Lincoln Day

Happy Lincoln’s Birthday. Much is being made that both Lincoln and Darwin were born on the same day 200 years ago. both, it is said, “changed the world.” Darwin, of course, gave our culture the excuse to jettison religion. Lincoln, in saving the union, changed the United States from a plural to a singular, creating the powerfully centralized state power that is now trying to take over the economy. Lincoln freed the slaves, which was good. He was a complex man, but his legacy is complex too. For what should we honor him this day? What would be an appropriate way to honor him?

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  • richard

    How about reading a good book on him? I recommend a classic–by Alan Guelzo, “Redeemer President.” Guelzo is an excellent authority on Lincoln.

  • wcwirla

    We can ponder the dangers of a powerful, centralized, national government in the hands of inept men.

  • A dramatic reading of “O Captain, My Captain!” or “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloomed.”

  • richard

    Justin Taylor has some excellent book recommendations here:

  • Joe

    Balance all of your current knowledge of Lincoln by reading “The Real Lincoln” by Tomas DiLorenzo or his new book “Lincoln Unmasked.” DiLorenzo is not a fan of Lincoln. I have read “The Real Lincoln.” It is an interesting read. It is a look at Lincoln’s economic policy and a critique of why the civil war was not necessary and it explores Lincoln’s writings on the issue of slavery.

    Personally, I have very mixed feelings about Lincoln.

  • WebMonk

    I wasn’t all that nuts about “The Real Lincoln”, but if it goes too far in saying what a horrible and scheming person Lincoln and the North in general were, it also has the very good effect of scrubbing away a lot of the whitewashing and legendary mythos that has accumulated around him too.

    I do see some of the same potential types of happenings between the time leading up to the Civil War and now. Not that we’re moving into a Civil War or national disaster of that caliber, but in how all sorts of very, very bad things can be set in motion by mixtures of good intentions and ruthless manipulators.

  • WebMonk

    Actually, I think that PHC had DiLorenzo come give a talk their first year.

    At least I think it was DiLorenzo. If it wasn’t him, then it was someone of the same persuasion. I invited myself to the talk, and after listening to that person, I did some more reading and found “The Real Lincoln”.

    Excellent book to make a person think about some obscure history even if they disagree with the book’s interpretations.

  • richard

    Well-I have very mixed feelings about DiLorenzo–an economist with an axe to grind writing a purported history book on Lincoln. The Claremont Institute has a review of his book here:

  • Jonathan

    wcwirla #2 – Didn’t we do that during this last Bush administration?

  • Joe

    Re-reading my post it looks like I am schilling for DiLorenzo. I should point out that my take on it is closer to that of WebMonk – I used it as a balance to other works such as “With Malice Toward None,” which is a total sop to the Lincoln was just perfect in everyway crowd.

    As is usual, the truth is somewhere in the middle.

  • Joe

    Jonathan – in some respects yes – we do it in all administrations, which is why the federal system is so important and why we need to return to it.

  • Peter Leavitt

    Lincoln’s great contribution was the preservation of the Union in the face of tremendous opposition from the North as well as the South. Had the South succeeded, most likely the West would, also, have formed a state.

    Lincoln is a fascinating, self-educated man who in terms of character and wisdom is our greatest president. The best biography of Lincoln is by David Donald who, while greatly admiring Lincoln, argued that the Civil War was a needless one caused in large part by the moralistic, exceedingly moralistic New England Unitarians, especially Charles Sumner.

  • Joe

    Peter – you are correct that Lincoln’s greatest accomplishment was the preservation of the Union; but there are serious legal/constitutional issues with the theory he used to justify forcing States that voluntarily joined a union to stay in it. Pre-Lincoln pretty much everyone agreed that a State could leave the Union. The debate was centered around how much, if any, federal law could a State nullify if it stayed in the Union. Lincoln (and others of like mind) changed the focus of the debate to whether a State could leave at all. That was a huge shift in the nature of the Union and I think one for the worse. Not from an economic stand point, but from a liberty standpoint.

  • Peter Leavitt

    Joe, Lincoln’s view was that if the founders wished to allow secession from the Union, then they would have provided language for it. In taking the oath to uphold the Constitution. He felt deeply that he had a sworn obligation to hold the Union together.

    Lincoln’s key remark in his First inaugural was:

    It follows from these views that no State upon its own mere motion can lawfully get out of the Union; that resolves and ordinances to that effect are legally void, and that acts of violence within any State or States against the authority of the United States are insurrectionary or revolutionary, according to circumstances.

    I therefore consider that in view of the Constitution and the laws the Union is unbroken, and to the extent of my ability, I shall take care, as the Constitution itself expressly enjoins upon me, that the laws of the Union be faithfully executed in all the States. Doing this I deem to be only a simple duty on my part, and I shall perform it so far as practicable unless my rightful masters, the American people, shall withhold the requisite means or in some authoritative manner direct the contrary. I trust this will not be regarded as a menace, but only as the declared purpose of the Union that it will constitutionally defend and maintain itself.

    Lincoln in his Second Inaugural took a less legal and more providential view of the matter. The depth, brilliance, and humility of Lincoln in my view were Heaven sent.

  • richard

    And I wonder just how radical Lincoln was in his views. One of his predecessors, Andrew Jackson, held to the same view on the issue of nullfication and secession; and he was hardly a Federalist.

  • WebMonk

    Richard, what you just said is one of the major problems with the subset of people who particularly vilify Lincoln – the views for which he is castigated were fairly common in early US political thought.

    Peter, the parts of Lincoln’s address immediately preceding what you quoted is just as important as what you posted. The preceding was explanation of WHY he believed there was no Constitutional way for a state to leave the union. I’ve always thought they were just as important as what he stated he felt he must do if any states tried to leave.

    (but the quote would be a touch too long to put nicely into a comment)

  • Peter Leavitt

    As to Darwin compared to Lincoln, we have rather a mismatch.

    Darwin, an urban Cambridge educated man, was a brilliant empirical scientist who fell for the corrosive skepticism of the Nineteenth Century. What little faith he had was set back by his daughter’s death. He ended up suffering the illusion that his theory of evolution was more plausible than the “myths” of the antique Judeo-Christian religion.

    Lincoln, a rural log cabin man, read the Bible, Bunyan, and Shakespeare that his stepmother provided. He kept clear of fiery and sentimental church religion and in Nineteenth Century fashion was skeptical of Christian Trinitarian religion; yet, through hard experience by the end of his life he came to see that Providence was the only sensible explanation for the complexity of historical events.

    Lincoln in the long run was a far greater man than Darwin.

  • Joe

    The following is a quote from Wm. Rawle’s “A View of the Constitution” which was one of the preeminent treatises on the constitution in the pre-civil war era. In fact, it was the text used to teach Conn Law at West Point from 1825-1840:

    “The secession of a state from the Union depends on the will of the people of such state. The people alone as we have already seen, bold [sic] the power to alter their constitution. The Constitution of the United States is to a certain extent, incorporated into the constitutions or the several states by the act of the people. The state legislatures have only to perform certain organical operations in respect to it.
    But in any manner by which a secession is to take place, nothing is more certain than that the act should be deliberate, clear, and unequivocal. The perspicuity and solemnity of the original obligation require correspondent qualities in its dissolution. The powers of the general government cannot be defeated or impaired by an ambiguous or implied secession on the part of the state, although a secession may perhaps be conditional. The people of the state may have some reasons to complain in respect to acts of the general government, they may in such cases invest some of their own officers with the power of negotiation, and may declare an absolute secession in case of their failure. Still, however, the secession must in such case be distinctly and peremptorily declared to take place on that event, and in such case — as in the case of an unconditional secession, — the previous ligament with the Union, would be legitimately and fairly destroyed. But in either case the people is the only moving power.”

    Chapter XXXII (you can find the entire 2nd Ed. at

    St. George Tucker’s Blackstone’s Commentaries, With Notes of Reference to the Constitution and Laws of the Federal Government of the United States, published in 1803, which was the first treatise is in accord.

    Joseph Story’s Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States (1833) was the first major work to conclude otherwise, but it remained the minority view pre-1860.

  • It seems that a lot of the content here indicates that for whatever faults Lincoln had, at least he preserved the Union. To put it in another, more crass way, Lincoln should be praised because he waged a war to keep everyone in the voluntary union under the dominion of the federal government.

    I used to hold on to that view but have changed it in recent years. I have also read the works of Thomas DiLorenzo and they worked to confirm some of my misgivings (his books aren’t perfect by any means – he is an amateur historian and writes so passionately that his agenda is clear for all to see).

    Lincoln didn’t really free the slaves, but he did force the Union to stay together. I do not take much comfort in that notion because I interpret it as a reversal of the inaccurately-named American Revolution. The war of 1775-1783 was really a war of secession – the colonies, each declaring their independence, were seceding from the British Empire.

    My opinion is that Lincoln should have let the southern states go and be their own country and to let them return later if they wished.

    The 13th amendment was passed in December 1865 outlawing slavery which would have handled the slavery question had the seceding states wished to return – slavery would be officially against the law.

    And then 600,000-700,000 people would not have had to lose their lives.

  • I’m sorry I didn’t actually check Dr. Veith’s blog until today as I am afraid this is where the discussion will likely end. If not, I will happily respond here or on my personal blog where I also discussed Lincoln:

    Thank you