Robert Bennett: A 'Lincoln' review for history buffs

Return To Article
Add a comment
  • Craig Clark Boulder, CO
    Jan. 16, 2013 12:49 p.m.


    "....the fact that the law no longer tolerates the barbaric idea that people can be property was and is the right outcome for then and now."

    It's interesting how perception changes over time. There were strong anti-slavery voices even at the founding of the country. Nothing was done about it then because the urgent business at hand was getting a Constitution written, passed, and ratified. To press the slavery issue then might have put the whole project in jeopardy. Another factor is that there was no urgency to abolish an institution that was perceived to be dying anyway. In 1787, the idea that slavery would still be around in 1860 would not have been given much credence by the delegates.

    At the outset of seccession, abolitionism and the moral headache over what to do about slavery notwithstanding, it was not widely believed that the conflict was about slavery. Only after the fact and with 20/20 hindsight did the country start to think, slavery more than anything else is what the war SHOULD have been about.

    Much of written history is false memory.

  • jeanie orem, UT
    Jan. 15, 2013 5:33 p.m.

    What we DO know is that the legality of owning another person ended in the United States due to the outcome of the Civil War. Whatever started it, whatever the real motivations of the South and Lincoln were - the fact that the law no longer tolerates the barbaric idea that people can be property was and is the right outcome for then and now.

  • Cool Cat Cosmo Payson, UT
    Jan. 14, 2013 9:24 p.m.

    History is always looked at through the rose-colored glasses of the present. Was Lincoln a complicated man? Of course he was, just as Robert E. Lee was, for anyone who has seriously studied history.

    Both are examples of imperfect men seeking to do the will of God as best they could, and God will ultimately judge their actions. We may try to understand who they were, but without having lived in their time, grown up with the upbringing and preconceptions that they did, we cannot judge them fairly.

  • Tyler D Meridian, ID
    Jan. 14, 2013 2:28 p.m.

    @Craig Clark – “I was astonished to hear the late Shelby Foote argue the other way…”

    I have a lot respect for Shelby Foote and I agree that there were grievances, but I doubt in a democracy those would have started a civil war were it not for slavery. And most of those grievances were culturally based in the sense that the North was becoming the more democratic and industrious region while the South was more and more an indolent aristocracy (as de Tocqueville pointed out 30 years prior to the war) again, all because of slavery.

    And don’t forget those grievances went both ways (e.g., Dred Scott, the fugitive slave law, the Kansas-Nebraska Act, etc…). Again, all revolving around slavery.
    Many thought slavery would die out and our cultures would converge again, but with continued and aggressive western expansion the North had finally (after decades) had enough.

    And Foote (a tremendous southern intellectual) I think would disagree with much of the revisionist stuff spouted by folks like Brutus. He admired Lincoln a great deal. And do Lincoln’s inaugural addresses sound like the words of a tyrant?

  • airnaut Everett, 00
    Jan. 14, 2013 2:04 p.m.

    Ah yes ---

    Talk about a Progressive Liberal.

    Stipping a man's property and freeing him with the stoke of a pen, and without Congressional approval via the Emancipation Proclamation,

    Expanding the role of Federal Government over those of the States,

    Declaring Marshal Law, and sending in Federal Troops into Soverign States to quell the rebellion,

    Putting America ahead of party politics, and selecting a Southern Democrat as his 2nd term V.P. running mate,

    No wonder the Conservatives in the South hated him so much!

  • Twin Lights Louisville, KY
    Jan. 14, 2013 1:52 p.m.

    Brutus and All,

    See Declaration of Causes of Seceding States.

    Georgia: ”For the last ten years we have had numerous and serious causes of complaint against our non-slave-holding confederate States with reference to the subject of African slavery.”

    Mississippi: “In the momentous step which our State has taken of dissolving its connection with the government of which we so long formed a part, it is but just that we should declare the prominent reasons which have induced our course. Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery . . .”

    South Carolina: “The Constitution . . . provides as follows: ‘No person held to service or labor in one State, under the laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in consequence of any law or regulation therein, be discharged from such service or labor, but shall be delivered up . . .’ The greater number of the contracting parties held slaves . . . “

    Texas: “She [Texas] was received as a commonwealth holding, maintaining and protecting the institution known as negro slavery-- the servitude of the African to the white race within her limits . . . “

    These are their own words.

  • Craig Clark Boulder, CO
    Jan. 14, 2013 12:50 p.m.

    Tyler D,

    "....That the war was fought for “states rights” is simply nonsense. Slavery was always the issue of discontent since the founding and only grew more so due to Southern jealousy (towards the more industrious and increasingly ethical North) and greed.

    That’s been my view since becoming a student of the conflict. I was astonished to hear the late Shelby Foote argue the other way. He cited a long festering litany of Southern grievances regarding national policies that favored Northern predominance, which resentments were not without merit. Expansion of slavery into Western territories was one hope Southerners banked on put the South on a more competitive footing evnetually. Slavery itself was not the driving issue for either the North or South, not even for Lincoln until 1862 when he made it THE defining issue which immediately enraged the South as a misrepresentation of its cause.

    I don’t know if I agree with Foote. But he made a more convincing argument than I’ve heard anyone else make for the primary cause of secession being regionalism, or ‘Southern rights’ as the South preferred to call it.

  • Tyler D Meridian, ID
    Jan. 14, 2013 12:44 p.m.

    @Brutus – “Mr. Lincoln started a war--a war that was not fought over slavery…”

    That’s a quote from what you wrote last week and best I can tell the only the only factual (albeit inaccurate) assertion you made. I’ll leave to others to decide if I created a straw man in arguing against it.

    As to the rest, yes, Lincoln did some things that were extraordinary during unprecedented circumstances. Most people think he did the right thing, even more so when you factor in again the “easiest moral question in history” that the South not only got wrong, but then wanted to extend it throughout the West (the real reason for the rebellion).

    Was he a tyrant to stop this evil despotism in its tracks? There is a pretty good book out (sad that it needed to be written at all) called Vindicating Lincoln that does a superb job of dismantling the revisionist nonsense that has cropped up lately.

    Believe whatever gobbledygook you want but don’t expect it to go unchallenged when you make it public.

  • Craig Clark Boulder, CO
    Jan. 14, 2013 12:24 p.m.


    "....If you sincerely believe that Mr. Lincoln had noble intentions in the abuses he engaged in, I have a bridge to sell you."

    Quick. Hand me the contract and tell me where to sign.

  • Craig Clark Boulder, CO
    Jan. 14, 2013 12:19 p.m.

    There’s much to be said about Lincoln that popular culture neglects. His mastery of language reveals a keen intellect behind the humorist who preceded Mark Twain in raising American expression to a literary level. The speeches at Gettysburg and his second inaugural are still models of oratory studied by politicians today.

    It was the Lincoln/Douglas debates that brought him to the attention of a young Republican Party in search of its voice. The South too took anxious note of his powerfully reasoned arguments. Upon election, they didn’t even wait for him to take office to bolt the Union.

    Had Lincoln not been assassinated, he and Stevens would likely have gone from being allies to enemies over the course of Reconstruction. Thaddeus wanted to punish the South for what it had inflicted on the nation. Lincoln wished to welcome the Southern states back into the Union as though they had never left. We’ll never know the extent to which he could have held firm on that in a post-war atmosphere of retribution.

  • Brutus ,
    Jan. 14, 2013 12:13 p.m.

    Twin Lights: Just to be clear, Lincoln did not limit the right to secession to Texas. "Any people anywhere . . . "

    It does not matter that the Constitution makes no provision for secession. That is a silly argument made up after the fact. If you can convince me that it was understood by all the states that when they ratified the Constitution they were were agreeing to have their homes burned and treasure pillaged if they ever tried to leave, well, then you must might have an argument.

    Lincoln's election precipitated the secession of South Carolina. Don't confuse that with the war. Lincoln provoked the conflict by re-supplying troops at Sumter, which was against the advice of his cabinet.

    Lastly, you and Tyler D are still missing the point. South Carolina may have seceded over slavery, I will give you that (and have given you that). But that does not mean that slavery was the key issue of the war. The key issue of the war for Lincoln was secession, which was really about money.

    The bridge is still for sale.

  • Brutus ,
    Jan. 14, 2013 12:06 p.m.

    Tyler D: You're doing exactly what people do when they make straw man arguments. You attempted to sum up my argument in some ridiculous fashion and then attacked it. Go re-read my comment from last week. I did not make any of the arguments you are attacking.

    Your sarcastic remark about the "far more industrious north needed money" reveals your ignorance on the subject. I said the federal government needed money. There was no income tax at that time, and the federal government was largely funded by tariffs. The South was much more dependent upon imports and, thus, paid a disproportionate share of the tariff. The federal government would lose the lion share of its revenue without the tariff being paid by Southerners. Also, if the South seceded, that would expose Northern goods to greater competition from Western Europe, because without the tariff, the South could buy European goods at a cheaper price.

    Lincoln was a tyrant because, among other things, he regularly incarcerated individuals without charges and without a right to a hearing; he repeatedly destroyed presses; he raised an army without congressional approval; and he waged war on civilians. That's a tyrant by any measure.

  • Tyler D Meridian, ID
    Jan. 14, 2013 11:33 a.m.

    @Brutus – “well done at knocking the stuffing out of those straw men!”

    Since they were your straw men (your comments on the DN Lincoln article last week) I gratefully accept the compliment.

    Now, let’s see if I can follow the rest of your logic –

    Because a border state hesitated before seceding, Lincoln is a tyrant.

    Lincoln started the war because the far more industrious and prosperous North needed money.

    Anyone, anywhere can start a revolution as they see fit and that’s just okey dokey.

    Does that about sum it up? I won’t waste time on the first two “arguments” but the third is interesting. I’m sure many in the South saw it this way, but the consequences would not have left an intact Confederacy. That too would have dissolved, as it was beginning to do by war’s end, and it would not have stopped at the State level (e.g., the Kingdom of Jones). The South would have ended up so fractured and weak it would have made the former Yugoslavia look like North Korea. But the dream & lost cause indeed lives on…

  • Twin Lights Louisville, KY
    Jan. 14, 2013 11:13 a.m.


    Just to be clear, Mr. Lincoln was talking about the right of Texas to revolt from Mexico.

    As to whether that right would or could transfers to the states. The constitution makes no such provision.

    Would secession have worked if the Confederacy had brought sufficient military power to bear? Sure. Might ultimately does make right in the history books. Had our revolution failed we would read about what terrible folks Washington, Madison, and the rest were.

    Was Lincoln (or any sane President) going to let secession happen on his watch? No.

    Was slavery the key issue for the war? Of course. Whether slavery could expand into the new territories affected the future of Southern political and economic power.

    Was Lincoln wrong to send troops into South Carolina? No. Federal troops had been fired upon (after secession had been declared).

    Mr. Lincoln provoked the war by getting elected. His views about disallowing the expansion of slavery were well known (see the Cooper Union speech).

    Thanks. But I don’t buy bridges. Too illiquid.

  • Brutus ,
    Jan. 14, 2013 10:33 a.m.

    And to satisfy Tyler D's insistence on source material, I like this quote from Abraham Lincoln in 1848. Turns out he was for the right to secede before he was against it.

    "Any people anywhere, being inclined and having the power, have the right to rise up and shake off the existing government, and form a new one that suits them better. This is a most valuable, a most sacred right—a right which, we hope and believe, is to liberate the world. Nor is this right confined to cases in which the whole people of an existing government may choose to exercise it. Any portion of such people that can may revolutionize, and make their own of so much of the territory as they inhabit. " -- Abraham Lincoln.

  • Brutus ,
    Jan. 14, 2013 10:33 a.m.

    The fact that Mr. Bennett refers to this review as a "review for history buffs" is ridiculous, if not sad.

    As to Tyler D's comments-- well done at knocking the stuffing out of those straw men! Yes, slavery was a divisive issue leading up to the War Between the States. I'm not sure you need to read "source material" for that insight. If you do care to read, however, you'll find that not all the Southern states seceded because of slavery. Virginia, for example, voted to stay in the Union--that is, until Mr. Lincoln marshaled troops (unconstitutionally) against South Carolina.

    Tyler D's and Mr. Bennett's mistake is that they wrongfully assume that the impetus behind Mr. Lincoln's actions was simply the converse of the impetus behind secession. This was not the case. I have little doubt that states like South Carolina and Mississippi seceded over the issue of slavery. Mr. Lincoln provoked a war, however, primarily over the revenue the federal government stood to lose if it lost the South.

    If you sincerely believe that Mr. Lincoln had noble intentions in the abuses he engaged in, I have a bridge to sell you.

  • Tyler D Meridian, ID
    Jan. 14, 2013 9:35 a.m.

    Excellent review – reading the source material from the 10-15 years prior to the war, it is clear that the war – started by the South – was a war fought to expand slavery and despotism into the western territories (which was the only part of slavery Lincoln ran against in 1860).

    That the war was fought for “states rights” is simply nonsense. Slavery was always the issue of discontent since the founding and only grew more so due to Southern jealousy (towards the more industrious and increasingly ethical North) and greed.

    The war was fought because, in trying to answer perhaps the easiest moral question in history, one side simply got the question horribly wrong and were willing to kill for their answer. That rebellious slave owners (who controlled all Southern governments) were able to convince the much larger non-slave owning Southern population that the war was about “our rights” was one of the great tragedies of our history. That a few wing nuts today still buy this propaganda is more pathetic than tragic.