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Friday, February 18, 2005

Smokey Briggs

Sage Views

By Smokey Briggs

Abe Lincoln
is no hero

All right the challenge has been made. I cannot help but accept it.

Last week The Monahans News ran a guest column from Donald Bard, husband to The News’ managing editor Paula Bard.

Now, I like Don. He is a good guy who takes good care of his family and is much fun to verbally joust with.

His column, “Celebrating February’s rebels,” extolled the virtues of the likes of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Susan B. Anthony and Martin Luther King.

It was a good column but I choked on the part about old “Honest Abe.”

As far as I am concerned Abe Lincoln is nothing more than a political hack who ordered the murder of 600,000 of his countrymen to preserve his tax base.

Lincoln’s name deserves mention when talking of Stalin, Hitler and Sadam Hussein - not George Washington.

Now Don got part of the story right - he states that while Lincoln is given credit for declaring slaves free it was not his primary goal.

As a matter of fact if you read any of Lincoln’s speeches you will find that he was a tremendous racist and never supported the idea of freeing slaves until midway into the revolution when it began to look politically and strategically useful.

What Don got wrong was this statement: “Lincoln saw a house divided could not stand. As the elected President, it was his duty to keep that house intact, no matter the cost. With over 600,000 American’s dead, it was a very heavy price. However, it set a standard the rest of the world continues to envy. When a group of states decide to be a nation, there is no going back just because there are problems; in other words, when you pledge your allegiance, America will take you at your word.”

Apologist historians have shouted this so-called truth to the heavens since 1865 and have been terribly successful in convincing generations of Americans that old Abe just did what he had to do “to preserve the union.”

It was his “duty.”

The only problem is that this is a lie.

This apology for the death of 600,000 Americans evaporates like so much smoke with even the slightest of investigation. The question no one seems willing to ask (and that will get you a less than good mark in 8th grade history if you ask it) is: “Why?”

Why was it necessary that the union not be divided? Was it really worth 600,000 lives?

Just as important is the question of law.

Was it legal to invade the states that simply wanted to no longer be a part of the United States?

Those are not questions that mainstream historians are comfortable with. The big lie makes us feel warm and fuzzy.

The truth is cold and ugly.

The Constitution was a voluntary pact entered into by 13 sovereign nations after the Revolutionary War.

Nowhere within the confines of that document does it say, “Until death do us part.” It was a contract entered into on a voluntary basis and by any tenet of English law or common sense it could be nullified by any one or more of the signing parties at any point.

The truth is that it was inconvenient to Northern business interests to have the tax base of the nation simply walk away and form a new nation - a new nation that had already declared its intention to establish a free trade zone.

It would have meant economic disaster for the industrial North.

You have to remember that import and export tariffs were the only real means of taxation available to the federal government in 1860. Taxes extracted from Southern agricultural exports were the lifeblood of the federal government.

Just as important, the Southern states were the only viable market for most Northern manufactured goods - goods that could be had cheaper from France and Britain if the South formed a new nation and did away with federally imposed tariffs.

For those that think there must have been some implied “until death do us part” clause in the Constitution please check your history books. You will find that succession movements flourished in the North in the 50 years preceding the Civil War and that no Northern or Southern politician or scholar of the day considered succession illegal.

The only question was, “Is it smart?”

The truth is that Abe Lincoln made the cold-blooded decision to wage war against his former countrymen for money.

He could have abided by the tenets of law and common sense and saved 600,000 lives.

He could have simply let the states go. If he had there would not have been Gettysburg, Manassas, or Vicksburg.

More than half-a-million young men would have gone about their lives in places like Maine and Mississippi would have lived to marry, father children and go about industrious lives.

Would world history have changed? Maybe. Would the Germans have won World War I without a united United States to intervene? Maybe, but probably not.

Would slavery have ended? Maybe. But, again, Lincoln did not go to war to end the institution of human bondage no matter how much we might wish he had.

In all probability, the separated states would have eventually found that they had enough in common to once again join in voluntary union and simple economics would have brought about the end of slavery - just as economics brought about the end of slavery in Europe and in the northern states.

But, even if the states were never again unified, you cannot make a horrible wrong somehow right by shrugging and saying that it all worked out for the best.

If Germany had won World War II that is what their historians would say concerning the victims of the concentrations camps. They would shrug and then very quickly start extolling the virtues of the Fuhrer because he turned back the scourge of Communism.

“It worked out for the best,” the German apologists would say.

I doubt the victims of Auschwitz would agree with the apologists.

And, I do not think that the 600,000 men killed in the name of preserving the union would today agree with Lincoln’s apologists that it all worked out for the best.

It certainly did not for them.

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