Tuesday, October 23, 2012

St. Abe

Jim Davies

When the Church of Rome has in mind to elevate one of its heroes or heroines to the status of sainthood, it follows a certain procedure – one element of which is to hear the opinion of an advocatus diaboli – a devil's advocate. His job is to reason against the proposed canonization, so reducing the probability of error.

That task fell in 2003 to Christopher Hitchens, with respect to Mother Teresa. He began his writing career as a Marxist, progressed to a humorist and general-purpose iconoclast, and was well on his way to becoming a libertarian when the Grim Reaper intervened in 2011. His take on Teresa appeared in 1995 in The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice, and in his associated remarks to Matt Cherry.

The Church of Government follows no such procedure, and pays no heed to any contrary view, when it decides to elevate to maximum honor one of its heroes. For example by building him a monument on the National Mall, by carving has face in the rocks of South Dakota, and/or by writing history that attributes to him all manner of good and none of evil, as a savior or mainstay of these United States.

I hold both these churches in low esteem, but think that in this respect the former has a far healthier procedure, even it if is mainly for show.

No saint of the latter has been more vigorously promoted by government than Abraham Lincoln, yet he was one of the bloodiest villains ever to walk the Earth. It's high time kiddies in its schools were made aware of that, and Thomas DiLorenzo has done much to ensure they will, in his splendid 2002 book “The Real Lincoln: A New Look at Abraham Lincoln, His Agenda, and an Unnecessary War.” This offers a short, if belated, review of that work.

Other authors have demolished the myth of the “Great Emancipator.” Jeffrey Rogers Hummel, for example, summed up Lincoln's war nicely in the title of his Emancipating Slaves, Enslaving Free Men. The profound hypocrisy of Lincoln's “Proclamation” that supposedly freed slaves is shown by the fact that it freed not a single slave in the territory Lincoln's government and army controlled, nor of course any of the slaves in those areas he did not control. But I did not know, before reading DiLorenzo's book, that this wicked fraud was recognized for what it was as soon as it had been published! Yet still, a century and a half later, government continues to propagate the fiction and the title it gave him.

Most other books on Lincoln are written by historians (reasonably enough), but Professor DiLorenzo is an economist, teaching that subject at Loyola. This leads to his unique contribution: he follows the money. And the power, or the pursuit of it, from 1776 onwards. Some have criticized “The Real Lincoln” on those grounds – and truth be told, I did notice a few minor flaws in the text which a professional historian would probably have avoided (the English protectionist “corn laws” were repealed in 1846, for example, not 1850.) They do nothing to detract from the importance of DiLorenzo's economic insight.

That insight centers on placing Lincoln's action in starting the war against the seceding states in the context of the struggle between two very different views of America that had been in rivalry ever since the Constitutional Convention: the Federalists led by Hamilton, and the Anti-Federalists led by Jefferson. The former wanted “consolidation”--a powerful central government in control of the states, while the latter wanted the state governments to remain supreme with the Feds in just a support role. The battle had continued for eight decades, back and forth. Adams began in the 1790s to strangle freedoms supposedly guaranteed in the Bill of Rights, Jefferson restored them. Twice a central bank was set up, twice it was ended. Now, in 1861, the question was whether or not the discontented Southern states could rightfully pull out of the Union.

Those favoring a big central government did so for the usual reason – a thirst for power – but were backed by businessmen of the kind that perceives government as an ally rather than a pestilence. The kind that always set out to emulate those in the Old Country who for centuries had made fortunes as “mercantilists,” by operating under the protection of royal monopoly grants. This class of parasite saw vast opportunity in America for what were then called “improvements,” (today, “infrastructure”)--roads, canals, and eventually railways. Their idea was not just to offer stocks to the investing public, then buy or claim land as required for the project and get to work under the eagle eyes of stockholders eager to see their money well used, but also to solicit government loans and favors.

It was easier that way. They could wine and dine influential pols and reward them with gifts of stock, in return for land grants and loans, then get to work, often in a rather careless manner. If they overspent, well, the railroad was needed for the great American public, so the loan had to be enlarged or forgiven, and so passed on to the taxpayer. A central bank was favored because that process could be made easier. The bank could make the loan with less Congressional oversight, then go begging for a bailout when it went sour. (Notes being then redeemable in gold, it could not, of course, just print up fiat “money.”) Few did without this scheme – but one of them was, in DiLorenzo's words, “railroad entrepreneur James J. Hill [who] even built a transcontinental railroad (the Great Northern) without a dime of government subsidy.” The Great Northern was the most solidly built of them all.

This racket required more and more money, and it had to come from taxes, so ever increasing taxes were levied, and they took the form of import tariffs because at that time nobody had figured out how to get around the Constitutional requirement that direct taxes (e.g. one on income) be apportioned. Therefore, Whigs and then Republicans stood for high tariffs and for “improvements.” And for a quarter century prior to 1861, Lincoln worked hard in both those parties for both those purposes. This was his true life's work.

High import taxes suited not only those eager to feed at the government trough, but also American manufacturers, most of whom were in the North and all of whom were selling against imports from more-experienced European competitors. High tariffs meant they could charge more, make better profits. Their customers in the North might grumble, but at least those profits stayed in the North. In the agricultural South, such machinery had to be bought (whether from overseas or from the US North) at artificially high prices, and none of the money stayed in the South. That was the real cause of tension between the two zones.

There was tension too over slavery, of course, but DiLorenzo scorns it as a prime cause of the war. Most Abolitionists were in the North, but he says there were “only 200,000” of them and hence, politically unimportant (though I wonder if he's quite right on that; the US population was only about 30 million, so it's a respectable minority.) More importantly, he says that racial bigotry was generally stronger in the North than in the South! -- and instances the dramatic effect in New York of “Emancipation”: “in July 1863 there were race riots in New York City as whites protested the Emancipation Proclamation (January 1863) and Lincoln's new conscription law (March 1863) by randomly assaulting (and sometimes killing) any and all black people unlucky enough to cross their path.” Northerners had been willing (and stupid) enough to fight to “preserve the Union,” but not at all to free blacks.

As the tension over tariffs rose to a snapping point, Lincoln saw danger and opportunity. If the South seceded, it would no longer collect import taxes or buy Northern machinery – planters would just import it from overseas – so his tax-and-”improve” racket would be undermined. If however he could use it to wage (and win) a war, central power in D.C. would be forever engrossed. That was the origin and cause of the war; it was fought not to emancipate, but to consolidate. In truth, Lincoln was the Great Consolidator.

DiLorenzo reasons that secession is a natural right, always accepted as such in America and never questioned, prior to 1861. America began by seceding from the then-legitimate London government, “illegally” of course – so the right to secede was integral to the new nation. It wasn't written in to the Constitution because nobody thought it needed to be. In his Foreword to The Real Lincoln, Walter Williams writes, “In Thomas Jefferson's First Inaugural Address (1801), he declared, 'If there be any among us who would wish to dissolve this Union or to change its republican form, let them stand undisturbed . . . .'” DiLorenzo musters in his Chapter 5 multiple reasons to support the thesis that secession was always understood to be such an “undisturbed” right; one of them considers the 1814-15 Hartford Convention of Northern Federalists, who considered leaving the Union because they thought the “three-fifths clause” gave too much representation to the Slave States. They wanted it scrapped, so that Negroes were not counted at all! But at no point during that Convention did anyone suggest that any state did not have the right to secede.

So, despite having ample and wealthy support, Lincoln took no chances. He did not invite even the rump Congress of Northern representatives to declare war, but rather called the secession a “rebellion” and asserted powers as Commander in Chief to quell it. Further, he provided FDR, 80 years later, with a blueprint of how to begin a war while appearing not to: he manipulated the South into firing the first shot. Fort Sumter was a Federal outpost in South Carolina territory, so after secession was declared, it “should” have been evacuated. Jefferson Davis even “appointed peace commissioners, in conformity with a resolution of the Confederate Congress, whose mission was to travel to Washington, D.C., in March 1861, before the attack on Fort Sumter, and offer to pay for any Federal property.” Lincoln refused to see them (!) and instead, sent ships to replenish its provisions – which were, as expected, fired upon. Thus the War began. Unprecedented power was about to pass to the central government, exactly as Lincoln intended.

The Real Lincoln continues by presenting a short account of the War's conduct, and it's well done and quite horrible; I don't often feel nauseous after reading, but this was one of those times. (Others were The Black Book of Communism and Death by Government, and as a most interesting aside, I noticed while preparing this article that Prof. DiLorenzo has spotted an omission in the latter; author R.J. Rummel did not list 300,000 Americans in his awesome catalog of worldwide democides. Those were the civilians killed during the War to Prevent Secession.) Lincoln micro-managed his generals, so bears full responsibility for the butchery their armies carried out. One American in 60 was killed, but Lincoln's aim was fulfilled. We are living with that result to this day.

DiLorenzo's chronicle doesn't end in 1865, but gives a good account of “Reconstruction,” also managed by Republicans in full accord, he reasons, with Lincoln's aims and policies. It, too, makes sickening reading. He writes: “The primary effect, if not the intent, of the 'Reconstruction' policies of 1865–1877 was to centralize and consolidate state power in Washington, D.C., and to establish Republican Party political hegemony that would last for some seventy years. Even when the Republican Party did not control the White House during those years, its mercantilist policies generally prevailed until the Franklin Roosevelt administration of the 1930s, at which time government became even more interventionist.”

One disappointment in The Real Lincoln, for me, was that it didn't comment on what would have happened if Lincoln had failed to start the 1861 war, or if the “First Bull Run” battle in July 1861, won by Confederates, had been immediately followed by the capture of the capital; Stonewall Jackson begged Jefferson Davis' leave, saying “Give me ten thousand men and I will take Washington tomorrow!” Davis refused, and ever afterwards regretted it. Presumably, Lincoln's bid to centralize power would have failed there and then. The Confederacy would have continued, tariffs would have been slashed, and “improvements” would all have been built by free enterprise, like J.J. Hill's. The FedGov would have remained as a minor role-player in American life.

Would that have been good enough? Not in a million years. State and local governments are just as arrogant and intrusive as the Federal one. The problem is not the size or the scope, but the very existence and nature of government, denying as it always does the absolute right of every human being to own and operate his or her own life.

That said, without doubt a large and inescapable government is far worse than a small one from which one can readily escape by moving to another's jurisdiction. Lincoln brought about that large government, and right now, with its worldwide tax laws and treaties and its burgeoning no-fly lists, it is busy preventing such escape.

Call Thomas DiLorenzo an advocatus diaboli if you will, but I reckon he did a good day's work. In my portrayal of the day government evaporates, I visualized that the celebrants on the National Mall will decorate the Lincoln Memorial with appropriate graffiti; having now read The Real Lincoln, I think that in the succeeding weeks they will also hammer it to bits, no doubt selling fragments, like the cubic inch of concrete on my bookshelf from the former Berlin Wall, as mementos of a truly evil man who could be regarded as a “saint” only by those with an utterly twisted sense of morality.