The Real Lincoln

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The Real Lincoln: A New Look at Abraham Lincoln, His Agenda, and an Unnecessary War
The Real Lincoln cover art.jpg
Author Thomas J. DiLorenzo
Country United States
Subject Biography, Politics, American Civil War
Genre Non-fiction
Publisher Prima Publishing
Publication date
Media type Print
Pages xiii, 333 p.
ISBN 9780761536413
OCLC 48817846
Followed by Lincoln Unmasked

The Real Lincoln: A New Look at Abraham Lincoln, His Agenda, and an Unnecessary War is a biography of Abraham Lincoln written by Thomas DiLorenzo in 2002. He was severely critical of Lincoln's presidency.


DiLorenzo criticizes Lincoln for the suspension of habeas corpus, violations of the First Amendment, war crimes committed by generals in the American Civil War, and the expansion of government power. He argues that Lincoln's views on race exhibited forms of bigotry that are commonly overlooked today[specify](See Abraham Lincoln on slavery). He says that Lincoln instigated the American Civil War not over slavery but rather to centralize power and to enforce the strongly protectionist Morrill Tariff; similarly, he criticizes Lincoln for his strong support of Henry Clay's American System.[citation needed]

In the Foreword to DiLorenzo's book, Walter E. Williams, a professor of economics at George Mason University, says that "Abraham Lincoln’s direct statements indicated his support for slavery," and adds that he "defended slave owners’ right to own their property" by supporting the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850.[1]


Herman Belz reviewed DiLorenzo's book together with Charles Adams' When in the Course of Human Events: Arguing the Case for Southern Secession, and claimed that it quoted Lincoln out of context, saying

"with respect to the books under review, there is a temptation for writers oblivious to the requirements of historical scholarship to treat Lincoln's speeches and writings as a polemical grab bag from which to select materials, abstracted from their historical context, that can be used to present Lincoln in an unfavorable light. Thomas J. DiLorenzo and Charles Adams, writing from the point of view that in academic economics is labeled anarcho-capitalist libertarianism, scavenge the documentary record in an attempt to show Lincoln as a revolutionary centralizer who used national sovereignty to establish corporate-mercantilist hegemony at the expense of genuine economic liberty."[2]

He says they have a "simple-minded understanding of the relationship between politics and economics, between moral ends and productive entrepreneurial activity."[2] He also noted that "these not very scholarly books" were of most interest for "their reflection of recent trends in Civil War historiography. Two developments stand out. The first is radicalization of the interrelated issues of slavery, civil rights, and race relations. The second development is a revival of interest in secession as a solution to the problem of government centralization." [2]

Reviewing for The Independent Review, Richard M. Gamble noted that DiLorenzo’s book "manages to raise fresh and morally probing questions" and that it "exposes Lincoln’s embarrassing views on race, his ambition for economic nationalism, his rewriting of the history of the founding of the nation, his cavalier violation of constitutional limits on the presidency, and his willingness to wage a barbaric total war to achieve his ends". But, Gamble notes that The Real Lincoln "is seriously compromised by careless errors of fact, misuse of sources, and faulty documentation," which taken all together "constitute a near-fatal threat to DiLorenzo’s credibility as a historian."[3]

Gamble listed numerous fallacies of the book as follows:[3] "Thomas Jefferson was not among the framers of the Constitution (pp. 69–70); Lincoln advised sending freed slaves to Liberia in a speech in 1854, not “during the war” (pp. 16–17); Lincoln was not a member of the Illinois state legislature in 1857 (p. 18); the commerce clause was not an “amendment,”; Thaddeus Stevens was a Pennsylvania representative, not a senator (p. 140); and Fort Sumter was not a customs house (p. 242)." Additionally: "In chapter 3, DiLorenzo claims that in a letter to Salmon P. Chase, Lincoln “admitted that the original [Emancipation] proclamation had no legal justification, except as a war measure” (p. 37). His source, however, is the recollections of a conversation (not a letter) that portrait artist Francis B. Carpenter (not Chase) had with Lincoln, and at no point do these recollections sustain DiLorenzo’s summary of them. Moreover, in the reference for this section, DiLorenzo misidentifies the title of his source as Paul Angle’s The American Reader, when in fact the jumbled material comes from Angle’s The Lincoln Reader." He also notes that DiLorenzo claims, for example, "that in the four years between 1860 and 1864, population in the thirteen largest Northern cities rose by 70 percent” (p. 225)." Gamble checks the source and finds it says that total rate of growth took place over 15 years.[3]

Ken Masugi of the Claremont Institute in National Review wrote that "DiLorenzo frequently distorts the meaning of the primary sources he cites, Lincoln most of all." Masugi provides the following example:

Consider this inflammatory assertion: "Eliminating every last black person from American soil, Lincoln proclaimed, would be 'a glorious consummation.'" Compare the nuances and qualifications in what Lincoln actually said: "If as the friends of colonization hope, the present and coming generations of our countrymen shall by any means, succeed in freeing our land from the dangerous presence of slavery; and, at the same time, in restoring a captive people to their long-lost father-land, with bright prospects for the future; and this too, so gradually, that neither races nor individuals shall have suffered by the change, it will indeed be a glorious consummation." One need not be a Lincoln admirer to recognize that DiLorenzo is making an unfair characterization. DiLorenzo actually gets so overwrought that at one point he attributes to Lincoln racist views Lincoln was attacking.

Masugi further asserts that DiLorenzo failed to recognize "a disunited America might have become prey for the designs of European imperial powers, which would have put an end to the experiment in self-government."[4]

DiLorenzo responded saying that Masugi was selective in his presentation about Lincoln and "relies entirely on a few of Lincoln’s prettier speeches, ignoring his less attractive ones as well as his actual behavior." He concluded that Lincoln used his considerable rhetorical skills to camouflage his true intentions and mask his behavior.[5]

Writing in 2013 about DiLorenzo's book and the work of other "Lincoln haters," Rich Lowry said,

"The anti-Lincolnites hate that the North instituted a progressive income tax; they never bother to complain that the Confederacy did the same. They hate that Lincoln suspended habeas corpus; they never note that Jefferson Davis did, too. They hate that the North resorted to a draft; they don't care that the Confederacy also had one. They hate that Lincoln fought a war against his countrymen; it evidently never occurs to them that Jefferson Davis shot back (let alone that he fired the first shot)."[6]


  1. ^ Williams, Walter E. (2003). "Foreword". In DiLorenzo, Thomas J. The Real Lincoln: A New Look at Abraham Lincoln, His Agenda, and an Unnecessary War. Roseville, California: Prima. pp. ix–xiii. ISBN 978-0-7615-2646-9. 
  2. ^ a b c Herman Belz, "Review: The Real Lincoln: A New Look at Abraham Lincoln, His Agenda, and an Unnecessary War, by Thomas J. DiLorenzo; When in the Course of Human Events: Arguing the Case for Southern Secession, by Charles Adams", Journal of Abraham Lincoln Association, Volume 24, Issue 1, Winter 2003, pp. 58-65
  3. ^ a b c Gamble, Richard M. "The Real Lincoln: Book review" The Independent Review [1].
  4. ^ Masugi, Ken (14 October 2002). "The Unreal Lincoln". National Review. 
  5. ^ "Claremont’s Court Historians". Retrieved 2006-07-30. 
  6. ^ "The Rancid Abraham Lincoln–Haters of the Libertarian Right", The Daily, 17 June 2013

Further reading[edit]

  • Feller, Daniel (2004). "Libertarians in the Attic, or A Tale of Two Narratives". Reviews in American History 32 (2): 184–95. doi:10.1353/rah.2004.0025. JSTOR 30031836. 
  • Dirck, Brian (2009). "Father Abraham: Lincoln’s Relentless Struggle to End Slavery, and: Act of Justice: Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation and the Law of War, and: Lincoln and Freedom: Slavery, Emancipation, and the Thirteenth Amendment (review)". Civil War History 55 (3): 382–5. doi:10.1353/cwh.0.0090. 
  • Uhlmann, Michael M., Krannawitter, Thomas L. "Father Abraham Under Fire Again". May 20, 2002. Claremont Institute. 
  • Krannawitter, Thomas L. "Dishonest About Abe". January 31, 2009. Claremont Institute. A review of The Real Lincoln 

External links[edit]