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Sunday, February 12, 2012

Lincoln's Birthday: A Reflection on the "Good Guys" of the Civil War

Happy Birthday, Mr.
Lincoln. Let's look at
your "accomplishments".
We all know what we were taught about the American Civil War in school. The evil southerners tried to secede from the Union so they could practice slavery, and good President Lincoln stopped them and saved the union, and also freed the slaves. But the fact is that the North wasn't so "good", slavery was only part of the issue, and most of the slaves weren't freed until post-Lincoln Reconstruction.

One of the following two descriptions describes the Union administration during the Civil War, and the other describes the Confederate administration. See if you can guess which is which.

  • This side placed a heavy focus on traditional Constitutional rights, particularly the 10th Amendment. However, they certainly did not disregard the rest of the freedoms. Additionally, one of the most powerful men in the administration was Jewish and Jews served freely in the Army. In fact, Jews were treated better by this administration than they had been by almost every other government in history. Furthermore, property rights were valued, and land was rarely seized by the government except as a last resort. 
  • On the other hand, this side suspended habeus corpus for its citizens and authorized indefinite detentions. Of the Ten amendments in the original American Bill of Rights, the First, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, and arguably the Tenth all were ignored. Material opposing the government was banned and strict limits were imposed on what people were allowed to do. Furthermore, the lead general of this army was a notorious anti-Semite who would dishonorably discharge Jews for no reason other than their religion. Additionally, the President of this country stated that he did not care about the plight of the slaves, only about winning the war.
Judah Benjamin, the first
Jewish Cabinet member
in North America by over 40
years. He was the second-most
powerful man in the Confederacy,
making him the highest-ranked
Jewish politician in North
America to date. 
Well, the first description describes the Confederate States of America and the Jewish man in question was Judah Benjamin. Benjamin held various cabinet positions and was the second-most powerful man in the Confederacy after Jefferson Davis. The USA did not have a Jewish Cabinet member until 1906 when Oscar Strauss became Secretary of Commerce and Labor. No Jew was even elected Governor of a State until 1887 when Washington Bartlett became governor of California. And yes, General (and later President) Grant was a known anti-Semite who kicked Jews out of the Army for their religion. So clearly the South isn't the only racists.

In fact, most Northerners did not even consider the South racist. Although Lincoln was an abolitionist, even he did not believe in full rights for African-Americans. Nobody really did, North or South. So the North didn't win that area of rights by much. Meanwhile, the Confederacy gave Jews far more rights and recognition than they had in the North. While Antisemitism ran rampant in the Union, it was virtually unheard of in the South.

Then there were the Constitutional violations committed by the Birthday Boy himself, Abe Lincoln. We criticize the Obama and Bush administrations for suspending habeus corpus to terrorists. Well, Lincoln did so for everybody. Even something as simple as a curfew violation could earn you an indefinite detention until they figured out what to do with you. Anyone who dared disagree with the government in public was thrown in jail. Sure, there were Southerners who disagreed with Jefferson Davis, but he let them speak out as long as they did so peacefully.

Additionally, there are questions as to whether Lincoln should have gone to war in the first place. Before the Civil War, it was considered proper to say "the United State are...." Now, of course, we say "The United States is...." Why the difference? Well, it used to be that the United States was recognized as just that - a Union of States. In fact, the Tenth Amendment protects the rights of the individual states. 
The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

Ironically, the South cared more
about our Constiution than we did.
Of course, slavery should not be allowed, but Constitutionally, it was a right given to the states. Furthermore,  the Constitutional deadline clause had already ended the import of slaves. The only new ones were the ones being born to existing ones. So, the federal government could have done what every other civilized country did and bought all the slaves (paying a fair price) and freed them. It would end the issue forever. Constitutionally, it could be argued that such a task is permissible under eminent domain since it served a public purpose. It's a bit of a stretch, but not as much of a stretch as going to war over it.

Yes, slavery was wrong. Indisputably, the ownership of another human being should be banned. But this war wasn't just about slavery. It was about states' rights. Rights Lincoln denied them. The President himself said

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

We know slavery is wrong. But
we're not the "good guys"either in
 the Civil War.
Lincoln didn't care about the plight of slaves. He cared about preserving the Union at all costs. He is not a real hero. Today, on Lincoln's Birthday, take a moment to think about who the real "good guys" are in this story. It's a really good question. On one hand, the Southerners owned slaves, which is wrong. But as we saw, the Northerners didn't think too much better about blacks. The Union was also far more Anti-Semitic than the Confederacy. Plus, the Confederacy actually cared about the Constitution. Don't get me wrong. I don't condone slavery. But I also don't condone Antisemitism, nor do I condone trampling on Constitutional Rights. What people don't get is that the South cared about our Constitutional values, even more so than we did. They just thought differently on slavery, an issue which at the time was more economic than social. But history tends not to teach us all this.

The reason why is simple. People don't want to think that Lincoln could have been wrong.  After all, wouldn't that make the South right? But that's because people think in absolutes. Either the Union was wrong about everything or they were right about everything. And if the former is true, slavery is ok. But we can't think in absolutes. That's the problem. The South was wrong to support and practice slavery. And the North was wrong for its Antisemitic views and its Unconstitutional practices. So to answer the initial question - there are no "good guys" here. Each side had some very atrocious views. But that's not how we remember it today.


  1. A little knowledge is a terrible thing.

    YOu have the classic, smug, condescending, and wrong, view of Lincoln.

    First of all, you clearly believe the distorted quotes that are attributed to Lincoln. And you ignore what he did, against what circumstances.

    Yes, can find quotes from Lincoln that say this and that about blacks, about slavery, and colonization. YOu can cherry pick them all you want.

    Many do.

    Those who hated Lincoln at the time, however, hated him for OTHER parts of his speeches -- the parts you apparently don't know about. The parts where he said -- in language so bold it changed American history -- that blacks are equal UNDER GOD AN UNDER ALL THE RIGHTS OF THE DECLARATION of Independence.

    Lincoln would use a specific linguistic technique --he used it so often, and to such good effect, that it really should be called the Lincoln shuffle.

    Again, and again, and again, and AGAIN, Lincoln would speak at first in ways that SEEMED to validate the prejudices of the day. (Lincoln's enemies today always cherry pick from those parts of his speeches.)

    But read on -- read the next sentence, read the next paragraph. Go on, READ IT. He soon switches backs, revisits the topic, and obliterates the sentiment, or shows it to be impossible, flawed, unwise, unjust -- whatever.

    Remember -- he was trying to get votes, talking to people, most of whom had never seen a black person, and wouldn't piss on a black if they were on fire. IT wasn't quite as bad as talking to a KKK convention, but close. And he was trying to WIN THEIR VOTE, not piss them off and get lynched.

    So he FIRST validated, or seemed to, but then flipped the other way. In his Peoria speech is a good example as any. He seems to agree with colonization (voluntarily) of freed blacks. So naturally Lincoln haters, and smug people like you, get that quote, run to your momma or whoever you are trying to impress, and claim Lincoln was for colonization.

    But you leave out two things. In a few minutes after he says this--- he does the Lincoln "thing". He revisits the sentiment he just sorta validated. He then says it's unjust and unworkable. He isnt for it.

    And you miss something else -- regarding colonization, you are clueless that Southerners, including some of their governors, were saying they would have to KILL their slaves if they freed them. Did you know that? HELL NO. So Lincoln was saying, in effect, oh, no need to kill them. How about colonization -- then he would as I showed, even refute that.

    There is a video on youtube with a short clip, from a 1939 movie, of Lincoln. He is debating Douglas in the clip. Short, but still valid example of what I am talking about. You can, as Lincoln haters do, quote him from that clip as saying blacks are INFERIOR. But in the NEXT SENTENCE he obliterates that. In some ways, blacks and whites are NOT equal, he says, but IN ALL WAYS UNDER GOD and Under the declaration every black person is equal to ANY white person.

    STrong, unequivocal, radical for its day, profoundly radical. But haters will take that same speech, and use the part where he says they are NOT equal.

    So learn what the hell you are talking about.

    One more thing -- learn what Frederick Douglass said about Lincoln. YOu act like you know more than Douglass does - fat chance. He was not only there, he knew the tricks and lies used by scum sucking pigs against Lincoln. Go find out what Douglass said about Lincoln. As soon as you know more than Frederick Douglass, or even 1/1000 as much, let me know. And go watch the video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AKfNMel5dug

    1. Seeker,
      Thank you for reading and replying to my post. However, if you read my post more closely, my point was not that Lincoln didn't care about the plight of the slaves. It was that his goal in the Civil war had absolutely nothing to do with the slaves other than what the South made of it. He didn't fight the Civil War for the slaves. He fought it for the Union.

      Of Lincoln's rhetoric, that's very interesting. However, could you please put the specific quotes I mentioned in context? I really can't reply to what you're saying until I see that. The specific examples you show validate your point, but they can't necessarily be applied to the specific quotes I used.

      You also mention Lincoln and colonization. However, I do not. So I'm not really sure what your point was with that.

      Either way, it still does not excuse the suspension of habeus corpus and multiple obliterations of Constitutional rights. That cannot be attributed to misquoting Lincoln. There are documented cases. Why did Lincoln do this? To preserve the Union, of course. The Union that was created by the states and which some states voluntarily decided to leave. I'm not supporting slavery, and I'm not saying ending it was wrong. Far from it. But that doesn't excuse what Lincoln did.

  2. There is another thing you don't know, and you have no clue you don't know it.

    You have no idea what Lincoln was up against. A lot of people trash Lincoln on this goofy idea that he didn't care about slavery, it was just a union thing, and slavery was an excuse.

    Bull f-ing crap. Yes, Lincoln had to speak that way. He had to finese it. You can cherry pick quotes there too.

    But what was LIncoln up against. You have NO CLUE that Congressmen in the NORTH were calling for the arrest and execution of ANYONE who said the war had to end slavery. Got that? These where CONGRESSMEN, saying on the floor of the House, let's arrest and execute anyone who says slavery has to end for the war to end.

    And it was not just this Congressmen. There was a HUGE part of the country, in fact, probably the overwhelming majority, who would have gladly put blacks on reservations in the desert. They did NOT want fifty cents spent to end slavery. Hell, a lot Northern people were related or had financial interest in slavery.

    Lincoln had to deal with the Congressmen who were calling for the death of anyone who said slavery had to end. You didn't know that did you? HELL NO. ANd just cause now you know, that stupid wrong impression you already have will probably remain.

    Learn what was going on -- the war was about the South's insane demands to SPREAD slavery. Everything in US history from 1800-1861 was about that monster effort to SPREAD slavery. Lincoln was the leader, who came back into politics because of Kansas Nebraska and Dred Scott, which essentially mandated the SPREAD of slavery, against the wishes of the people, and against any effort by Congress to stop it.

    You probably have no clue about THAT. And if you don't understand that, you can't understand anything about Lincoln.

    1. What citation do you have for proposing the death penalty for proposing that slavery had to end? I've never heard of anything like that. Especially since such a thing would be Unconstitutional.... Oh wait, Lincoln did stuff that was Unconstitutional. So I suppose it's possible, though I haven't heard of it.

      With regards to Dred Scott and the Kansas-Nebraska Act, I never argued in favor of those. I don't think they were right. But that's not what I'm saying here. I'm saying Lincoln wasn't right either.

      The problem is that people tend to think in absolutes. You're saying slavery was wrong. I agree. You're saying Dred Scott and the Kansas-Nebraska Act were wrong. I agree. You are therefore concluding, that Lincoln, who opposed slavery and the Kansas-Nebraska Act, was 100% right in everything he ever did as President. I disagree. Just because one side is wrong doesn't mean the other side is right. Or as my mom always told me when I quarreled with my sister, "Two wrongs don't make a right". There doesn't always has to be one clear side of "good guys" and one clear side of "bad guys". In fact, I challenge you to name a single war where one side didn't do a single think immoral, unjust, or otherwise wrong. It's impossible.