quote made it clear that if any part of a union had the power to get out of the union, it had every right to TRY to exercise that power. As with Chechnya today. But the great favor Lincoln did the US was to contest the South's right to try to secede, and squelch it. The cost was high, but the burden of that cost was on the South, not the North. If a piece of the union could get out because it did not like the north's view on slavery, a piece could get out today on its own motion if it did not like a ruling of the EPA or OSHA or DOE. And the US today would not be the only superpower on the planet. It would be a Balkanized series of lesser powers, and Russia perhaps would be on top of the heap.

Again, thanks for writing
Jude Wanniski