To understand politics, one must understand origins. And the Republican Party cannot be understood without understanding Abraham Lincoln.
Placing Lincoln in the political divide of his day
In Lincoln’s youth, the trajectory set by the original Federalists still had strong advocates, despite the prominence of Jefferson’s vision for many decades. People of the old Federalist spirit were gathered into the Whig Party. Judge Story had written the story of America favored by that faction. Story actually taught that the states of the Union were a creation of the Union! This fit in well with their vision of a monolothic country to be led into ever greener pastures by a consolidated National Government. The states, on this model, are but the provincial administrative outposts of the national government.
In order to speed up the course of “progress,” the Whigs/Republicans wanted government favoritism for chosen players in industries that were vital for that goal. Canals, then railroads, were the first ones to be favored through the granting of government charters, bonds, rights of way, monopoly, and other special privileges.
Henry Clay was the leader of this faction in the 1830’s and 40’s. The 1850’s saw Lincoln’s steady rise. For various reasons, the Whig party imploded; the fragments made a rally as the Free-Soil Party, but shortly thereafter the new movers and shakers formed the Republican Party, with Lincoln at the center.
The role of slavery
The Republicans favored forbidding slavery in the new western territories. Hardly any of them, except the small band of Abolitionists, ever professed to have a particular concern for the Negro as the basis for this viewpoint. On the contrary, for many, it was a desire that white labor not have to compete under such terms. For others, their opposition to allowing slavery in the West was chiefly a way to oppose the culture of the South. Lincoln himself vacillated between favoring the repatriation of the Negro back to Africa, versus making him into a permanent subordinate class within the nation, even where technically “free.”
Many Southerners were opposed to slavery. What unified them was not in the first place the issue of slavery in the West, but rather the assumption that the National government had the right to settle such an issue in the first place.
The suicidal three-way split of the Democrats over how to proceed in 1860 led to the Republicans mopping up. Lincoln won with 39% of the popular vote.
An irony of the story, is that both Henry Clay and Lincoln were, technically, Southerners. But not in spirit.
The First Secession
There was not just one reason Southern states seceded, nor just one occasion; there were at least two, and non-overlapping.
The first wave seceded just because Lincoln had been elected. So horrific was that fact, it was grounds to leave.
The reason appears to be simply that Lincoln represented the final triumph of regional domination. The self-restraint that should govern all use of the central power was now officially thrown overboard.
The gulf states can be challenged on whether there was sufficient evidence that this transition had occurred to justify secession. But subsequent events showed that either they had sufficient evidence, or were prescient.
Because of the delay between election and inauguration, the first secession took place while Buchanan was still in office. His position was an honorable one: that (1) states do not have the constitutional right to secede, but also (2) he as president did not have the constitutional right to exercise violence to prevent them from doing so.
Lincoln’s vision was quite different. The Union, remember, was the only political entity that really existed, and under the Republicans, it would become the centralized force for secular progress along the old Federalist/Whig model. As head of state, he under that model could do anything and everything to bring that vision to pass. The first order of business, therefore, was to bring the seceders back, by force if necessary.
There was still enough of the old American spirit left, even in the North, that he couldn’t just muster troops and invade without an incident. His strategy, therefore, was to set the stage for the South to fire the first shot, preferably involving an attack on the union flag.
The Confederacy had sent a delegation to Washington to negotiate a peaceful and compensated transfer of the National forts. They desperately sought audience with Lincoln, but he played with them to buy time while arranging a flotilla with three ships of provender and eight battle ships to be sent down to Sumpter.
Unjustly provoked, the Confederacy technically fired the first shot. But this no more proves that it caused the war, than the man that first swings his fist in a fight is necessarily the one that started it.
On the contrary, Lincoln started the war.
Ironically, there was not a single casualty from the reduction of Fort Sumpter. But “firing on our flag” at Sumpter gave Lincoln the excuse he needed. He issued the call for the regional administrative posts — we reactionaries still refer to them as, the States — to muster troops and send them down. This was done on his own, without concurrence of Congress, which wasn’t even in session. (Later, the now Republican-dominated Congress retroactively ratified everything Lincoln did.) The Supreme Court murmured its disapproval, so Lincoln threatened to imprison them. They got the message and shut up.
The second secession
The second wave of secession was due solely to Lincoln’s act of aggression against their sister states. There is no doubt that Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Arkansas would not have seceded had it not been for that. Nor would Maryland, Kentucky, Missouri, and Delaware have wanted to, these being prevented from actually doing so by a combination of trickery and force, mingled no doubt with excessive complacency in certain quarters.
One must stare long and hard at Lincoln’s speeches to comprehend the deeply embedded lies that are the actual content.
The First Inaugural, delivered before the Sumpter incident, basically says: yes, our estranged brothers, you can leave (as long as you keep paying all the taxes, imposts, and duties to us, and allow our agents free reign to collect them).
In other words, you can pretend like you have left, as long as in fact you remain our serfs.
Lincoln’s speeches were laden with poetry, like the references to divine Providence that he did not believe in: he was a skeptic his whole life. To those that now read Lincoln’s speeches in school rooms, they evoke coos of affirmation. But to those at the time that understood the sub-text, Lincoln’s words whipped up fury: either vengeful and murderous (on the part of the Radical Republicans), or righteous outrage (on the part of Lincoln’s designated victims). For the Republicans, Lincoln’s War was transformed into God’s cause, in which the Lord would trample out the vintage where his grapes of wrath were stored (whatever that means).
Slavery and the War
Many Americans still believe the so-called “Civil War” was about slavery. This widespread belief is itself an effect of the political and school book propaganda unleashed and made possible by the fifty-year Republican hegemony that was the fallout of Lincoln’s reign. The victors write the history books.
Lincoln himself, however, made it crystal clear that the war was not about slavery. It was about union. He stated unequivocally, that if keeping the union meant keeping slavery it would be kept; if it meant abolishing it, it would be abolished. It was about union, first and last.
The Emancipation Proclamation
Someone will counter, “but the Emancipation Proclamation!”
This was two years into the war, and clearly diplomatically motivated: England was on the verge of recognizing the CSA, and this would have been a huge setback to the Union cause. Trading cotton for arms would have restored a balance of power to the South. Possibly, the blockade would be regarded as a violation of international law.
There were still a lot of feelings in England about slavery, since she had only recently (but peacefully and amicably) abolished it in her own domains. By recasting the war as one concerning slavery, it shifted the balance of opinion sufficiently to prevent the recognition of the CSA.
But the Proclamation was another clever Lincoln lie. It only even pretended to apply to those regions that were in rebellion– where it couldn’t be enforced anyhow. It did not apply to the Union states that had slaves, nor to regions in the Confederacy that were occupied. Only the Great Jokester himself in the history of Christendom could have pulled off a rhetorical stunt like the Emancipation Proclamation.
It bears mentioning, that even if the Proclamation had been honest, it still would have been illegal. The Constitution was ratified with full cognizance of slavery. The President had no constitutional authority to make such a declaration.
How Lincoln waged war
Lincoln soon came to the painful realization that he was out-generaled by the South. He therefore adopted two strategies: (1) “War by the arithmetic,” meaning, use the vastly greater manpower as cannon fodder, knowing that attrition would decimate the South and leave the North still standing. (2) Ruthless warfare against civilians.
The extent of the latter earns Lincoln contention for status as the greatest war criminal in the history of Christendom to his day.
Lincoln waged war on the North as well. Dissenters were imprisoned and exiled. Presses were destroyed. Gettysburg couldn’t be followed up on because troops had to be sent to put down the “rebellion” in New York city [note 1].
The fallout of the war was complete Republican domination for about a half century. The South was divided up into military districts that did not even follow state lines, until 1876. They were “allowed” to come back in, even though Lincoln had all along claimed they had never really left.
A series of amendments was strong-armed through; the Southern states were required to adopt them as condition of being re-admitted!
State governments were set up throughout the South by the Republicans, who passed exorbitant internal-improvement bonds, then stole the money. Taxes were raised, lands stolen for the taxes and plundered.
The 14th Amendment turned the Bill of Rights into a charter for direct Federal Government jurisdiction over every individual. This is why, to this day, the Feds get involved in criminal trials and the death penalty that historically had been the sole jurisdiction of the states.
Later, the 14th Amendment became the vehicle for the “person” of the Corporation to become a slippery little demon that cannot be held accountable in local courts.
As a perhaps unforeseen side-effect: it is also why any alien that hurls herself over the border and delivers a child has produced, presto, a new American citizen. In 18 years, a new voter.
The Guilded Age was ushered in– guilded for the manipulators that got the government privileges.
The Republicans, led by Lincoln, destroyed the Constitution.
We have to face that fact, and stop pretending otherwise.
What implications this has for today’s politics, I will suggest in a future post.
If this viewpoint is new to you, dear reader, you will need to start doing some reading. A good place to begin your research into Lincoln, can be found at a couple places.
Some good introductory material can be found by going to lewrockwell.com, clicking on “archives” in the left column, then selecting “King Lincoln.” For a recent example, on the relation between current leaders and Lincoln, look at this.
A good introduction to Lincoln and his legacy for those like I that still prefer books can be found in the poet Edgar Lee Masters’ masterpiece, Lincoln: The Man. Warning: his hostility to Christianity is evident, and he often attributes Lincoln’s vindictiveness and bloodthirstiness to “Jehovah theology.” Even Masters however concedes that Lincoln was not an actual believer; so it is an unfortunate juxtaposition revealing Master’s own religious hostility. The phenomenology of Lincoln, however, remains valid.
Note 1. I don’t mean immediately. Lee showed his genius in slipping out of the clutches of Meade in the immediate aftermath. However, Federal veterans of Gettysburg among others were sent to quell the New York rebellion a couple weeks later.