The Real Lincoln
|Author||Thomas J. DiLorenzo|
|Subject||Biography, Politics, American Civil War|
|Pages||xiii, 333 p.|
|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.. DiLorenzo regards Lincoln as the political and ideological heir of Alexander Hamilton and contends that Lincoln achieved by the use of armed force the centralized state which Hamilton failed to create in the early years of the United States.
DiLorenzo's negative view of Lincoln is explicitly derived from his Anarcho-capitalist views. He considers Lincoln to have opened the way to later instances of government involvement in the American economy, for example Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal, of which DiLorenzo strongly dosapproves. DiLorenzo objects to historians who described Lincoln as having carried out "A capitalist revolution", since in DiLorenzo's view Protectionist policies such as Lincoln strongly advocated and implemtneted "are not true Capitalism". In DiLorenzo's explicitly expressed view, only Free Trade policies are truly Capitalist—a distinction not shared by most economists and political scientists. Also, DiLorenzo declares Protectionism and Mercantilism to be one the same, using the two as interchangeable and frequently talking of "Lincoln's Mercantilist policies". In general, academics do not regard Protectionism and Mercantilism as being identical—at most regarding the two as having some common features.
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.
[Howard Killion, Ph.D. History, Duke U:] The Forward to DiLorenzo’s book is by Walter E. Williams, a fellow economics professor, not a historian. This may explain why the Forward lacks documentation, which renders it mere opinion, not verifiable evidence. However, DiLorenzo’s text itself is fairly well documented although he often fails to give context for quotations, and his footnotes frequently refer only to a collection of speeches and writings, not to a specific speech, letter, or other piece of writing. Therefore, he often neglects to give specific sources for his quotations. Again, this may be due to the fact that the discipline of economics appears to have a different standard for documentation from that of the discipline of history, which appears to be more rigorous. DiLorenzo generally ignores the historical context of Lincoln’s comments. He likewise tends to treat Lincoln’s views as static, that they didn’t change over time or if they did change, they did so because of different audiences. To DiLorenzo this is proof of what he calls “circular reasoning,” by which he means dishonesty and hypocrisy. [See for example, pp. 15, 10-11.] Similarly, DiLorenzo, apparently needing things black and white—his early chapters on Lincoln's attitude toward blacks and slavery and on the Emancipation Proclamation are prime examples—, struggles with understanding Lincoln, who habitually hid his private thoughts and feelings and who was likewise comfortable with ambiguity. For example, DiLorenzo says about Lincoln: “…Like most successful politicians, he was not above saying one thing to one audience and the opposite to another. Lincoln’s speeches and writings offer support for both sides of many issues.”[p. 11] In contrast, Ronald C. White, Jr.’s, "A. Lincoln: A Biography," has a better grasp of Lincoln’s personality, manner of thinking, and approach to communication. For example, White writes: “In an age when one did not tell all, Lincoln seldom shared his innermost feelings in public. Lincoln’s law partner, William Herdon, summed it up, ‘He was the most…shut-mouthed man that ever existed.’” [p. 4] White also observes: “Lincoln was always comfortable with ambiguity. In a private musing, he prefaced an affirmation, ‘I am almost ready to say this is probably true.’ The lawyer in Lincoln delighted in approaching a question or problem from as many sides as possible, helping him appreciate the views of others, even when those opinions opposed his own.”[p. 5] For example, Lincoln’s selection of his cabinet members in 1861 demonstrated his comfort with opposing views.
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."
He says they have a "simple-minded understanding of the relationship between politics and economics, between moral ends and productive entrepreneurial activity." 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." 
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."
Gamble listed numerous fallacies of the book as follows: "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.
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."
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. Howard Killion, Ph.D. history, Duke U, notes: DiLorenzo's criticism of Masugi is either cynical or naively ironic since cherry-picking the data characterizes much of DiLorenzo's methodology. See my comments below for examples.
Ken Whitefield noted that "DiLorenzo enumerates various other 19th Century nations which abolished slavery without resorting to civil war - which is true. He points out that a small percentage of the money and resources spent on the Civil War would have sufficed to compensate all slave owners and provide land to all released slaves - and the numbers certainly back him up. But DiLorenzo also praises and idealizes the pre-1861 structure of the United States, as a confederation of virtually independent entities - each of which had a recognized right of secession of which it could make use, or threaten to use, at any time. What DiLorenzo persistently refuses to to do is to link up these two issues - which were in reality very tightly bound up with each other. As even the most superficial student of pre-1861 American politics knows, there was no greater taboo than suggesting that the Federal government touch slavery in the South in any way or manner whatsoever. There was no way the South would have allowed any President or Congress to spend a single tax-payers' Dollar for compensating slave-owners. For much less than that they several times threatened to secede, for much less than that they finally did secede. In short - the reason why the US, alone of all slave-holding nations, needed to go through a terrible civil war in order to end slavery is that the system of entrenched States' Rights made it impossible to do it any other way. For the slaves to be free, Lincoln had to smash States' Rights by main force - there was no other way. True, in doing that Lincoln had various other agendas beside slavery, agendas which were more important to him than slavery; there can hardly be any debate on that, since Lincoln himself said so repeatedly at the time itself. Still, ultimately it was Lincoln who liberated the slaves. It was done in a terribly painful way, because the South had firmly blocked the less painful ways".
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)."
Howard Killion, Ph.D., History, Duke University, comments: DiLorenzo's Real Lincoln book is careless about historical accuracy and therefore undermines its arguments. For example, The thesis of his Chapter 5, “The Myth of Secession as ‘Treason’” is this: “The United States were [sic] founded by secessionists and began with a document, the Declaration [of Independence], that justified the secession of the American states”;… [since] governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed,…whenever a government becomes destructive of the rights of life, liberty, and property, citizens have a right to secede from that government and form a new one; [this] was the basis of America’s two wars of secession: 1776 and 1861.” [DiLorenzo, p. 86]
Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that this thesis of chapter 5 is correct, namely, that just as the 13 colonies claimed in the Declaration of Independence in 1776 that they had the right to succeed “whenever a government [King George’s] becomes destructive of the rights of life, liberty, and “pursuit of happiness” [or property], so also SC and her 10 seceding sister states had the right to secede in 1860-61 because of the “destructive” acts of Lincoln’s government. These acts violated the rights of life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness of the seceding states. So SC seceded on Dec. 20, 1860, and MS, FL, AL, GA, and LA all seceded in January 1861. A state convention voted for TX to secede Feb. 1 but a popular vote didn’t make secession official there until March 2. The only problem is that Lincoln did not take office until March 4, 1861. Therefore, the Declaration of Independence grounds claimed by DiLorenzo to legitimize the secession of the first 7 Confederacy states do not apply. This in turn casts a big shadow on using the Declaration to legitimize the secession of the other 4 states in the next few months as well—VA [April 17], AR [May 6], NC [May 20], and TN [June 8]. DiLorenzo’s lengthy cataloging of Lincoln’s alleged sins against the virtuous 11 states of the Confederacy are irrelevant to this issue. So DiLorenzo needs to scratch the Declaration of Independence off his list of documents that justify the conduct of the seceding states.
Howard Killion continues: DiLorenzo's 3rd chapter on the Emancipation Proclamation is equally wobbly in terms of reliability and reasoning. DiLorenzo depends chiefly on statements by Lincoln’s political opponents (even Salmon Chase in Lincoln’s cabinet was a political rival); editorials by opposing newspapers and other opposing publications; and by secondary, historical revisionist sources. As an example of contrast, the genuinely scholarly study, "A. Lincoln: A Biography," by Ronald C. White, Jr., relies on the diaries of Lincoln’s cabinet members, words of other eye-witnesses, and Lincoln’s own writings, including personal writings to himself. So it is not surprising that DiLorenzo’s account is written from the outside and from the perspective of Lincoln’s enemies while White’s account is written from the inside, from the inner workings of Lincoln’s mind and from his colleagues. After reading White’s account it’s difficult to see the Emancipation Proclamation as the product of a calloused, calculating, power-hungry politician, as DiLorenzo tries to depict. Moreover, how could DiLorenzo fail to mention black abolitionist and editor Frederick Douglass’ enthusiastic reaction to the Emancipation Proclamation and Lincoln’s partnership with him in raising black troops for the Union army? A provision in the Proclamation explicitly authorized the raising of such troops. [White, pp. 540-44, 582] Indeed, Douglass’ name does not appear anywhere in DiLorenzo's book, a fact that puts a “you’ve got to be kidding” stamp on DiLorenzo’s pretense to be an objective, legitimate scholar committed to revealing the "real Lincoln," including his attitude toward slavery and black people. DiLorenzo neglects to mention Lincoln's warm welcome of Douglass at Lincoln's Second Inauguration reception. At the front of the reception line he asked for Douglass' evaluation of the inaugural address, to which Douglass replied, "Mr. Lincoln, that was a sacred effort." DiLorenzo likewise omits Douglass' quoting from memory this same inaugural address when asked to give a spontaneous eulogy for Lincoln after his assassination a few weeks later. [White, pp. 666-67, 675]
[Killion continues:] DiLorenzo's entire book rests on his assertion that the Declaration of Independence, Articles of Confederation, and U.S. Constitution all grant or leave to the states essential sovereignty, including the power of unilateral secession. [pp. 292-93] Above I have demonstrated that the Declaration's grounds for independence could not apply to most if not all of the seceding states in 1860-61. The Articles of Confederation did indeed recognize the states as individually sovereign. However, the Constitution was written expressly for the purpose of addressing critical problems that arose from the weak central authority under the Articles. The Confederation had a terrible time getting the states to contribute their shares to the central authority in order to pay the soldiers of the Continental army, and seriously struggled to raise and fund a national force to put down Shay's Rebellion in MA. The language of the Preamble to the Constitution makes clear that something new is replacing the old: "We the people [not the states] of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union,...do...establish this Constitution for the United States of America." Article VII delineates the process of ratification of this Constitution, by the actions of sovereign states. However, Article V and VI make clear that after ratification the states are no longer sovereign. Article V stipulates that all constitutional amendments duly meeting the 3/4ths ratification requirements "shall be valid to all intents and purposes, as part of this Constitution," to all states, including non-ratifying states. Article VI, under the title "Supremacy of the national government," declares that "This Constitution...shall be the supreme law of the land; and the judges IN EVERY STATE shall be bound thereby, anything in the constitution or laws of ANY STATE to the contrary notwithstanding." In addition, "The senators and representatives before mentioned, and the MEMBERS OF THE SEVERAL STATE LEGISLATURES, and all executive and judicial officers, both of the United States AND OF THE SEVERAL STATES, SHALL BE BOUND by oath or affirmation, TO SUPPORT THIS CONSTITUTION...." [emphasis by HK] Those who opposed ratification of the Constitution, the anti-Federalists, all recognized that ratification entailed the permanent loss of a state's sovereignty, including MA's Samuel Nasson, NY's "Brutus," MD's Luther Martin, and VA's Patrick Henry. The Federalists, John Jay, James Madison, and Alexander Hamilton chief among them, did not soft-pedal the permanent loss of state sovereignty in their advocacy for the Constitution. [See Federalist Papers 5 & 11, for example, and Akhil Reed Amar, "America's Constitution: A Biography," pp. 35-38.] Therefore, among other things, according to Article VI, all of the governors, legislators, and judges of the 11 Confederate states violated their oaths "to support this Constitution" when they supported secession instead.
So we see that DiLorenzo has no factual justification to dismiss Lincoln’s articulated commitment to preserve the Union as groundless and evidence of evil intent and “a hidden agenda.” [See DiLorenzo’s Ch. 4.] Therefore, we must recognize, as DiLorenzo chooses not to do, that: 1) Lincoln’s commitment as President of the United States to preserve the Union was legitimate and preeminent; 2) Preserving the Union was inseparable from the divisive issue of slavery—why else did most of the seceding states leave after Lincoln was elected but before he had lifted a presidential finger? [See my comments above about DiLorenzo’s Ch. 5 thesis.] 3) Political, strategic, and military considerations were essential and valid as grounds for presidential conduct, including: a. Lincoln’s successful care in keeping the vital border states—DE, MD, KY, and MO--from leaving the Union and joining forces with the Confederacy, which would have, among other things, isolated Washington D.C. in a sea of Confederate gray. This is also why Lincoln disavowed General John Fremont [see DiLorenzo p. 34], and waited to issue the Emancipation Proclamation until after the Antietam victory; and why the Proclamation was aimed at Confederacy slavery, not border-state slavery; b. Lincoln’s refusal to passively hand over Ft Sumter to South Carolina; c. Lincoln’s suspension of some constitutional rights in the face of a mortal threat to the Union he was responsible to preserve; d. Lincoln’s authorization of military strategies, such as the Anaconda Plan [blockade of Southern ports] and Sherman’s march to the sea [to deprive the Confederate armies of a major food source and to break rebel enthusiasm for the war]. All of these concerns are meaningless, unimportant, and/or immoral to DiLorenzo because of his false view of states’ rights and the Constitution.
Killion continues: DiLorenzo, by his title to Ch. 3, Why Not Peaceful Emancipation?” implies the accusation, echoing Lincoln’s 1860 political opponents--not just Stephen Douglas, but those of the South--that Lincoln could easily have had peace in 1860-61; but instead he chose war. In answer to this accusation, we can see in the 1858 Ottawa Lincoln-Douglas debate that it was Douglas who threatened civil war while it was Lincoln who advocated peaceful options in the political process. Regretfully, DiLorenzo chooses to edit out these remarks by Lincoln in his misleading representation of Lincoln’s part in the Ottawa debate. [See pp. 11-12. For the complete texts of all the Lincoln-Douglas debates, go to the U.S. National Parks website.] Compounding this failure to present Lincoln’s positions fairly, DiLorenzo completely ignores Lincoln’s most influential speech of his 1860 presidential campaign, his famous Cooper Union speech of Feb. 27 in New York City. It is as if Lincoln anticipated DiLorenzo’s accusation. [See White pp. 312-13 for details.] Then when Lincoln was elected President—and his name was not even allowed on ballots in the South—, the press in the South went rabid, as White describes [p. 361]: "The Southern press was filled with indignation at Lincoln’s election. 'The election of Lincoln…means all the insult…that such an act can do,' spewed the Wilmington (North Carolina) Herald. The New Orleans Crescent summed up the editorial comment of countless Southern papers: 'The Northern people, in electing Mr. Lincoln, have perpetrated a deliberate, cold-blooded insult and outrage on the people of slaveholding states.'…The Richmond Enquirer, which Lincoln had long read to keep up with the sentiment in the South, charged that 'the Northern people, by a sectional vote, have elected a President for the avowed purpose of aggression on Southern rights.' The Enquirer concluded, 'This is a declaration of war.'” So contrary to DiLorenzo's portrayal of innocent and pacific Southern reluctance, it was the truculent political and journalistic leaders of the South who were the more eager for war than Lincoln in 1860.
Howard Killion's concluding evaluation: The “real Lincoln” is an ogre—that is, according to Thomas DiLorenzo. In his "The Real Lincoln," DiLorenzo has drawn a two-dimensional caricature of Lincoln as a thoroughly wicked man. DiLorenzo grabs pieces of evidence and arguments here and there that fit his narrative and skips over vast quantities of inconvenient facts and arguments that don’t suit. And it doesn’t matter how glaring the omissions are. He has hit the side of the barn with his arrow, and then drawn his target circles around the impact point. This is inept scholarship or dishonesty or both. It is certainly intellectual laziness. His picture of Lincoln is no more valid than that of those who worship Lincoln as a faultless paragon; they gloss over or ignore his shortcomings, mistakes, weaknesses, and unattractive quirks. But careful scholarship, such as Ronald C. White, Jr’s admirable "A. Lincoln: A Biography," draws a man of flesh and blood, truly three-dimensional, with genuine faults and great strengths, who, when faced with our nation tearing asunder over slavery, preserved our country, led the fight to the elimination of slavery, agonized over the human cost in lives and pain on both sides of the conflict, provided a model for gracious reconciliation for the losing side that his assassination tragically obscured, and articulated our Founders best vision of ourselves as a people as he gave us the finest speeches ever penned by an American leader. Of all the troubling aspects of DiLorenzo’s book, the one that bothers me the most is the blithe way in which he faults Lincoln for not letting the wayward South go. This shows an extremely cavalier attitude toward our country and an appalling ignorance of what the Founders worked so hard to create and pass on to us. [See the Library of Congress’ documentary exhibit, “Religion and the Founding of the American Republic,” www.loc.gov/exhibits/religion]. It also demonstrates DiLorenzo’s hypocrisy about slavery. He falsely accuses Lincoln of indifference toward this evil practice--read the full texts of Lincoln's "House Divided" speech and his half of the Ottawa Lincoln-Douglas debate, and compare them to DiLorenzo's abbreviated misrepresentation of the latter and omission of the former [pp. 11-12]--but produces not a qualm when he [DiLorenzo] alleges that the Southern states not only had the right to establish a new country based on slavery, but bemoans the fact that Lincoln didn’t let them do it. While living the good life as a high-ranking professor at a well-known American university, Dr. Thomas J. DiLorenzo appears clueless about what Lincoln meant when he proclaimed in his 1862 message to Congress that America is “the last best hope of earth.” There's something fundamentally small and mean about DiLorenzo's book.
- 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.
- 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
- Gamble, Richard M. "The Real Lincoln: Book review" The Independent Review .
- Masugi, Ken (14 October 2002). "The Unreal Lincoln". National Review.
- "Claremont’s Court Historians". lewrockwell.com. Retrieved 2006-07-30.
- Ken Whitefield, "Is DiLorenzo's Lincoln the Real Lincoln?" in Martha Renan (ed.) "The Continuing Fascination and Continuing Controversy of the Civil War".
- "The Rancid Abraham Lincoln–Haters of the Libertarian Right", The Daily Beast.com, 17 June 2013
- 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