Sunday, July 29, 2007

Lincoln: Conservative, Radical, Revolutionary

Very absorbing essay from James Livingston on Lincoln the Revolutionary. He argues that Lincoln's strictly conservative reading of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution as regards the proposition that "all men are created equal" and that slavery is guaranteed in those states that already have it, came to a clash in his belief that slavery be stopped from spreading and strenously contained to only those areas of the nation where it existed.

Some quotes:
Here he spoke the language of radicalism: "Equal justice to the south, it is said, requires us to consent to the extending of slavery to new countries. That is to say, inasmuch as you do not object to my taking my hog to Nebraska, therefore, I must not object to you taking your slave. Now, I admit this is perfectly logical, if there is no difference between hogs and negroes. . . .But if the negro is a man, is it not to that extent, a total destruction of self-government, to say that he too shall not govern himself? If the negro is a man, why then my ancient faith teaches me that `all men are created equal,' and that there can be no moral right in connection with one man's making a slave of another."
But Republican Party leaders and ideologues, most notably Salmon P. Chase, founding father of the Free Soil Party, and Horace Greeley, the editor of the New York Tribune, seized on this rift in the Democratic Party to promote Douglas as their perfect presidential nominee in 1860: he was the Western moderate who would carry Illinois and Indiana and maybe even Buchanan's home state of Pennsylvania.

Chase and Greeley were the mainstream of the Republican Party in 1858. They weren't interested in questions of equality between black and white folk, and they avoided the moral issues that slavery presented because they knew that the sanctimony of the abolitionists got them nowhere with voters. Like most adherents of the Republican Party, they were ideological descendents of the Free Soil Party of 1848, which proposed to limit the spread of slavery and to limit the influence of Southern Democrats in the Congress. In their view, the prospect of Douglas as the Republican nominee had no drawbacks.
Such political calculations sound familiar, do they not? And the descriptions of the parties' views?
This blending of radicalism and conservatism made Lincoln a revolutionary, perhaps even a revolutionary despot on the order of Cromwell, Robespierre, Lenin, and Mao. He did carefully observe constitutional scruple in defining the Emancipation Proclamation as a necessary war measure in his capacity as "Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States" (notice: not of the people as such). But that proclamation made the end of slavery the condition of Southern re-entry into the Union and revoked the possibility that, short of Confederate victory, slavery could be restored or salvaged by some compromise between North and South. It also enabled total war against the South-that is, war against the civilian population-and begged the slaves to enlarge their "General Strike" by fleeing to Union lines.

Moreover, before the war commenced, Lincoln had dispersed the pro-secessionist Missouri state legislature at gunpoint; had placed Baltimore and Maryland under martial law; and had guaranteed an anti-secessionist vote in Kentucky by smuggling guns to pro-Union forces and stationing Union troops at the polls. By the time the war closed, Lincoln had suspended the writ of habeus corpus throughout the North.

He had also used the Union Army to suspend the publication of 60 anti-war periodicals; to jail at least 80 pro-Democrat editors on the eve of elections; to keep a Republican majority in the House in 1862 by suppressing Democratic turnout in the border states, including Delaware; and to prevent the election of an anti-war "Copperhead," Clement Vallandigham, in the Ohio gubernatorial race of 1863, by court-martialing him.
Kinda puts the bleatings of modern Democrats about George Bush into perspective, yes? Can you imagine him trying to exile Cindy Sheehan to Canada, as Lincoln did with Vallandigham?

Like I said, a thought-provoking essay with good lessons for us today. Well worth the time to read.

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