Published in The Journal of Historical Review
Fall 1986 (Vol. 7, No. 3), pages 319–344.
by Sam Dickson
The astonishing thing about this paper on Abraham Lincoln is that it is needed at all or is considered controversial. In my opinion, one does not have to be a scholar to ferret out obscure and suppressed facets of history to see Abraham Lincoln as he was.
My views on this subject are not unusual. They are those of the overwhelming majority of Southerners both immediately before, during and for decades after the War between the States. My views were also shared by many in the North and the West. Only the passage of time and the studious cultivation of the myth of Abraham Lincoln, coupled with his timely death (timely in the sense of being providential for his place in history) have caused Abraham Lincoln to be raised to the level of a sacred cow in American history.
Nevertheless, even contemporary events show that the place and role of Abraham Lincoln in American history are a subject which is very sensitive to the Establishment. When Professor M.E. Bradford of the University of Dallas was nominated by President Reagan to head the National Endowment for the Humanities, a storm of abuse and controversy exploded. Professor Bradford’s sin was that he had the effrontery to criticize Abraham Lincoln. The New York Times launched the attack, followed by a host of other establishment liberal spokesmen and institutions and joined by so-called “neo-conservatives” such as George Will. Mr. Will excoriated Professor Bradford as “the nostalgic Confederate remnant of the Conservative movement” and made it clear that neo-conservatives have no use for any criticism of Abraham Lincoln. /1 Obviously, Professor Bradford touched a raw and sensitive nerve when he criticized a president who has been dead for over 120 years. One wonders after the lapse of so many years why this matter is such a vital, important and sensitive one.
Part of the reason for the importance of Abraham Lincoln in the iconography of the left is explained by the Whig Theory of History which is shared by most leftists in one form or another. The Whig Theory of History holds that history, in particular the history of the English-speaking peoples, is the history of freedom broadening down from precedent to precedent as progress is made away from tradition, authority, monarchy, and aristocracy toward democracy and egalitarianism. The leftist adherents to the Whig Theory of History see Lincoln as part of a continuum running from Runnymede to Cromwell to the so-called Glorious Revolution to the American Revolution to Lincoln to Wilson to Roosevelt to Kennedy and beyond.
Of course, this Whig Theory of History is preposterous and fallacious and maintained only by a thoroughly dishonest editing of historical events. However, the leftists are correct in viewing Lincoln and the effect of his career on the course of the United States as moving America away from an aristocratic society founded upon traditions, authority and property and toward a mass democratic society founded upon universal suffrage, equality and unlimited government-mandated social experimentation. While it is not remarkable that leftists should admire Abraham Lincoln, it is noteworthy and surprising that the Lincoln Myth has been marketed to moderate and conservative Americans.
Part of the success enjoyed by the Lincoln Myth lies in the timeliness of his death By dying though an assassination at the conclusion of the war and prior to the commencement of a bitter and cruel peace, Lincoln could be used by all factions in America and could be opposed by none. Hence, Radical Republicans used his death, as well as a contrived propaganda campaign alleging that Southern leaders, including Jefferson Davis, had plotted Lincoln’s assassination, to inflame Northern opinion and to solidify their leadership of the North in a campaign of humiliation, robbery and persecution of the conquered and prostrate South and its vanquished leaders. /2 Southerners were likewise in no position to attack Lincoln. The South’s situation after the war was similar to that of post-World War II Germany, that is to say, utterly defeated, prostrate, the victim of inflammatory lies about atrocities at Andersonville, etc. Hence, the only prudent course for Southerners was to promote those aspects of the Lincoln Myth (e.g., his alleged kindliness and magnanimity) so as to defuse Northern anger and work patiently for the amelioration of the condition of the South.
Having touched on the foregoing points, let us examine the real Abraham Lincoln and his true place in American history. I have selected the following areas of scrutiny:
The official image of Lincoln the man according to the Lincoln Myth runs as follows: a man of upright character and honesty, a man of peace and compassion for his Southern adversaries, and a Christian of sincere religious convictions.
All of the above articles of faith are demonstrably false.
Lincoln was a demagogic politician who maneuvered with consummate skill on all sides of many burning issues of the day. Thus, in the famous debates with Stephen Douglas his position on the question of Negro equality became several positions according to which area of Illinois was hosting the debate. His pronouncements ranged from denials of Negro equality and advocacy of an inferior and degraded state of civil rights for the Negro to affirmations of the equality of Negroes. This is not to say that Lincoln was without principle. It is my belief, which will be developed in this paper, that Lincoln was an abiding leftist but at the same time was a crafty and dissimulating politician who was willing shamelessly to try to fool all of the people, all of the time.
As to Lincoln’s alleged sincere “Christian” religious convictions, it is well known to students of Lincoln that he was an atheist and free-thinker. While like any crafty politician Lincoln was willing to invoke the name of God to gamer support, no great importance should be laid to this practice which is common in all democratic societies.
Also, Lincoln believed in omens, was often depressed by seeing blackbirds, and would interpret dreams that he had in ways that can only be described as superstitious. Lincoln’s superstition is frequently confused with piety.
Lincoln’s law partner, William Herndon, was deeply disturbed after Lincoln’s death by popular portrayals of Lincoln as a Christian saint. As Dwight G. Anderson, author of a recent study of Abraham Lincoln, points out, Herndon knew that Lincoln had written an essay denying the divinity of the Bible. This essay or book of Lincoln’s came to be referred to as the “infidel book.” Herndon’s lectures and writings on the subject of Lincoln’s atheism provoked immediate defense of Lincoln as a devout Christian. However, as Herndon shrewdly pointed out, the fact of Lincoln’s early atheism cannot be denied and Lincoln’s political career would have been vastly helped by some public revelation of a dramatic conversion to Christianity. No such conversion has ever been established. Long after the controversy over Lincoln’s atheism or devotion to Christianity, a statement of Lincoln’s was discovered which Lincoln issued in reply to accusations that he was not a Christian. /3 Lincoln admitted that he was not a member of any Christian church, but stated that he had not denied the truth of the scriptures and had not spoken with intentional disrespect of religion in general or of any particular Christian denomination. Lincoln’s statement shows that Herndon was correct. The statement is artfully worded but does not indicate any conversion to Christianity and does not deny the assertions of Herndon that Lincoln had denied the divinity of the scriptures. Lincoln says only that he had not denied their truth. Lincoln is to be admired for his honesty in this statement in not concocting some vote-catching, born-again experience. Our admiration for his candor would be greater had he desisted from piously self-serving references to the Almighty in political speeches throughout his career.
Regarding Lincoln’s patriotism and devotion to the Union, he was devoted rather to the aggrandizement of his section and of his faction, which dominated that section. When broader national interests came into conflict with the interests of Lincoln and his faction, Lincoln took the side of his faction, as will be shown later in dealing with the Mexican-American War.
Lincoln’s first term in the Illinois legislature coincided with the initial rumblings in Northern legislatures of the dangerous and divisive slavery issue. Responsible Americans of both sections recognized the danger posed to the American Union by the slavery issue and sought to head it off. One means of doing this was to have the legislatures of both sections pass identical resolutions expressing a national consensus on the slavery issue from a moderate point of view.
Stephen Douglas, a true American patriot, was among those instrumental in seeking to have the Illinois legislature pass this resolution. The resolution was overwhelmingly passed with only a tiny minority voting against it. Among the handful of opponents was a freshman member of the legislature, Abraham Lincoln. /4 Beginning with this incident, Douglas was to be a lifelong adversary of Lincoln.
Lincoln’s position on the Illinois resolution seriously impeaches those who try to make of Lincoln a white racist. The fact that Lincoln was willing to go that far early in his career indicates that he was committed to Negro equality at the inception of his career and was on the far left of contemporary American thought about the Negro and slavery issues. Furthermore, Lincoln’s opposition to the resolution is strong evidence for his willingness to disrupt the Union in order to promote his own faction’s success. Certainly, his position on the resolution has to be laid to his discredit in assessing his career.
This is not to say that Lincoln did not craftily dissemble his views on slavery and the Negro as a practical politician, realizing the limitations within which he strove to realize his ideals. For instance, in late 1854 Lincoln was furious when he learned that radical abolitionist Republicans meeting in Springfield had adopted fiery and-slavery resolutions and formed a party state central committee, on which they took the liberty of placing Lincoln’s name.
I have been perplexed some to understand how my name was placed in that committee. I was not consulted on the subject; nor was I apprised of the appointment until I discovered it by accident two or three weeks afterwards. I suppose that my opposition to the principle of slavery is as strong as that of any number of the Republican party; but I had also supposed that the extent [original emphasis] to which I feel authorized to catty that opposition practically was not at all satisfactory to that party. /5
This letter shows that Lincoln was, in fact, a staunch opponent of slavery but that he recognized, better than some abolitionists sharing his views, that it was necessary to be careful in approaching their goal.
Lincoln’s aggrandizement of his sectional and factional advantage at the expense of the nation as a whole is most clearly evidenced by his opposition to the war with Mexico. President James K. Polk, certainly one of the greatest American presidents, was responsible for almost doubling our national territory by means of the war with Mexico. Through his efforts and through the heroism in battle of many genuine American nationalists like Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis, a whole empire was won, out of which would be carved many of our states, from Texas to California.
President Polk’s war with Mexico was not universally popular, however, even in the America of the 1840’s. (It is noteworthy that many modem Liberals consider the Mexican War to have been the worst and most immoral war in our history, preferring such wars as the War between the States, WWI and WWII as “moral” wars.) /6 Among Polk’s opponents in the matter of the war was the freshman congressman from Illinois, Abraham Lincoln. On January 12, 1848, Lincoln spoke in the House of Representatives defending the vote of his party a few days before in declaring “that the war with Mexico was unnecessarily and unconstitutionally commenced by the President.” /7 It was, in Carl Sandburg’s words, a fiercely partisan speech, which led to strong criticism of Lincoln in Illinois. The result was that Abraham Lincoln was defeated for re-election to Congress due to his opposition to national expansion and to the war with Mexico.
It is also ironic to note that in his speech attacking President Polk Lincoln made two statements which can be cited against him in his own conduct in the War between the States. Lincoln stated:
Any people any when, 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 … Any portion of such people that can, may revolutionize, and make their own of so much of the territory as they inhabit. More than this, a majority of any portion of such people may revolutionize, putting down a minority, intermingled with, or near about them, who may oppose their movement. /8
These remarks clearly can be cited to justify and condone the actions of the South in seceding from the Union in 1860 and 1861. To further the irony, Lincoln condemned President Polk’s initiation of the War as unconstitutional on the grounds that Polk had sent American troops into battle without congressional authority, /9 but later, Lincoln would take far more dramatic steps to initiate war by executive fiat without prior congressional approval, as required by the Constitution, when it served his interests to do so in the secession crisis.
As we have noted previously, Lincoln in the inception of his public career in the Illinois State house took the radical position on slavery by opposing the resolutions intended to soothe public feelings in both sections.
The slavery issue continued to torment and divide the nation. However, it would be a mistake to focus, as do most Northern historians, solely upon the slavery issue as the cause of division between the two sections.
The North was already losing its Anglo-Saxon character and was rapidly changing with the inundation of non-Anglo-Saxon immigrants from Europe. Furthermore, the North was industrializing and her economic interests were in many respects directly antithetical to those of the South. Hence the North desired the erection of a high tariff barrier to enable herself to sell her industrial products with a competitive advantage over imports from Europe. Likewise, most of the nation’s foreign exchange was earned by exports from the South. The tariff issue was critical in the division of the nation and probably played the major role in determining the North upon a policy of aggression and conquest when the secession came.
Lincoln had always been a national Whig. His policies were those in favor of a central banking system, which he championed during his first term in the Illinois legislature.10 The Bank of the United States which Andrew Jackson opposed was similar to our present day Federal Reserve System. Lincoln opposed resolutions in the Illinois legislature supporting President Andrew Jackson, who had vetoed the National Bank. /11 Lincoln also favored high tariffs, a strongly centralized government and internal improvements. /12 Lincoln himself had a direct personal reason to support such policies, since he derived a significant portion of his income from serving as attorney for the railroad interests. /13
The estrangement and antagonism between the two sections gradually accelerated. In 1858 Lincoln made his famous “House Divided” Speech In this speech, Lincoln declared:
A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free. Either the opponents of slavery will arrest the further spread of it and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in the course of ultimate extinction; or its advocates will push it forward until it shall become alike lawful in all the states, old as well as new – North as well so South. /14
Entranced by the Lincoln cult, Americans are prone to read or hear the House Divided Speech with a tingling of the spine, impressed by its dramatic tone. Set in the context of developing regional antagonism, however, the speech seems to be that of an irresponsible demagogue. The Union had existed half slave and half free from its inception. There appears to be no logical reason why it could not have continued to have existed in that fashion, given responsible leadership and good will on both sides, until slavery was eliminated by the progress of technology. Certainly the delivery of such a speech was not responsible leadership, as it did much to infuriate and alarm the South. This especially was true with Lincoln’s election, which the South saw as the election of a man who seemed to have declared himself on the side of those who intended to violate the constitutional rights and property rights of Southerners and to interfere with their self-government. As is the case with many dramatic speeches, the speech has its thrilling aspects, but was utterly irresponsible and led to tragic results.
Lincoln’s activity with regard to the developing sectional strife contrasts sharply with that of his major opponent Stephen A. Douglas. Douglas consistently sought the national advantage, having been a staunch supporter of President Polk in the war with Mexico. Douglas strived to promote reconciliation and cooperation between North and South, and to develop workable compromises that avoided dogmatic impasses on either side. /15
Lincoln in the Lincoln-Douglas debates was his characteristic demagogic and unprincipled self. In northern Illinois, in which the German and other non-Anglo-Saxon immigrants now were playing a major and perhaps decisive role, Lincoln declared himself dramatically for Negro equality, raising his hands to the heavens and declaring: “In the right to eat the bread his own hands have earned he is the equal of Judge Douglas, or of myself, or any living man.” However, in southern Illinois, where conservative and Southern sympathies ran strong, Lincoln declared himself opposed to granting Negroes civil rights and stated that they were in fact an inferior race. /16
Likewise, in 1858 in the course of the famous Lincoln-Douglas debates, Lincoln wrote a meditation which was not used in his debates and which his admiring biographer Sandburg described as a “private affair between him and his conscience.” This statement ran as follows:
Yet I have never failed – do not now fail – to remember that in the Republican cause there is a higher aim than that of mere office. I have not allowed myself to forget that the abolition of the slave trade by Great Britain was agitated a hundred years before it was a final success; that the measure had its open fire-eating opponents; its stealthy “don’t care” opponents; its dollar and cent opponents; its inferior race opponents; its negro equality opponents; and its religious and good order opponents; that all these opponents got offices, and their adversaries got none. But I also remember that though they blazed like tallow candles for a century, at last they flickered in the socket, died out, stank in the dark for a brief season, and were remembered no more, even by the smell … I am proud, in my passing speck of time, to contribute an humble mite to that glorious consummation, which my own poor eyes may not last to see. /17
With his election in 1860, the real test of Abraham Lincoln’s leadership in his country began. State after state in the South withdrew from the Union, as it became obvious that the South was extremely agitated by his election. Lincoln had been elected with only 39% of the popular vote. Only the splintering of the moderate-to-conservative majority made possible the election of this President. No president since has ever been elected with so little popular support. Certainly no president has ever been placed in office over the determined opposition of so many of his fellow citizens. /18
Had Stephen A. Douglas been elected, it is almost certain secession and civil war would have been averted.
In his campaign Lincoln had avoided speaking on vital issues. In the words of Reinhart H. Luthin, one of Lincoln’s better known biographers, “From his election to his inauguration Lincoln’s handling, or rather lack of handling of the bedeviling secession crisis might be termed ’calculated inactivity’ for he was to do nothing about it nor was he to provide much leadership, with the Republic tottering in the balance.” /19
Lincoln had long believed that Southern talk of secession was nothing but bluff. In 1856 he had stated in a speech in Galena, Illinois: “All this talk about the dissolution of the Union is humbug.” /20 He grossly underestimated secessionist sentiment and overestimated pro-Union strength in the upper South and border slave regions.
After Lincoln’s election, a conservative Senator, John J. Crittenden of Kentucky, proposed a compromise to head off secession by extending the Missouri Compromise line dividing slave states from free states all the way to the Pacific. /21 Lincoln rejected this compromise and marshalled his party against all other compromises with the South. Lincoln said as follows concerning this:
Let there be no compromise on the question of extending slavery. If there be, all our labor is lost and, ere long must be done again. The dangerous ground – that into which some of our friends have a hankering to run – is Pop. Sov. [Popular Sovereignty]. Have none of it. Stand firm. The tug has to come, and better now, than any time haeafter. /22
Lincoln also instructed his legislative spokesman from Illinois in Washington not to compromise with the South. /23
Pleas pound into Lincoln from an regions of the country imploring him to make some gesture to the South and give leadership at that critical time. However, as Luthin describes it, Lincoln continued his “sphinx-like silence” until his inauguration. /24
The Lincoln cultists often quote a letter which Lincoln wrote during this period, to Alexander Hamilton Stephens of Georgia, who later would serve as Vice President of the Confederacy. In this letter, Lincoln is quoted as saying:
For your eyes only
Springfield, Ill. Dec. 22, 1860
Hon. A. H. Stephens
My Dear Sir
Your obliging answer to my short note is just received and for which please accept my thanks – I fully appreciate the present peril the country is in, and the weight of responsibility on me
Do the people of the South really entertain fears that a Republican administration would directly, or indirectly, interfere with the slaves, or with them about their slaves? If they do I wish to assure you, as once a friend, and still, I hope, not as an enemy, that there is no cause for such fear –
The South would be in no more danger in this respect than it was in the days of Washington.
I suppose, however, this does not meet the case – You think slavery is right and ought to be extended while we think it is wrong and ought to be restricted – That I suppose is the rule – It certainly is the only substantial difference between us –
Yours very truly,
A. Lincoln /25
The interesting thing about this letter, which as I say is often quoted by Lincoln’s admirers to show him in the official posture of the loving father holding out his hands to his erring Southern sons, is that the letter was never publicized and never received any attention in the South. The reason for this is that the preamble of the letter, which Lincoln’s admirers delete in the quotation, forbade Stephens, a Unionist, upon his honor from showing it to anyone else, stating that the letter is for his eyes only.
Lincoln and Stephens had served together in Congress and knew each other very well. Lincoln, it may be anticipated, knew that Stephens would not make use of the letter in his efforts to keep Georgia (and thereby the South) in the Union in obedience to Lincoln’s urgings.
The question then arises of why Lincoln wrote the letter at all. No one can answer that question with certainly but it would appear that Lincoln believed that he could entice Stephens into coming North and siding with the Union in the impending sectional war. This policy of Lincoln worked with his later Vice-President, Andrew Johnson, who had also served in Congress with Lincoln, representing eastern Tennessee and who went North and supported the Union during the War.
Certainly any responsible American would agree that Lincoln should have moved energetically to try to deter the secession movement. The fact is that Lincoln did not. On his way to Washington Lincoln visited with a number of the so-called “war governors” in the North. These were men like Governer Andrew G. Curtin of Pennsylvania who were in favor of coercing the South by armed force into remaining in the Union and thus remaining subject to the North’s tariff laws.
While in Pennsylvania, Lincoln spoke at Independence Hall. He alluded to the Declaration of Independence and made clear that the Constitution was in conflict with the Declaration of Independence, and that it was his intention to reform the Constitution to bring it in line with the principles of the Declaration. Lincoln stated as follows:
I have never had a feeling politically that did not spring from the sentiments embodied in the Declaration of Independence… if this country cannot be saved without giving up that principle [equality] I was about to say that I would rather be assassinated on this spot than to spender it. /26
These statements were not calculated to soothe suspicions of Southern conservatives; they also reflect Lincoln’s innate radicalism and dissatisfaction with the American Constitution. His dissatisfaction with the limitations imposed on government and executive power by the Constitution were later to become evident in his precipitation of the war and his conduct of that war.
As Stephen Douglas pointed out in the United States Senate, as the secession crisis developed, there were three possible courses for the United States to take in dealing with the sectional crisis: 1. The Union could be saved by compromise and reconciliation between men of good will in both sections; 2. The South could be allowed to withdraw in peace and set up her own government independent of the North; 3. The South could be coerced by military force into remaining subject to the Union. According to Douglas, the best solution would have been one based on compromise and reconciliation. The next best would have been to allow the South to depart in peace. The worst was to resort to violent military force to coerce the South into the Union like a conquered province. /27
In his inaugural address, Lincoln was ambiguous, making his famous gesture to the South in its conclusion but also containing passages stating that he would not recognize secession and would enforce the laws in all states. His original draft was much more warlike but Seward convinced him to soften it. /28
Continuing efforts were made to negotiate a peaceful separation. Virginia sent three commissioners to meet with Lincoln shortly prior to Lincoln’s attempt to resupply Fort Sumter, which led to the bombardment of Fort Sumter and the outbreak of the War. According to the Virginia commissioners, Lincoln equivocated as to whether he would resort to armed force to coerce the seceded states back into the Union. Virginia at that point had not seceded but had placed her legislature in a state of continuous session to await further developments. The Virginia commissioners had made it clear that if the Lincoln administration resorted to armed force against the South, Virginia and the other states of the South which had not already seceded would also go out and join their seceded sisters. /29
Lincoln equivocated with the commissioners. However, his greatest concern voiced to them was, “What about my tariff?” /30 This shows once again Lincoln’s commitment to the huge vested industrial and financial interests of the North. The war in Lincoln’s mind had to be fought to establish the supremacy of that financial oligarchy. The tariff under Lincoln was instated with a vigor and was raised to unparalleled heights. /3l This economic policy of anti-Southern tariffs and economic exploitation of the South was to be continued for almost eighty years after the war and was only abandoned in the face of the crisis of World War II. /32
Lincoln after his inauguration temporarized and maneuvered. All proposals in the so-called “Peace Congress” failed, receiving no support from the administration. It was necessary to provoke the South into firing the first shot so as to rally Northern opinion, at that point strongly divided, behind a war to coerce the South. This was achieved by dispatching resupply ships to Fort Sumter, thus breaking his commitments and assurances to the South that he would not reinforce the Federal forts in the South. /33
When the news of the planned resupply of Fort Sumter reached the South, the bombardment of the fort was begun. Lincoln then used the act of firing upon the American flag to rally Northern opinion to his cause and put up a public pretense that the situation in the South was merely that of a minority of conspirators preventing the expression of the true Union sentiments of the loyalist majorities in the South. Lincoln may have believed this himself, because he always overestimated his ability to divide the South and to provoke animosity between the social classes in the South. It would not be until the war had been raging for over a year that Lincoln would realize that this was not to be.
After the surrender of Fort Sumter, Lincoln issued an executive proclamation calling for 75,000 volunteers to form an army to invade the South. Virginia and the other remaining Southern states withdrew and the Confederacy assumed its basic geography. /34
In 1848 during his efforts to oppose the war with Mexico, Lincoln had attacked President Polk upon the floor of the House for having sent units of the United States Army into a disputed border region between Mexico and the United States. Lincoln said that the President’s action violated the Constitution’s requirement that only Congress could declare war. Lincoln’s own action in raising an army by Executive Order was a far greater violation of these same provisions of the Constitution dealing with the declaration of war, than the alleged violations of President Polk which he had attacked. The “Executive Order Army” could be said to be the precursor of the whole litany of executive orders which have been a favorite device of presidents from the Roosevelt administration onward. The war governors, nevertheless, hastened to provide Lincoln with the militia units and volunteers which he needed to commence the hostilities and the war was on.
The efforts of true American patriots like Stephen A. Douglas to save the Union by conciliation and compromise had been successfully thwarted. Lincoln had achieved his opportunity to rededicate the nation to the radical principles of the Declaration of Independence and to get around the impediment of the Constitution.
A civil war is usually marked by an intensity in feeling and an atrociousness of conduct which is often lacking in wars between rival powers. It is fair to say that the War between the States was waged by the Lincoln administration with a barbarity rarely equaled in any other war in American history.
Lincoln suspended the writ of habeas corpus throughout the nation. He assumed the power to close newspapers and in fact closed hundreds of them in the North which dared criticize his policies. He arrested elected officials, including former members of Congress, who opposed him. /35
Vice-President John C. Breckenridge, who finished second to Lincoln in electoral votes in the 1860 election, presided over the official election and swore in his successor, Hannibal Hamlin. Breckenridge, a Kentuckian, was opposed to disunion and to Lincoln. His criticism of Lincoln was censored and the Associated Press was barred from reporting his remarks. Breckenridge remained in Washington until after the First Battle of Manassas, hoping and working for peace. /36 He later became a Confederate general.
The first taste of what was to come in the South in the course of the war was seen in the border states. In Missouri, the Anglo-Saxon population was disarmed and the state was garrisoned with volunteer units of Germans who could be counted on to support the Lincoln administration. The Anglo-Saxon population of the whole western tier of counties in Missouri were deported from their homes by General Ewing’s General Order Number 11, which depopulated the region by forcibly evacuating the women and children on the shortest of notice, along with burning their houses and stealing their property. Among those experiencing this deportation and expropriation was the mother of later President Harry S. Truman. The memories of the sufferings she and her family had endured while she was a small child stayed with Mrs. Truman throughout her life. On one occasion the aspiring young politician told his mother that he had been invited to dinner at the house of a prominent family in Kansas City. His mother admonished him to turn the silver over and check the hallmark because, “It’s probably ours.” On another occasion, Truman showed his mother his new National Guard uniform only to be ordered out of the house because the pants were blue.
In Maryland, Kentucky and Missouri, Northern troops fired on pro-Southern demonstrators, dispersed legislatures, expelled elected officials and otherwise demonstrated that no respect for constitutional rights or liberties would be shown during the course of the war.
It is amazing that the Lincoln cultists have been able to shield Lincoln from the Northern atrocities committed during the war under his tenure as Commander-in-Chief of its armies. The standard line on this point, usually implied rather than stated, is that Lincoln sat in the White House exuding love for Southerners, in blissful ignorance of what Sherman, Ewing, Pope, Butler and others were doing. This, of course, is unworthy of belief and is an impossibility, given the widespread jubilant publicity in the North over the depredations of the Northern armies against the Southern people. /37
General Ewing’s General Order Number 11 in Missouri was merely a taste of what was to come throughout the South. The most famous and widely known example of Northern atrocities was the campaign of General William Tecumseh Sherman in Georgia. No portion of this country has ever felt the scourge of war like the State of Georgia experienced it.
The city of Atlanta, after its surrender, was burned to the ground, and only a handful of churches and a few outlying residences escaped the holocaust. More than 4,000 edifices were burned, which was approximately 92% of the city. Only 450 buildings of any sort escaped this ruthless burning, in a city which had a population of 14,000. Captain Daniel Oakey of the Second Massachusetts Volunteers recounted the burning of Atlanta as follows: “Sixty thousand of us witnessed the destruction of Atlanta, while our post band and that of the 33rd Massachusetts played martial airs and operatic selections.” /38 Like the bombing of Dresden, this massive destruction of civilian property was of no military importance. On November 15, 1864, the march of the Northern troops across Georgia from Atlanta to Savannah began. Sherman created a charred avenue over 40 miles wide, destroying all railroads, seizing all provisions, pillaging, plundering and burning. There was no military force available to obstruct his course. /39
The devastation in Georgia was so complete that entire communities disappeared never to be heard of again. Perhaps the most dramatic of these occurred at the midtown of New Manchester on Sweetwater Creek in Douglas County, Georgia. The Union forces had occupied the town without a shot being fired on July 2, 1864. Most of the workers in the mill were women and were told to return to their homes. They were told that they would be taken out of the path of the advancing army. The mill was destroyed and the town was placed under guard. On July 8, the entire town, including the homes of the workers, was burned to the ground. Having destroyed the entire town, only the population remained, most of them women and children with a few men. The women and children were separated from the men and herded into wagons. The wagon train then set off for Marietta, Georgia, some 16 miles away. During the journey the women were forced to endure the sexual advances of the Union soldiers. In Marietta the group was joined by a similar group of deported women from Roswell, Georgia. On July 20, the entire group of women and children were shipped by train from Georgia to Louisville, Kentucky. /40 Not one woman or child is known to have returned to New Manchester. To the credit of the North, even in that section, there was strong opposition to the policy of deporting women and children.
Are we really to believe that Abraham Lincoln knew nothing of the depredations of Sherman’s troops? The atrocious deeds of his troops were reported widely throughout the Northern press and extended over a period of many months, not ending until the final surrender of the Confederacy, by which time Sherman had similarly torched Columbia, South Carolina, and laid waste to parts of Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina Sherman, besides his legendary “War is hell” comment, wrote his wife in Savannah, Georgia, of popular opinion of the Northern liberators: “They regard us just as the Romans did the Goths and the parallel is not unjust.” /41
However, one should not be too hasty in condemning Lincoln. Lincoln shared the democratic sensitivity to deportations which certainly justify his being included in the trinity of Lincoln, Wilson and F.D.R. on the subject of deportations. Not all deportations were tolerated by the White House during the war. Thus for instance when General Grant ordered Jewish speculators expelled from Tennessee, Lincoln quickly issued a peremptory order to Grant, rescinding his order and rebuking him for having deported the Jewish speculators. /42 Like Wilson, F.D.R. and other ideological descendants of Lincoln, Lincoln knew where a democracy has to draw the line. After all, a distinction has to be made between Anglo-Saxon women and children, textile workers and farmers, and Jewish speculators.
Nor were the outrages of the Northern armies confined to the states of Georgia and South Carolina. In Virginia, for example, between July 18 and July 23, 1862, General John Pope issued four general orders providing that the Union army would as far as possible subsist upon the country, i.e., steal food from the civilians. All villages and neighborhoods through which the Union forces marched would be placed “under contribution.” Civilians living along the line of march would be punished if there were any injuries to railroads or other roads by bands of unknown guerillas. Also, Brigadier General Adolph von Steinwehr seized civilians as hostage so that they could be executed if any of his soldiers were killed by unknown persons. (One recalls the righteous indignation periodically vented at Germans for reprisals taken against civilians for guerilla actions of the “gallant resistance” in World War II.) Those refusing to take the oath of allegiance to the United States would be banished from their homes; if found at any point within the Federal lines or in the rear, they would be executed as spies. Anyone who communicated with the enemy was subject to the death penalty. As Hudson Strode points out in his marvelous biography of Jefferson Davis, a mother who sent her son a letter could be regarded as a spy. /43 Pope also proceeded to arm the recently-freed slaves against the whites. General McClellan deserves this country’s admiration for denouncing Pope as “an upstart braggart” and a man who mistook brutality in war for power. /44
President Jefferson Davis writing to General Robert E. Lee, reacted to Pope’s orders as follows:
We find ourselves driven by our enemies in their steady progress towards a practice which we abhor and which we are vainly struggling to avoid. Some of the military authorities of the United States seem to suppose that better success will attend a savage war in which no queer is to be given and no sex to be spared. For the present we renounce the right of retaliation on the innocent and shall continue to treat the private enlisted soldiers of General Pope’s army as prisoners of war, but if, after notice to the government in Washington, these savage practices are continued we shall be reluctantly forced to the last resort of accepting war on the terms chosen by our foes, until the outraged voice of the common humanity forces a respect for the recognized rules of war.
You are therefore instructed to communicate to the Commander in Chief of the Armies of the United States the contents of this letter – to the end that he may be notified of our intention not to consider any officers hereafter captured from General Pope’s army as prisoners of war. /45
General Lee also wrote to the United States government condemning Pope’s practices and warning of the results they would lead to. While General Halleck refused to accept Lee’s letter because of its insulting statements about the United States government, nevertheless Pope’s orders were modified and von Steinwehr was reprimanded for the conduct of his troops. /46
Like his ideological descendants, Wilson and F.DR, Lincoln did not hesitate to cooperate with antagonistic ethnic groups against his own people. Thus the armies of the North were swelled with hundreds of thousands of mercenary soldiers from Europe, lured to the United States by a circular known as “the notorious Number 19" in the South. This circular from William H. Seward offered inducement in the form of pay and bounties to enlist in the service of the North, which already enjoyed an advantage in numbers of four times the White population of the South. The circular was evasive about service in the Army. Consul General John Bigelow in Paris organized a network of immigration agencies across Europe offering free land under the Homestead Act of 1862. After the war Bigelow stated that the tremendous success of recruiting of these foreign mercenaries accounted for the “mysterious repletion of our army during the four years of war.” /47
Large numbers of Irish and German mercenaries arrived to assist in the suppression of the South. According to the New York Herald, almost 150,000 immigrants were estimated to have joined the army early in the war. Admiral Porter estimated that a majority of the eighty thousand seamen were aliens. Ultimately, it is estimated that between 400,000 and 500,000 mercenary troops were enrolled in the Northern army to subjugate the South. /48
Pope Pius IX wrote a personal letter to Jefferson Davis for the Confederacy to use in Ireland and in Catholic areas of Germany to stem the recruitment of such mercenary troops. /49 This letter was read in Catholic churches across Europe to discourage Union recruitment efforts. /50 Without the large influx of mercenaries, the primitive and wasteful military tactics of Grant would have sickened the Northern public far sooner than it did.
Southern prisoners of war also seemed to have escaped Lincoln’s much acclaimed magnanimity. The death rate of Southern prisoners in Northern prison camps was much higher than the rate of Northern prisoners in Southern P.O.W. camps. To this disparity must be added the fact that the North could not claim lack of food or medicine as a reason for the horrifying high death rate in the prisons. In fact, the North refused to permit the shipment of medicine or food to Union prisoners in Southern hands. Jefferson Davis offered to pay two or three times the market price for medicine in commodities such as cotton, tobacco or even gold for the exclusive use of Northern prisoners, to be dispensed by Northern surgeons. This offer was ignored by Lincoln. Finally, the Confederates offered to release 13,000 of the most desperate cases without an equivalent exchange by the Lincoln government. The Lincoln administration waited from August to October to collect the prisoners. After they were released, atrocity photographs of the men were circulated in the North to show how the typical prisoner in Southern hands was supposedly treated. /5l
Sherman used Southern prisoners of war to clear mine fields by marching them back and forth across land outside Savannah where mines were suspected. Southern prisoners were also herded in front of Northern emplacements under Confederate artillery fire so as to force Southerners to fire on their own men. Thus in the siege of Charleston, 50 Confederate officers were placed in a holding pen in front of Fort Wagner on Morris Island, so as to expose them to the fire of Confederate batteries shelling the Northern positions. On June 23, 1864, an order was issued to this effect from the office of the Commissary-General of Prisoners in Washington, D.C. /52 Once again, the idea that Lincoln was ignorant of the atrocious conditions under which Southern prisoners were held or the misuse of such prisoners is not tenable.
There is a French saying: the more things change, the more they remain the same. A book that has gotten fairly widespread distribution in the United States in the last year, called The Long Surrender, is worth reading because it shows us that we Americans are no more moral than foreign peoples. We have committed the same kind of war crimes that other people have committed. During the height of the hullabaloo raised over the Bitburg visit by Reagan, I learned of the disrespect shown to the Southern war dead in the course of the war. Among things cited by Burke Davis in The Long Surrender was the fact that after the Battle of Sharpsburg in Maryland, the Northerners announced that they would not permit anyone to accord Christian burials to the Southern soldiers of war – they ordered the bodies to be left out to rot and to decompose. Only after the rot had gotten to the point where the public’s health was being endangered were the rotted remains scooped together and buried in unmarked common ground. /53
Likewise after the war – of course, this can’t be laid to Lincoln’s account since he too was dead – the North posted soldiers at military cemeteries to prevent Southern women from putting flowers on the graves of their deceased husbands, fathers, sons and brothers. /54
When Richmond fell another interesting little tidbit of American history occurred. Lincoln’s subordinates ordered that the Episcopal churches, in which it is the custom to pray for the leader of the country, were to pray for Abraham Lincoln in conquered areas of the South. If they refused to pray for Abraham Lincoln, Northern troops were to take the priest away from the altar, thrust him out of the church, close the church and turn the church over to Northern denominations.
Another development in the course of the war which shows something of the barbarity with which it was waged is the famous incident involving Benjamin Butler in New Orleans. General Butler was one of the most ruthless and cruel Northern generals. When he occupied New Orleans he embarked upon a course of insult and abuse toward the civilian population. There were hardly any males of military age left in New Orleans. They had all been sent off to the army, so that the women were deprived of their sons, husbands and fathers to protect them. It was apparently inconceivable to Butler that these women would not welcome their Northern conquerors under the circumstances of the war and he took umbrage at the fact that one Southern lady spat at a Northern soldier who persisted in making advances toward her. When Butler heard of this he issued his Order Number 28 which read as follows:
As the officers and soldiers of the United States have been subject to repeated insults from the women calling themselves “ladies” of New Orleans in return for the most scrupulous non-interference and courtesy on our part [it is to be noted that there were Negro troops among the occupying army] it is ordered that hereafter when any female shall by word, gesture or movement insult or show contempt for any officer or soldier of the United States she shall be regarded and held liable to be treated as a woman of the town plying her avocation. /55
This in essence was a “right to rape” order which he issued to his troops and he undoubtedly, given his personality, was gratified by the effect it worked upon the civilian population. I assume that he was also astonished at the outrage that it aroused around the world, because the order redounded to the great discredit of the United States. Palmerston, the British Prime Minister, wrote to Charles Francis Adams, the U.S. Minister in London the following concerning Butler’s order
I will venture to say that no example can be found in the history of civilized nations till the publication of this order of a General guilty in cold blood of so infamous an act as deliberately to hand over the female inhabitants of a conquered city to the unbridled license of an unrestrained soldiery. /55
Later he said to the English Parliament: “It is a proclamation to which I do not scruple to attach the epithet ’infamous.’ Any English man must blush to think that such an act has been committed by one belonging to the Anglo-Saxon race.”
Likewise the French Minister in Washington, Mercier, who was concerned because so many of the women in New Orleans were of French extraction, issued strong remonstrances from the French government. Finally, Lincoln relieved Butler of his command – but not because of Buder’s treatment of the civilians of New Orleans; not because Butler and his brother were believed to be selling supplies through the black market to the Confederates; not because Butler ordered a civilian hanged: Lincoln did not remove Butler for these reasons. It was when Butler began confiscating foreign property and all of the foreign consuls united and objected to his behavior in a unanimous letter to Washington that Butler was removed. Lincoln’s reaction to the complaints was to give Butler the assignment of Commander of the Department of Virginia and North Carolina and Commissioner of Prisoner-of-War Exchanges. /56 What Lincoln expected of prisoner of war exchanges can be gauged from this appointment.
When Lincoln appointed Butler he also warned Butler that if he were captured, “He [Jeff Davis] has a price on your head and will hang you for sure.” This was the man Lincoln expected would be able to ensure humane treatment for prisoners of war and their exchange. The Confederate commissioner at first refused to meet with Butler. A few months after Butler’s appointment, Grant ordered all further exchanges to cease.
Lincoln’s depredations in the course of the war were not confined, however, to the South. As mentioned above Lincoln also interfered with the functioning of constitutional government in the North by arresting elected representatives of the people and holding them for military trial. /57 By Executive Order he closed down hundreds of newspapers in the North which criticized the war. He abolished the writ of habeas corpus and is estimated to have held as many as 20,000 civilians in detention without trial. /58 The suffering of the North, while not as horrific as that of the South, especially since the Northern civilian population at large escaped its severity, was none the less very real. The battle losses were far in excess of anyone’s expectations. /59
In this regard it is worth noting the famous letter to Lidia P. Bixby which Lincoln cultists love to cite. The text of the famous letter is as follows:
I have been shown in the files of the War Department a statement of the Adjutant General of Massachusetts, that you are the mother of five sons who have died gloriously on the field of battle.
I feel how weak and frivolous must be any words of mine which could attempt to beguile you from the grief of a loss overwhelming. But I cannot refrain from tendering to you the consolation that may be found in the thanks of the Republic they died to save.
I pray our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours, to have laid so costly a sacrifice on the altar of Freedom.
Yours, sincerely and respectfully,
A Lincoln /60
This letter received much publicity in the North, calculated as it was to touch the heart of any reader.
Those of us who are not Lincoln admirers may see in it a sterling example of the humbug and hypocrisy that is an inescapable part of any democracy. Lincoln’s own son, Robert Todd Lincoln, was of military age and was also a resident of Massachusetts during the bloodletting of the War between the States. Unlike Mrs. Bixby’s sons, however, Abraham Lincoln’s son fought the war at Andover and Harvard. Only in the closing months of the War did young Robert finally see military service. His service was confined to serving on General Grant’s staff where he enjoyed a bird’s eye view of the war’s conclusion with the rank of Captain and Assistant Adjutant General. /61
But Lincoln’s behavior in sheltering his son from the war at same same time he was consigning the sons of so many Northern mothers to battle contrasts sharply with the behavior of Robert E. Lee and other Southern leaders. Most of the sons of Southern leaders fought in the war. There was a famous example in one battle in which Lee was riding by an artillery unit. It was a hot day and the men had stripped themselves of their uniforms. They were blackened by the smoke from the cannons. As Lee rode by, one private, black with powder, ran out of the unit and spoke to the General. Lee said: “Well, my man, what can I do for you?” The artilleryman replied to him, “Why, General, don’t you know me?” It was Robert E. (“Rob”) Lee, Jr., Lee’s son and namesake in the thick of battle. Another of Lee’s sons, William Fitzhugh Lee, would be captured about the middle of the war, and Custis Lee would later be taken prisoner by the North in the closing days of the war. /62
Finally, most Americans accept as an article of faith that had Lincoln lived he would have conducted a policy of magnanimity toward the South during Reconstruction. In view of the methods by which he provoked the war and the methods by which he waged the war, such is mere supposition. There are various statements of Lincoln’s that are cited (that he was going to treat them as if they had never left, and all of that) but since Lincoln spoke out of both sides of his mouth, not too much credit can be laid to such remarks.
For example, Lincoln indicated that he was in favor of Negro suffrage in Louisiana, which would have placed the white Louisianans in a politically untenable position. He was upset when the Unionist-dominated legislature of the Reconstruction government did not grant suffrage to Negroes and he expressed a desire that Negro suffrage be granted. /63 Indeed, after Lincoln’s last cabinet meeting Attorney General Joshua Speed, an advocate of Negro suffrage, told Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase that Lincoln “never seemed so near our views.” /64 Of course, after Lincoln’s assassination, Negroes were given the right to vote and they were manipulated by Northern carpetbaggers into passing harsh laws against the formerly rebellious, white, Southern population.
What then is the proper place of Abraham Lincoln in American history and why they should we as Revisionists question Abraham Lincoln?
The proper place of Abraham Lincoln in American history is as part of the liberal trinity of F.D.R., Wilson and Lincoln. He had the same values they had. He advanced the country toward unlimited government as they did. He was willing to use foreigners and minority groups against his own people. He was willing to have a selective “democratic” conscience when it came to subjects like deportations. He properly ought to be considered as a major liberal force, as someone who moved the country toward the left and toward the situation which exists today. He successfully defeated the South. The labors of the South for its freedom were all in vain. Seventy-five percent of the white male population of military age served in the Southern armies but could not overcome the disparity in numbers of the North’s mercenaries.65 The cherished dream of Southern independence was not to be. Lincoln should be seen as an example of the amazing inability of Americans to assess their history objectively because while some things may be little known, certainly everyone has heard of General Sherman’s March to the Sea. We cannot exonerate Abraham Lincoln from this atrocity. Yet somehow the question is never even asked by Americans-if Lincoln was so wonderful and magnanimous and kind and good, why did the March to the Sea take place?
The Lincoln myth exemplifies the lack of historical sense and objectivity of Americans the ability to accept “official” history even in the face of obvious facts.
”Hey, boys, do take my advice,
“To America I’d have you not to be coming,
“For there’s nothin’ here but war,
“Where the murderin’ cannon roar,
“And I wish I was back in dear ole Erin.”
The song refers to “Mr. Lincoln’s war” and being handed a gun upon arrival at the pier.