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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

President Abraham Lincoln: Saint or Sinner?


Coming in at Number 1 on John Hawkins's list of The Seven Greatest Presidents in American History was Abraham Lincoln. Before getting into the reasons cited by Hawkins for his decision to rank Lincoln at #1, I thought I would provide some counter points of view to this decision given that some Libertarians, among others, have a less than favorable view concerning Honest Abe.

John Quincy Public, a/k/a JQP, a/k/a Jquip of the blog Job's Goat that I link to on the right, had this to say about the Kentucky-born and Illinios-raised statesman....

"He was largely normal as trial lawyers go. Low men that have no regard for the written law nor anything passing as sound in terms of logic. And they are all as successful as statesmen; which is to say that they've nearly all been really good failures. Which is hardly surprising given that a statesman's job is to find non-violent compromise whereas a lawyer's job is to win at all costs.

But Lincoln the man doesn't exist and he would be hardly remembered if not for a foolish bet made to garrison forts Pickens and Sumter by cover of night. He is instead a central figure of sainthood in the modern religious cult of American politics. And blamed as the Patron Saint to the Chewbacca Defense of Democracy. That the majority rules, and such a majority can be morally constructed by mortal attrition of your opponent.

The proponents of his mythology are seemingly far too comfortable with juntas and banana republics to remain as unarmed as they are. And our continued civil peace relies on the notion that their opponents, heavily armed, will never take the Lincoln religion to heart.

If we are to be a nation of laws then it is of great importance that Lincoln be returned to his place in them as a man and lawyer. If we are to embrace his pedestal then we should be done with it and hold all national elections in a standard caliber and shell casing."

Indeed, such criticism is mild when compared to Vox Day's (who I also link to on the right) opinion of the man.

"Lincoln is a secular saint for the same reason that the Roman Senate deified Octavian Augustus - he was the first emperor of Imperial America. Lincoln was, without a doubt, the worst president [of] the United States of America because he murdered what had been a free and voluntary republican confederation in the name of a Federal Union imposed by violence.

Naturally, the would-be totalitarians of today revere him. But every freedom-loving American, black or white, should mark the end of the Republic by him. Sic semper tyrannis."


Now for the opposing view that Lincoln was one of, if not THE greatest president of all time. Hawkins writes...

"Lincoln is criticized by some libertarians and Paleocons these days because they say he could have avoided the Civil War entirely by buying all the slaves. Even though Lincoln apparently took the idea seriously, the historical evidence suggests the idea wouldn't have worked. Lincoln also gets dinged for dramatically curtailing constitutional rights during the war, but as the old saying goes, "The Constitution is not a suicide pact." In a bloody Civil War that could have legitimately meant the end of the union, it was better to break the rules and win -- than go by the book and see the nation that the Constitution was meant to guide split into two hostile halves.

Those issues aside, Abe Lincoln is the father of the Republican Party, the man most responsible for ending slavery, and his leadership was crucial to guiding America to victory in the Civil War. Had Sherman not taken Atlanta when he did, it's entirely possible Lincoln could have lost re-election in 1864 to General McClellan, which could have easily led to the war ending in a draw and a very different history for this country. "

One item that is often cited by those who are critical of Lincoln was his decision to arrest members of the Maryland State Legislature with pro-Confederate leanings. As this md.gov website explains, "For the Federal Government, however, there was no question about which side Maryland had to take. If she seceded, Washington D.C. would be surrounded by hostile states, effectively cut off from the rest of the Union."

I consider myself to be a pragmatist on most matters and I feel that Lincoln's preservation of the Union was, on net balance, a positive thing for the world. I recall how one writer brought up how world history might have been decidedly different had not a strong United States entered World War I (or World war II even) and instead we here on the North America continent were a balkanized lot consisting of North, South and Western, seperate political entities. Additionally, would such seperate countries have had the will, resources and influence to provide an effective counter-weight to the Soviets during the Cold War? We will never really know of course but my suspicions lead me to be thankful that steps were taken to maintain what is the United States as one nation and not several.










28 comments:

Froggie said...

JD,

I enjoyed your summary on Lincoln in the last two paragraphs above.
Another point that my grandfather was fond of noting is that very often, great men and women are products of the events of their day. There is always a person ready to answer the call for the well being of others. Famous generals would be mere soldiers without wars. Coincidence and circumstance often propel men to greatness.
It is often the case that it is the people surrounding a man of greatness that guarantee his success.

I have lived through situations where the least expected person has risen up to a challenge to save the day. No one person is indispensible.

Now, if I have a bone to pick, it is with the quotation from Jquip. He seems to immerse himself in vague circumlocutions, non-sentences and undecipherable rhetoric.

"He was largely normal as trial lawyers go."

OK

"Low men that have no regard for the written law nor anything passing as sound in terms of logic."

This is not a sentence but seems to be an indictment of Lincoln's logic, which is a fallacy since Lincoln achieved his goals.

"And they are all as successful as statesmen; which is to say that they've nearly all been really good failures."

All who? "Low men.?" All statesmen are really good failures? Generalize much? Absurd.

"Which is hardly surprising given that a statesman's job is to find non-violent compromise whereas a lawyer's job is to win at all costs."
Lincoln was a lawyer and a statesman. So what?

"But Lincoln the man doesn't exist and he would be hardly remembered if not for a foolish bet made to garrison forts Pickens and Sumter by cover of night."
A foolish bet to garrison? What in the heck does that mean?

"He is instead a central figure of sainthood in the modern religious cult of American politics."

Religious cult, used as a sophomoric insult.

"And blamed as the Patron Saint to the Chewbacca Defense of Democracy."

This is not a sentence and makes no sense.

"That the majority rules, and such a majority can be morally constructed by mortal attrition of your opponent."

Another non-sentence using totally fractured and non parsable logic.

"The proponents of his mythology are seemingly far too comfortable with juntas and banana republics to remain as unarmed as they are."

Another vague reference with no meaning.

"And our continued civil peace relies on the notion that their opponents, heavily armed, will never take the Lincoln religion to heart."

Whose opponents?

"If we are to be a nation of laws then it is of great importance that Lincoln be returned to his place in them as a man and lawyer."

Lincoln is an impotant slice of history who will be studied for years to come. A central figure of the Civil War can never be returned to a man and lawer.


"If we are to embrace his pedestal then we should be done with it and hold all national elections in a standard caliber and shell casing."

This makes no sense whatsoever and I can assure you that this screed would not even deserve a failing grade in a high school english class.

Totally absurd.

Jquip said...

JD: Both yourself and Hawkins make my point. Slavery ended in America when the 13th amendment was ratified; a process that had nearly nothing to do with the man. Likewise one has to ignore history and action entirely to ascribe the leadership faults of Davis and Hood to Lincoln's wisdom in choosing Grant.

This leaves, for Hawkins, only the notion that Lincoln was the first president for the Republican Party as the reason to take top spot.

And with all of it there's a post hoc ergo propter hoc notion to Saint Lincoln. If what comes after justifies in relativism, morally and legally, what happened before? Then American slavery was the best of all possible worlds. For without it we could not have gotten the America that went on to World Wars I and II.

Froggie said...

"Then American slavery was the best of all possible worlds. For without it we could not have gotten the America that went on to World Wars I and II."

Another absurd non-sequitor.

Jquip said...

Froggie: He was a lawyer, not a statesman. There's no "and" in there.

Jquip said...

Froggie: Another absurd non-sequitor.

I seem to have gored your sacred ox. Or pasta bowl, whatever you worship. Perhaps you could explain how that statement is not valid in the context it was presented?

Froggie said...

No, Jq. I am done arguing with your vague semantics.

There is absolutely no reason to believe that we would not have been successful in WWI and II except for the civil war/ slavery.

It's an absolutely absurd concept.

And no, you have "gored" nothing. I simply cannot parse any meaning out of your senseless, vague and absurd rhetoric. You don't even write in sentences and constantly use obscure words an phrases that make no sense.

Jquip said...

Froggie: There is absolutely no reason to believe that we would not have been successful in WWI and II except for the civil war/ slavery.

So when you said: I enjoyed your summary on Lincoln in the last two paragraphs above.

What you meant was that you had not read those paragraphs at all. And certainly not the portion where JD stated: I consider myself to be a pragmatist on most matters and I feel that Lincoln's preservation of the Union was, on net balance, a positive thing for the world. I recall how one writer brought up how world history might have been decidedly different had not a strong United States entered World War I (or World war II even) ...

You might care to read those paragraphs now.

You don't even write in sentences and constantly use obscure words an phrases that make no sense.

Then, in relation to such things, the statement about "best possible of all possible worlds" is a direct reference to Dr. Pangloss; a main character in Voltaire's Candide.

Froggie said...

Jq,
I did indeed read those paragraphs. No you're calling me a liar?

"I consider myself to be a pragmatist on most matters and I feel that Lincoln's preservation of the Union was, on net balance, a positive thing for the world."

I totally agree with that.

"I recall how one writer brought up how world history might have been decidedly different had not a strong United States entered World War I (or World war II even) ..."

JD made a reference to a statement- a theory.

He did not say, "Then American slavery was the best of all possible worlds. For without it we could not have gotten the America that went on to World Wars I and II."

Jquip said...

Froggie: He did not say, ...

Come now, let us put the whole thing in its proper context shall we?

And with all of it there's a post hoc ergo propter hoc notion to Saint Lincoln. If what comes after justifies in relativism, morally and legally, what happened before? Then American slavery was the best of all possible worlds. For without it we could not have gotten the America that went on to World Wars I and II.

Now why don't you try your argument again.

Froggie said...

You must be kidding.............

JD Curtis said...

If I may clarify,

I do agree with JQP's assertion that "He (Lincoln) is...a central figure of sainthood in the modern religious cult of American politics" and one could reasonably question whether such revered status is deserved for the man.

I guess I was looking at it from an "ends deserves the means" point of view.

JQP, in reference to your statement...

"And with all of it there's a post hoc ergo propter hoc notion to Saint Lincoln. If what comes after justifies in relativism, morally and legally, what happened before? Then American slavery was the best of all possible worlds. For without it we could not have gotten the America that went on to World Wars I and II."

Would you mind explaining this notion a little further? I think I know what you are getting at here, but just to be sure, a more detailed analysis would be appreciated.

Arielle said...

Being the person that I am, and firmly believing that ends do NOT justify means, I will always think of Lincoln as having innocent blood on his hands. He's no hero to me.

Slavery would have died a natural death in the South as it did in other places, as the South became industrialized. It did not require the deaths of 300,000+ people.

Arielle said...

As for the notion that America has done far more good than harm since the Civil War - that's pure speculation. Fact of the matter is, we have no idea what might have happened had Lincoln allowed the South to secede peacefully. History might have been vastly different, but we cannot legitimately make the claim that it would have been worse.

Jquip said...

JD: I'm not really sure what could be clarified. Lincoln is the best president since the US he fashioned made the world a better place. So slavery is the best institution since it fashioned the best president. And so on.

It is entirely the distinction between Leibniz' theodicy and Voltaire's satire of it.

JD Curtis said...

Oh, it (the institution of slavery), fashioned him. Gotcha. I now better understand where you are coming from.

Arielle, why not stop mincing words and tell us how you REALLY fell about theguy ;-)

Froggie said...

Arielle said...
"Being the person that I am, and firmly believing that ends do NOT justify means, I will always think of Lincoln as having innocent blood on his hands. He's no hero to me."

I agree with that, lot, from our perspective, but, I think the men and women from both sides were caught up in the dynamic events and the manner of thinking of their day.

"Slavery would have died a natural death in the South as it did in other places, as the South became industrialized. It did not require the deaths of 300,000+ people."

I am not so sure about that. School desegregation did not take place until 110 years after the war ended. If it had not been for the war countless slaves would have been in bondage as property of their masters for another 100 years or more in my opinion. The result of that would have been the ruin of millions of lives.

The Civil Rights Movement was at a peak from 1955-1965. Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, guaranteeing basic civil rights for all Americans, regardless of race, after nearly a decade of nonviolent protests and marches, ranging from the 1955-1956 Montgomery bus boycott to the student-led sit-ins of the 1960s to the huge March on Washington in 1963, all this, finally, a hundred years after the Civil War.

Froggie said...

By the way, there were almost four million slaves in the south in 1860.

Arielle said...

A) Britain and the North had already largely eliminated slavery thanks to becoming industrialized. The South would have become industrialized much sooner than 100 years later and slavery would have ended for the same reason it ended in Britain and the North - because it was no longer convenient and profitable.

B) It's quite likely that the fires of racial hatred flamed far longer and hotter because of the Civil War and Reconstruction.

C) The Africans slaves hardly had their lives ruined by being brought as slaves to America. Slavery was already practiced on the African continent, and in fact, many tribes would capture and sell people from other tribes that they did not intend to use as slaves themselves. Ask any black today if they would rather be living here in America, with the American standard of living, or in Africa with the African standard of living.

<<<>>>

American slavery needed to end. But using one evil to end another evil does not give a net result of good.

Jquip said...

Froggie: School desegregation did not take place until 110 years after the war ended. If it had not been for the war countless slaves would have been in bondage as property of their masters for another 100 years or more in my opinion.

You're stuck in the Lincoln cult alright. Segregation is not slavery and we, to this day, practice segregation. Slavery is not outlawed in America. We, to this day, mandate preferential treatment on the basis of race and gender as a matter of law.

If you find these things truly heinous then it is assured that pursuing Lincoln's course, the Civil War, did not end them.

Froggie said...

Arielle said...

"A) Britain and the North had already largely eliminated slavery......."

Very well thought out and well stated comment.
Thanks

ATVLC said...

"Slavery is not outlawed in America."

Explain.
Are you talking about some sort of 'wage slavery'?

Arielle said...

Thanking me for a quote shortened and completely removed from context?

That tells me all I need to know about you. Thanks.

Arielle said...

Unless, of course, I am jumping to conclusions and you were shortening the entire thing for expediency? Please tell me which it is, so I can apologize if I misjudged.

Froggie said...

Arielle said...
Unless, of course, I am jumping to conclusions and you were shortening the entire thing for expediency? Please tell me which it is, so I can apologize if I misjudged.

---------------------------------------------

I should have been more clear. I thought all three of your points were well stated possibilities.

Froggie said...

ATVLC said...
"Slavery is not outlawed in America."

Explain.
Are you talking about some sort of 'wage slavery'?

-------------------------------------------

Jq is constantly making vague and absurd statements. Each of his comments turn into back and forth misunderstandings and confusion.

Arielle said...

In that case, Froggie, I apologize for jumping to conclusions and for my hasty words.

Jquip said...

ATVLC: Sorry, I've been sidetracked a few days. Simply note that the 13th only bans slavery to States[1]; and only in the absence of a criminal conviction. There are a few rulings from the Supreme Court on these notions if you're interested in the topic.

[1] One can argue that such applies to the Federal government as well; but it requires torturing the word "their."

Christ Follower (no longer) said...

UDHR