by Thomas J. DiLorenzo
The political Left (which includes almost all journalists in America) just can’t make up its mind over whether Barack Obama most resembles Lincoln, FDR, Jesus Christ – or some combination thereof. All during his campaign many of his supporters kept referring to him as “The Messiah”; there is much talk of how he will immediately propose the re-adoption of many of FDR’s government interventions (that only made the Great Depression worse); and we are told (constantly) that he intends to make use of Lincoln’s rhetoric, especially in his first inaugural address. He has been studying Lincoln’s speeches, we are told by his handlers. If so, we are in for a lot of doubletalk and lies bordering on the psychotic.
There has been so much “spin” attached to Lincoln’s speeches by the Lincoln Cult, which often produces entire books instructing us all on how to “properly” interpret a single short speech, that it is almost impossible for the average person to understand what was actually said. (The speeches are all online, so all interested parties are able to read them for themselves without the spin.)
Lincoln’s White Supremacy Speech
The May 25, 2004 edition of the Washington Post included a story about how Hillary Clinton joined a number of neo-conservatives at the home of the Heritage Foundation’s James Swanson to “celebrate” a new book by Hillary pal Harold Holzer entitled “Lincoln at Cooper Union: The Speech that Made Abraham Lincoln President.” I agree with these left-wing and right-wing neoconservatives that it did indeed provide a big boost to Lincoln’s candidacy. In order to understand why, one must understand that in the speech Lincoln promised to do all that he could, if elected, to keep black people out of the new territories and isolated in the Southern states. He pledged to keep them as far away as possible from the Northern population, in other words, which was very pervasively racist. That’s why the speech was so well received in New York City, which had just ended slavery in 1853 (see the book Slavery in New York). A key paragraph of the Cooper Union speech is one where Lincoln refers to the founding fathers:
As those fathers marked it [slavery], so let it be again marked, as an evil not to be tolerated and protected only because of and so far as its actual presence among us makes that toleration and protection a necessity. Let all the guarantees those fathers gave it, be, not grudgingly, but fully and fairly maintained. For this Republicans contend, and with this, so far as I know or believe, they will be content.
Speaking to a New York City audience, Lincoln stated here that the federal government’s protections of Southern slavery should be “fully” maintained. The reason for this, he said, was that, well, slavery exists! The audience reaction was reportedly quite enthusiastic, for most Northerners wanted slavery – and black people – to remain in the South.
In his October 16, 1854 speech in Peoria, Illinois, Lincoln first explained his (and the Republican Party’s) position on the extension of slavery into the new territories. “The whole nation is interested that the best use shall be made of these territories. We want them for the homes of free white people” (emphasis added). Lincoln’s secretary of state, William Seward, explained that “the motive of those who protested against the extension of slavery had always really been concern for the welfare of the white man, and not an unnatural sympathy for the Negro” (James McPherson, The Struggle for Equality, p. 24). Illinois Senator and Lincoln confidant Lyman Trumbull declared that “we, the Republican Party, are the white man’s party” (Eugene Berwanger, The Frontier Against Slavery, p. 133). Historian Eugene Berwanger noted in The Frontier Against Slavery (p. 154) that “Republicans [in 1860] made no pretense of being concerned with the fate of the Negro and insisted that theirs was a party of white labor. By introducing a note of white supremacy, they hoped to win the votes of the Negrophobes and the anti-abolitionists who were opposed to the extension of slavery.” And Lincoln was the man they chose to accomplish this task.
The “spin” that the Lincoln Cult has put on Lincoln’s (and the Republican Party’s) opposition to the extension of slavery into the new territories is that that would somehow magically lead eventually to the destruction of slavery everywhere. They were “picking the low-hanging fruit” is how it is often explained. This of course is complete nonsense.
Lincoln’s Slavery Forever Speech
Lincoln’s first inaugural address may be considered his “slavery forever” speech because in it he goes to extremes to promise his everlasting support for Southern slavery. Quoting himself, he declared that “I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so.” He then quoted the Republican Party platform of 1860 which made the exact same pledge. In what was the first Big Lie of his administration, which was barely one hour old, he repeated the statement from the Republican Party platform that said: “[W]e denounce the lawless invasion by armed force of the soil of any State or Territory, no matter what pretext, as among the gravest of crimes.” Within a month he would prove himself, and his party, to be liars.
Lincoln then strongly supported the Fugitive Slave Clause of the Constitution, reminding his audience that every member of Congress had taken an oath to support this, and all other parts of the Constitution. All members of Congress, Lincoln assured his audience, agreed that runaway slaves “shall be delivered up” to their owners.
Near the end of the Slavery Forever speech Lincoln pledges his support for a constitutional amendment (the “Corwin Amendment”) that would have prohibited the federal government from ever interfering with Southern slavery. In his words:
I understand a proposed amendment to the Constitution – which amendment, however, I have not seen – has passed Congress, to the effect that the Federal Government shall never interfere with the domestic institutions of the States, including that of persons held to service. To avoid minsconstruction of what I have said, I depart from my purpose not to speak of particular amendments so far as to say that, holding such a provision to now be implied constitutional law, I have no objection to its being made express and irrevocable.
The Corwin Amendment had just passed the House and Senate and, as Doris Kearns-Goodwin details in her book Team of Rivals, it was Lincoln who orchestrated the passing of the amendment by instructing William Seward to see to it that it made its way through the Senate. (This would suggest that Lincoln lied when he said “I have not seen” the amendment.)
Lincoln literally fabricated his own personal version of American history in the Slavery Forever speech when he argued that the states were never sovereign, that the “union” preceded them, and that no state, therefore, could withdraw from the union. This was not the understanding of the founding fathers. All one needs to do to understand this is to read Article 1 of the Treaty of Paris which ended the Revolutionary War (and was negotiated by John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and John Jay.) It says this:
His Brittanic Majesty acknowledges the said United States, viz., New Hampshire, Massachusetts Bay, Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia, to be free sovereign and independent states, that he treats them as such, and for himself, his heirs, and successors, relinquishes all claims to the government, propriety, and territorial rights of the same and every part thereof.
Thus, King George III recognized each state as being an independent and sovereign nation, just as Great Britain and France were independent nations. They were part of a union of “free sovereign and independent states” that had joined together for a common purpose. This of course is also how Adams, Franklin and Jay, and all the other founders, viewed it.
Moreover, Article 7 of the U.S. Constitution explains that the citizens of the sovereign states are to ratify (or not) the Constitution. They created the union, not the other way around as Lincoln’s theory proclaimed.
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