“I am mystified by all the whooping on the… anniversary of the Gettysburg Address. Most of the commentators seem to believe that Lincoln was an honest man touting the highest ideals.”
November 19th of this year of grace 2019 was the 156th anniversary of Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address.”
Along with his “Emancipation” Proclamation, which did not emancipate a single slave (*), it is the basis for the Northern/Federalist mythologizing of both Lincoln as the preserver of the Union (which is true, although at gunpoint, and at tremendous cost to the Founders’ vision of that Union) and liberator of the slaves (which is a bald-faced lie), and the War Between the States as a “civil war” and a conflict between freedom and oppression.
Well, it was not a civil war: a civil war is a war between two or more factions for control of the central government; the WBTS was an invasion of a group of States, who wanted only to be left alone, by another group of States – at the behest of the Federal government – which was violently determined not to leave them in peace.
It was, in fact, a war between freedom and oppression; but not in the way the Lincolnites and supporters of the “Glorious Union” would like us to believe. As one commenter has accurately noted, H.L. Menken had Lincoln pegged 100 years ago:
“The Gettysburg speech was at once the shortest and the most famous oration in American history… the highest emotion reduced to a few poetical phrases. Lincoln himself never even remotely approached it. It is genuinely stupendous. But let us not forget that it is poetry, not logic; beauty, not sense.
“Think of the argument in it. Put it into the cold words of everyday. The doctrine is simply this: that the Union soldiers who died at Gettysburg sacrificed their lives to the cause of self-determination — that government of the people, by the people, for the people, should not perish from the earth.
“It is difficult to imagine anything more untrue. The Union soldiers in the battle actually fought against self-determination; it was the Confederates who fought for the right of their people to govern themselves.”
(For a more detailed treatment of Mencken on Lincoln, go here.)
And as the linked essay points out,
“Massachusetts abolitionist Lysander Spooner” – of all people! – “offered the most concise refutation to President Lincoln’s claim that the Civil War was fought to preserve a ‘government by consent.’ Spooner observed, ‘The only idea . . . ever manifested as to what is a government of consent, is this – that it is one to which everybody must consent, or be shot.'”
That was certainly the case with the Federal Union, in the War Between the States (a.k.a. War of Northern Aggression)! And it has been, by and large, ever since.
On the subject of liberating the slaves: I wonder how many people who hail Lincoln as “the Great Emancipator” realize that his much-vaunted Proclamation did not emancipate a single slave. And why? Because it applied only to areas – Confederate-controlled areas – in which his writ did not run.
It specifically did not apply to any area in or held by the Union! And why was that? Because, as he was very well aware, slavery was still PERMITTED BY THE CONSTITUTION in the “Glorious Union,” and he had absolutely no authority to change that, short of a Constitutional Amendment – which did not occur until after the War (though passed by a Congress in which the Southern States were not represented early in 1865, it was not ratified by the requisite number of States until December 6th of that year).
Now, granted, he did a lot of other things he had no Constitutional authority to do! But I think he was smart enough to realize that if he tried to end slavery inside the Union without an Amendment to the Constitution, he’d be losing several more states, and most likely, the War. And he had already made it clear that he didn’t give a hoot about slavery, one way or the other, as a matter of policy – just about keeping the Union together.
The “Emancipation” Proclamation was a very narrow and (I’m sorry to say) well-designed political and military “poison pill” to make it look like he was doing something about slavery when, in fact, he wasn’t; and to dissuade nations like Britain and France who were debating coming in on the side of the Confederacy, but didn’t want to look like they were defending slavery.
Lincoln was an @$$hole – pardon me – but he was a clever @$$hole… We sometimes forget, I think, that before he was President, he was a frontier lawyer! As one might expect of such an individual, he was very good at manipulating both facts and people to advance his agenda.
Side note: Washington, DC, emancipated its slaves in 1862, with the DC Compensated Emancipation Act of 1862, passed by the Congress and signed by President Abraham Lincoln. The act ended slavery in Washington, DC, freed 3,100 individuals, reimbursed those who had legally owned them and offered the newly freed women and men money to emigrate.
A good example of the correct way to do it, as distinct from what actually happened in the aftermath of the WBTS…