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Culture and Arts

Culture Watch


In this issue:


Laura Haywood reviews a new biography putting Abraham Lincoln, of all Presidents, in his place: The Real Lincoln. DiLorenzo contends that Lincoln waged an unnecessary war which let him seize the powers of a dictator.

A murdered child is a commentator in The Lovely Bones, a novel reviewed by Julia Sneden. The family dynamics are complex, powerful and utterly believable. This is the kind of book you will want to buy for yourself, when you have time to sequester yourself and have a long read.


The Real Lincoln
by Thomas J. DiLorenzo, 333 pages
Prima Publishing, a division of Random House

A New Look at an Old President

Asked to name the five best presidents this country ever had, most Americans would include Abraham Lincoln near the top of the list if not in first place.

Thomas J. DiLorenzo, professor of economics in the Sellinger School of Business and Management at Loyola College in Maryland, would not put Lincoln on that list and, in his new book, The Real Lincoln, he explains why he may have been the worst president. In his forward, Walter E. Williams, Olin Distinguished Professor of Economics at George Mason University, sets the premise of the book:

In 1831, long before the War between the States, South Carolina Senator John C. Calhoun said, "Stripped of all its covering, the naked question is, whether ours is a Federal or consolidated government; a constitutional or absolute one; a government resting solidly on the basis of the sovereignty of the States, or on the unrestrained will of a majority; a form of government, as in all other unlimited ones, in which injustice, violence, and force must ultimately prevail."

DiLorenzo holds that we have moved away from the Constitutional form of government envisioned by (most of) the founding fathers and to a centralized government wielding powers never granted by the Constitution. Lincoln was largely instrumental in producing that change and he did it by waging an unnecessary war which let him seize the powers of a dictator.

Wait a minute...Abraham Lincoln a bad guy? Well, it depends on your definition of bad, of course. If you don't find tyrants bad, then he wasn't so bad; if you do object to tyranny, then he was, indeed, a bad guy.

What did he do that was so objectionable? The list is a lengthy one. First, he abrogated the right of secession. DiLorenzo's discussion of secession is an eye-opener. He provides evidence that, until the Civil War, secession by a state or group of states had always been considered a legitimate option. After all, the United States had its origins in an act of secession. Both Jefferson and John Quincy Adams defended the right of secession Jefferson in the face of an attempted secession by the New England Federalists.

DiLorenzo's discussion of slavery is no less startling. He rejects the idea that Lincoln's determination to free the slaves was a major cause of the war in fact, he rejects the image of Lincoln as the great emancipator, pointing out that when Lincoln did issue the Emancipation Proclamation, it applied only to those states that had seceded. DiLorenzo also points out that slavery existed in most other Western Hemisphere nations, and that, except for the United States, it was eliminated without war. The simplest way to have ended slavery would have been to buy all the slaves and free them, a plan that would have been far less costly than the war.

Despite the general acceptance that secession was a legitimate option, "upon taking office," DiLorenzo writes, "Lincoln implemented a series of unconstitutional acts, including launching an invasion of the South without consulting Congress, as required by the Constitution; declaring martial law; blockading the Southern ports; suspending the writ of habeas corpus for the duration of his administration; imprisoning without trial thousands of Northern citizens; arresting and imprisoning newspaper publishers who were critical of him (his discussion of Lincoln's treatment of those who disagreed with him, particularly members of the press, is nothing less than shocking); censoring all telegraph communication; nationalizing the railroads; creating several new states (most notably West Virginia) without the consent of the citizens of those states; ordering Federal troops to interfere with elections in the North by intimidating Democratic voters; deporting a member of Congress, Clement L. Vallandigham of Ohio, for criticizing the administration's income tax proposal at a Democratic Party rally; confiscating private property; confiscating firearms in violation of the Second Amendment; and effectively gutting the Ninth and Tenth amendments to the Constitution, among other things."

Lincoln's suspension of the writ of habeas corpus allowed him to imprison as many as "13,000 political prisoners."

It's impossible to view Lincoln as a great president after reading DiLorenzo's book. One remains appalled at John Wilkes Booth's murderous action at Ford's Theater, but one feels a certain sympathy with his words that night: Sic Semper Tyrannus thus ever to tyrants.


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