15 February 2010

Abraham Lincoln: Hero or Hellion?

It is President's Day, so here is an article about one. I didn't write it, but wanted to share it here. This is actually an excerpt from the book The Confederate Catechism by Lyon Gardiner Tyler which was originally published in 1935, but an affordable reprint can be acquired HERE along with many other related titles. Here is a description of this little writing:
This informative little booklet, originally published in 1935, set out in a helpful question and answer format, offers concise, yet insightful, answers to such questions as: "What Was the Cause of Secession in 1861?" "Was Slavery the Cause of Secession or the War?" "Did Lincoln by His Conquest of the South Save the Union?" etc. Every lover of Liberty should read this booklet and use it to "catechize" his children in the knowledge of the Southern Cause, which Robert Lewis Dabney once predicted "will one day be the cause of us all." 60 pages.

Abraham Lincoln: Hero or Hellion?
The North has become ashamed of the manner in which the South has been treated and it is now pretty unanimous in calling Reconstruction "a dark blot upon the history of the country," but it tries to win over the South to recognizing Lincoln as a national hero by claiming that Lincoln was a friend of the South and that if Lincoln had survived the war, the South would have had no trouble.

This claim is based on mere words -- passages in his messages and reported conversations, but no one of his admirers has been able to produce any real act of kindness done by Lincoln. And words with Lincoln were mere playthings.

As a matter of fact, Lincoln's speeches, addresses, and conversations are scarcely more than a collection of sophisms in which a flourish of words is substituted for the truth. He was a word juggler and tried to fool people instead of convincing them by sound logic. Some examples may be given. Lincoln argued that "the States have their status in the Union and they have no other legal status. If they break from this, they can do so only against law and by revolution. The Union is older than the States and it indeed created them as States." In this remarkable casuistry Lincoln makes the Union a corporate entity which, of course, it was not, but a mere condition or cooperation of certain thirteen unities, each independent of the other. If thirteen slaves united to resist their master and by their joint efforts achieved their independence, could it be said that they had individually no right to their liberty, and, like the Siamese twins, were inseparably joined together forever?

Again Lincoln argued, "If one State may secede, so may another, and when all shall secede, none is left to pay the debts of the Union. Is this quite fair to creditors?" Of course, it did not follow that all the States would secede if one did, nor that any State was relieved of its share of the public debt by secession. Any schoolboy could have told Lincoln that the States would have been obligated to pay the debts even if all did secede.

No more wicked violation of the Constitution was ever devised than the creation of West Virginia out of the territory of the Commonwealth of Virginia. To justify his course, Lincoln got off this grotesque stunt: "It is said that the admission of West Virginia is secession and only tolerated because it is our secession. Well, if we call it by that name, there is still difference enough between secession for the Constitution and secession against the Constitution."

Lincoln had declared secession "anarchy," and it seems that anarchy had no terrors when it subserved his purposes. As a real truth, there was no such thing as either secession for the Constitution or secession against it. There was action in accordance with the Constitution and action in violation of it, and undoubtedly Lincoln's action was in gross violation of his oath to act in accordance with it.

Lincoln was simply trifling, and just as trifling in its essential character was his Gettysburg speech. Because the words have a resonance about them that appeals to the ear and the imagination, it has been glorified beyond anything. Truthfully speaking, it is a mere rhetorical flourish based upon a dishonest assumption implied and not directly expressed. That assumption is that if the South had succeeded, "government of the people, by the people, and for the people" would have "perished from the earth." Nothing is more absurd. The real danger came from Lincoln himself. The Gettysburg address was a gilded fraud. No true frame can be had unless founded on truth.

The suspicion that words in the mouth of Lincoln had little or no weight is proved by his second inaugural, which, next to his Gettysburg address, has caught most the fancy of his admirers. In this paper, while professing "malice to none and charity to all," he showed the greatest malice and uncharitableness possible in describing the slave owner as an incarnate demon, who did nothing but lash his slaves, without giving the least requital for their service of 250 years! The negroes were the most spoiled domestics in the world. The Southerners took the negro as a barbarian and cannibal, civilized him, supported him, clothed him, and turned him out a better Christian than Abraham Lincoln, who was a free thinker, if not an atheist. Booker T. Washington admitted that the negro was the beneficiary rather than the victim of slavery. His successor, Moton, just the other day declared that contact with the white race has been of the greatest advantage to the negro. The fact is that the South's taking ignorant negroes and making them work was no more criminal violation of democracy or self-government than the government is guilty of today (1935) in keeping the Porto Ricans and Filipinos under political slavery. The excuse of the present United States Government is exactly that of the old slave masters: "The Porto Ricans and Filipinos are not fit for freedom."

It is often said that Lincoln, in sending armies to the South, acted only in obedience to his oath "to take care that the laws of the United States be faithfully executed. The Constitution required him to take an oath "to execute the office of President," and, "to the best of his ability, to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States." Now the Southern States were either in the Union or out of it. If the ordinances of secession were void, then the President was limited by the acts of Congress, which, under the Constitution, had the whole military power. Now the only act which authorized him to employ the militia or the regular army to suppress obstruction to the laws was the act of 1807, which required that he must "first observe all the prerequisites of law in that respect." These were the issuance of a writ by a United States judge and a call from the marshal, if he found it impossible to execute the writ. But no call was made upon Lincoln, and only Congress could supply defects in the law. Lincoln, therefore, not only sent his troops without authority, but in raising the army far above the limit fixed by Congress, in declaring a blockade, and in denouncing Confederate privateersmen as pirates, he usurped the powers of Congress. His action, therefore, instead of being in conformity with his oath "to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States," was in plain violation of it.(1) On the other hand, if the secession ordinances were valid, and the States were out of the Union, then his acts were acts of war, and he as plainly violated his oath, for only Congress can declare war and make the laws necessary thereto.

Lincoln claimed that his duty was to preserve the Union, but he had taken no oath to do that, and a Union apart from the Constitution was never thought of by the Fathers.

Worse than that, Lincoln admitted in Seward's official letters to the United States Ministers at London and Paris (April 10 and April 22, 1861) that the government had no power to war upon a State; so to justify his employment of troops, he invented the idea of "a combination of persons" resisting the laws, though it was impossible to show how the Southern people could have proceeded more formally than they did to show that they were acting as States; but as the war progressed he spoke of "insurrectionary States," thus exposing his own insincerity.

Lincoln attempted to excuse himself at the beginning by asking, "Are all the laws but one to go unexecuted and the government itself go to pieces lest that one be violated?"(2) The answer is that the Constitution was a chain of power and the breaking of one link left the chain as inefficient as if a dozen links had been broken. There was the additional fact that Lincoln knowingly violated his oath, while the Southerners thought they had conscientiously absolved themselves from any obedience to it by secession. Of course, the success of the South did not mean a dissolution of the government of the United States. As a matter of fact, Lincoln throughout his administration treated the Constitution as a door-mat and wiped his feet upon it.

On the other hand, there are the facts displayed, first, in his beginning an unnecessary war, and, second, in conducting it with a ruthlessness which has never been surpassed. His proclamation of 8 December 1863, which has been called an amnesty proclamation, was more like one of menace and threat of punishment, for instead of offering pardon to everyone who would submit as the British General Howe had done when American affairs in 1776 were at their lowest ebb, Lincoln excepted from his pardon everyone of any acknowledged consequence in the South. When Richmond fell, Lincoln had an opportunity to show real statesmanship by inviting all the leading men in the South to aid him in restoring peace to the distracted South. This is what the British did in South Africa. But this never occurred to him, and such a man as Lee, who would have contributed most to heal the wounds of the country, was not asked to assist.

Neither did it occur to Johnson, who issued a proclamation like Lincoln had done. But beyond this it is absurd to ascribe Andrew Johnson's policy of reconstruction to Lincoln, for Lincoln in his proclamation of 8 July 1864, declared that he was not bound up to any fixed plan whatever, and Woodburn, in his Life of Thaddeus Stevens, states his belief that "no doubt Lincoln would have cooperated with Congress and the States in carrying out such plan as Congress had proposed if a change of circumstances had made his cooperation desireable."

Indeed, the character of the men with whom Lincoln was most familiar is an overwhelming argument against the idea that he would have stood up for the South against any serious opposition in Cabinet or Congress. One of these was Benjamin Butler, commonly known as "Beast Butler," and the other was Edwin M. Stanton, his Secretary of War. Both wanted to treat the South as conquered territory. Dr. John Fiske said of Butler that "he could not have understood in the faintest degree the feelings of gentlemen." Nevertheless Lincoln wanted Butler to run on the same ticket with him as Vice President. According to Welles, Lincoln spent most of the time in Stanton's room in the War Department. It is to the honor of President Johnson that he kicked this ruffian out of his cabinet. It is inconceivable that Lincoln would have done so. Johnson was far from an ideal, and he blackened his first year as President in wickedly consenting to the murder of Mrs. Surratt and Major Henry Wirz by courts-martial sitting after all hostilities had ceased, and to the shackling of President Davis. But there were things about him that command some respect. In spite of his coarseness and animosities, he showed a nerve in resisting the program of reconstruction that placed him far above Lincoln. He had a superior sense of honor. When informed by Dana of Lincoln's buying votes in Congress, he declared that such conduct "tended to immorality."(3)

What were the main features of Lincoln's "friendship" for the South? A statement of the main features is as follows: (1) The sacking and burning of homes and towns, and the general destruction of fences, crops, stock, and farm implements; (2) the expulsion from their homes of all persons, including women and children and non-combatants, unless an oath of allegiance was taken. This was as if the German commanders in the World War had required every Frenchman in the occupied territory to swear allegiance to the Kaiser. Sherman drove the white population from Atlanta without even allowing this alternative. Not even the British in the Revolution ever issued any order like this. They exacted paroles of the inhabitants, it is true, but this, though a violation of the international law, acknowledged the Americans as enemies, not merely Rebels; (3) The precipitation upon the South of emancipation with apparently absolute indifference whether it created massacre or not, and (4) the subordination of the lives of prisoners to military success which occasioned the deaths of thousands of poor fellows on both sides.

The volume of sufferings covers the whole war, and there is not a particle of evidence of the humanitarian intervention of Lincoln with either his Cabinet officers or generals in the field. The truth is the Reconstruction era was the logical result of the Lincoln era, when the Chief Justice, in standing by the Constitution, apprehended his own arrest by the minions of the President.

The thing next to posing Lincoln as a friend of the South is the attempt to pose him as a hero. This, however, had been attempted in favor of John Brown, whose hands were red with the blood of innocent people. In those days, when Lincoln was first coming to the front, hatred of the South was so extreme that, as Wendell Phillips tells us, the first words of everybody in Massachusetts, of every party, that was met by him in the streets or street-cars, on the occasion of the news at Harper's Ferry, were that "they were sorry that he (Brown) had not succeeded," and Gideon Welles tells us that negro insurrections were counted on at the North, when the war began, as something certain to keep the Southern soldiers engaged. That a great negro uprising would occur was undoubtedly the expectation of Lincoln and his Cabinet when the Emancipation Proclamation was issued.

Lincoln was not personally a murderer, though his actions brought death to thousands of poor people in both the North and the South. But was he a hero? His early life is set forth by his friends, Lamon and Herndon, and it is impossible to see in it anything else than the very reverse of a hero. Beginning with his passing counterfeit money at nineteen,(4) and sewing up hogs' eyes for a more ready transportation of them across the river at twenty-one,(5) we are told of his writing anonymous letters at thirty-three, and when challenged to a duel by the man whom he thus secretly defamed, violated all codes by insisting on a weapon that left his brave and honorable opponent at a fatal disadvantage.(6) He is pictured by these and other friends as slipshod, slovenly, and shiftless to such an appalling degree that some of his debts remain still unpaid. We are told by them of Lincoln's passion for funny stories, particularly for dirty ones; of a repellent poem he wrote, a salacious wedding burlesque too indecent to quote; of a letter that he wrote to a Mrs. Browning, shamelessly burlesquing a woman to whom he had proposed and by whom he had been rejected (this at the age of twenty-eight, an age when William Pitt and James Madison had already attained high honors and distinction); of his scoffing at the Bible, etc.

According to these friends, Lincoln's tactics as legislator were certainly not of an heroic nature. He log-rolled and traded in the offices and joined in tricking a Democratic paper into publishing an article which Lincoln was foremost in denouncing after the publication.(7)

There are a thousand other details reflecting upon Lincoln that have been verified by Albert J. Beveridge and set out in his incomplete Life of Abraham Lincoln.

Nor did the responsibilities of high office raise Lincoln above these objectionable habits. Chandler, in his Life of Governor Andrew, relates a story how the war governor of Massachusetts, in pressing a matter upon Lincoln, was put off with a smutty joke, and Hugh McCulloch, who was Lincoln's Secretary of the Treasury, is a witness to the unrefined conduct of the President in a stormy contest with Randall, his Postmaster General after the report of Sheridan's victory in the Valley was received.(8) His trading in the offices was kept up to the last. Both Lamon(9) and Herndon(10) declare his nomination as President was secured by his managers through promises of cabinet appointment which Lincoln afterwards fulfilled. To secure the admission of Nevada, he promised in return for their votes to three Democratic Congressmen lucrative appointments -- one worth $20,000 a year,(11) and to get rid of Salmon P. Chase, his chief competitor for the presidency, he appointed him Chief Justice, who, though a good financier, had no great reputation as a lawyer at the time.(12)

Lincoln strictly enforced the draft which forced other people's sons into the army but kept his own son at college till near the end of the war. Then his (alleged) letter of 21 November 1864, to poor Mrs. Bixby,(13) who lost five dear boys in the war, appears a positive cruel mockery after reading Lincoln's letter to General Grant of 19 January 1865, about keeping his own (Lincoln's) son out of the ranks.

United with high moral qualities a hero should have exceptional ability; but Lincoln, though a shrewd trader in votes and political trickery, had nothing of the sort. No constructive measure stands to his credit at any period in his history. He signed important papers without reading them,(14) and John Hay states that he trusted to him the answering of his correspondence. Hay states that Lincoln was exceedingly "unmethodical."(15) Welles shows that there was absolutely no system during his presidency in the administration of affairs, and every Cabinet officer was practically independent of the other and of the President, for whom they had no great opinion, especially Stanton, Seward, and Chase. At the Cabinet meetings Seward took the lead, and Lincoln was treated as a kind of junior partner in the concern.

Instead of expediting the war he put it back by bad appointments and constant interference with his generals in the field. One instance alone is sufficient to show Lincoln's incapacity: Upon the retreat of General McClellan to Harrison's Landing on James River, General Lee marched with most of his army to attack Pope, who was advancing from Washington. This left Richmond with only 30,000 men. McClellan had 100,000, and he asked permission to attack that city. But Lincoln, fearful for his capitol, refused, through Halleck, to grant permission, and soon after removed McClellan and recalled his army, when it had attained the best possible position for future operations. Unfriendly as the historian Rhodes is to the memory of McClellan, he is compelled to confess that the move proposed by McClellan was "the most promising strategy of the whole campaign, both for the security of Washington and for possible results." Lincoln by this act put back the war two years.

Lincoln had behind him a population four times greater than the South, an old established government which had the recognition of the powers of the world, an established army and navy, credit with the bankers, etc., and yet to win success he had to hire thousands of foreigners and to force the Southern negroes into his army. He was reduced to the ignominious confession that without the 200,000 negroes he had in his army, he would have "to abandon the war in three weeks."(16)

Contrasted with this was the great ability shown by Mr. Davis and his Cabinet, who out of nothing created an organization that for four years carried on a war that their own enemies were forced to confess was up to that time the greatest war of all ages. General Lee said of Mr. Davis that "few men could have done as well and none could have done better." Nevertheless had a really competent President like Andrew Jackson, been in the place of Lincoln, with a Cabinet led by an Edward Livingston or William L. Marcy, instead of such marplots as Seward and Stanton, the South would have been suppressed in eighteen months.


1. See Stephen A. Douglas, Congressional Globe, Part II (36th Congress, 2nd Session), page 1455.

2. Abraham Lincoln, message to Congress, 4 July 1861.

3. Charles A. Dana, Recollections of the Civil War (New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1902), pages 173-178.

4. Reference: Ward H. Lamon, Life of Abraham Lincoln (Boston, Massachusetts: Fields, Osgod and Company, 1872), page 71.

5. Reference: Lamon, ibid., page 82; William H. Herndon and Jesse W. Weik, Abraham Lincoln: The True Story of a Great Life (New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1923), Volume I, page 74.

6. Reference: Lamon, Life of Abraham Lincoln, page 260.

7. Reference: Herndon and Weik, Abraham Lincoln, Volume II, page 370.

8. Reference: Allen Thorndike Rice, Reminiscences of Abraham Lincoln (New York: North American Review, 1888), page 419.

9. Reference: Lamon, Life of Abraham Lincoln, page 450.

10. Reference: Herndon and Weik, Abraham Lincoln, Volume III, page 471.

11. Reference: Dana, Recollections, pages 175-178.

12. Reference: A.K. McClure, Abraham Lincoln and Men of War Times (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Times Publishing Company, 1892), page 123; James Ford Rhodes, History of the United States (New York: MacMillan Company, 1902), Volume V, page 45.

13. John Hay really wrote it.

14. Reference: Gideon Welles, The Diary of Gideon Welles (Boston, Massachusetts: Houghton, MIfflin and Company, 1911), Volume I, pages 16-32.

15. Reference: Herndon and Weik, Abraham Lincoln, Volume III, page 515.

16. Lincoln, quoted by John G. Nicolay and John Hay, Complete Works of Abraham Lincoln (New York: The Century Company, 1894), Volume II, page 562.