Yahoo! News ran a story today that 65 historians rated Lincoln’s administration as their favorite. I’ve always been at odds with the Presidents that historians seem to prefer. There’s top five Presidents of all time are:
- Abraham Lincoln
- George Washington
- Franklin D Roosevelt
- Theodore Roosevelt
- Harry S Truman
Wow. Thomas Jefferson didn’t even make the top 5. For some reason, historians prefer Harry S Truman, the President that ended the second World War by the unnecessary use of nuclear weapons and threw the US into the Cold War. I’m not sure how that beats out authoring the Bill of Rights, but who do I know.
For that matter, FDR? The man failed miserably in his attempt to end The Great Depression and introduced many laws and policies that were clearly inspired by Communism and smacked of totalitarian authority. As I asked in my book, where in the Constitution does it say that the government has the power to confiscate the gold of all US citizens?
But Historians are like that. They like men of action. Jefferson argued that the Constitution does not grant the government the power to declare a legal tender whereas FDR invented powers to confiscate all of the lawful money from the citizenry. One took actions the other would never have dreamed. Historians like men of action; somewhat like sports commentators, they seem to rank amongst their favorites those who took the most actions and consider the ethics or efficacy of those actions a far second. Which must be why they love Lincoln so much.
Over his term, Lincoln took many actions:
1. Initiated a civil war against a seceding South.
2. Suspended Habeus Corpus against Northerners who were against the war and held them until the end of the war.
3. Signed the National Bank Act which created a entirely new classification of banks that were “national” instead of state chartered. These banks were empowered to issue their own notes that were to be accepted nationwide. State chartered banks were suddenly put at a disadvantage to their newly created neighbors, and there was a sudden shift of power and money to these new banks and they immediately began to influence national politics.
4. Issued irredeemable fiat money and made it legal lender.
5. Began an income tax.
The constitutionality of all of these actions was very questionable when these actions were taken. Fiat money was especially considered unconstitutional by many states. But historians seem to consider his lack of restraint regarding the constitution as a virtue. He took action and, for them, that’s enough.
Now it is true that Lincoln ended the insidious institution of slavery, and for that, we should thank him. But we should not forget that ending slavery was not his goal as we can read here in an 1862 letter from his own hand:
I would save the Union. I would save it the shortest way under the Constitution. The sooner the national authority can be restored; the nearer the Union will be “the Union as it was.” If there be those who would not save the Union, unless they could at the same time save slavery, I do not agree with them. If there be those who would not save the Union unless they could at the same time destroy slavery, I do not agree with them. My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union; and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union. I shall do less whenever I shall believe what I am doing hurts the cause, and I shall do more whenever I shall believe doing more will help the cause. I shall try to correct errors when shown to be errors; and I shall adopt new views so fast as they shall appear to be true views.
What is really showcased in this letter is that Lincoln’s compassion rated a far second to his hunger for power. Lincoln believed that power should be held centrally, and he took the nation to war to consolidate power in Washington. Over the course of the war, Lincoln put many institutions in place to take power away from the people and consolidate it into fewer hands. That is, after all, the logical end result of national banks, fiat money, income taxes, and imprisonment of dissenters. Before Lincoln, American citizens were suspicious of centrally held power. After Lincoln, we were set on the path towards empire.
Economist and historian Thomas Di Lorenzo gave a one-hour interview to One Radio Network that I would encourage everyone to listen to (it’s free) where he reviews the darker side of Lincoln’s policies. In addition, if anyone is interested in how the national banks that Lincoln created took over American politics, I’d encourage everyone to pick up a copy of The Coming Battle: A Complete History of the National Banking Money Power in the United States.
As for Lincoln, my goal here is to get my readers to better understand Lincoln’s ideology. Too often I’ve seen Lincoln deified for his role in ending slavery and people then using his deified status to justify every policy he championed as being correct. This is not the case. We can appreciate Lincoln for ending slavery, which to him seemed a secondary issue, and still be leery of the heavy statist agenda that he passed. Lest we forget, it was the National Banking Act which created banks that were “too bit to fail.” Strangely, it would seem that we are just not discovering the folly of such a state of affairs.