Real Lincoln by Thomas Dilorenzo, MLA 10 Term Paper

Pages: 10 (2572 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 0  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: American History

¶ … Real Lincoln by Thomas Dilorenzo, MLA 10 pp

More than 140 years after his assassination, Abraham Lincoln remains a sainted figure in American history. Majority of the books about the Great Emancipator are practically hagiographies. Biographers emphasize Lincoln's role in keeping the United States together in one of the most turbulent times in history. Other books have been devoted to Lincoln's determination, eloquence and oratory skills. Even while detailing his depression and difficult marriage, biographers highlight his humanity and create sympathetic portrayals.

Economics professor Thomas J. DiLorenzo takes a decidedly different approach. In his 2002 book The Real Lincoln: A New Look at Abraham Lincoln, His Agenda, and an Unnecessary War, DiLorenzo states that he is approaching the 16th president from a different perspective. In his book, DiLorenzo contends that Lincoln's ulterior motives in fighting the Civil War were unrelated to ending slavery. Instead, Lincoln was intent on shifting political power to the United States, at the expense of the economic independence of the Southern states.

The first part of this paper evaluates DiLorenzo's central arguments, including allegations that Lincoln regularly committed war crimes against Southern residents. The next part then discusses how DiLorenzo misinterprets and misrepresents Lincoln's key policies, in order to support a specious thesis.

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DiLorenzo's arguments, while provocative, are far from new.

Instead, the author rehashes conspiracy theories that have been circulating since the time of the Confederacy.

This paper thus argues that when held under scholastic scrutiny, DiLorenzo's historiography falls short of his goals of shedding new light on the "real" Lincoln presidency.

DiLorenzo's Central Arguments

TOPIC: Term Paper on Real Lincoln by Thomas Dilorenzo, MLA 10 Assignment

The Real Lincoln has a simple central theme. DiLorenzo believes that Abraham Lincoln is centrally-defined not by his Republicanism, but by his prior Whig background. After all, peaceful emancipations from slavery have been implemented in other parts of the world. However, the author argues, Lincoln chose to provoke a war, one that would have preserved the Constitution and recognized the rights of Southern states. More importantly, a peaceful emancipation would have preserved the South's economic and political power.

DiLorenzo challenges the very notion that emancipation was at the heart of the Civil War. Against the classical-liberal approach of other Civil War scholars, The Real Lincoln advances the view of Lincoln as a tyrant with a mercantilist agenda. It was Lincoln's policies that started to the United States down the path towards a centralized economy, with power concentrated in corrupt Washington, rather than in individual states.

To bolster his arguments regarding the lost possibility of peaceful emancipation, DiLorenzo argues for a form of "compensated emancipation," (p. 49), where slave children would be freed only after a designated birthday (which varied from 18, 21 or 28 years old). In this way, he argues that slaveholders would have been more cooperative, since they would suffer little or no economic loss. However, even in the face of successful emancipations in the 19th century British Empire, DiLorenzo argues that Lincoln chose to wage a bloody war - which eventually cost more in terms of monetary and human loss.

DiLorenzo picks appropriately shocking statistics to support his claims. "One out of four Southern white," he writes, "males between 20 and 40 perished during the war." (53). The figures were of enough concern to the members of Lincoln's Congress, which then repeatedly proposed negotiations for peace conferences with Confederate leaders. Lincoln's refusal is presented as further proof of his desire for "the consolidation of state power" (53).

This idea, supposedly dreaded by citizens since founding days, was Lincoln's real desire. To save the Union, DiLorenzo charges that Lincoln resorted to "sugarcoating" the centralization of political and economic power in the United States. The bloody war overturned the decentralized and, most importantly, voluntary union of states. The result was a "coercive union," with Lincoln at its head.

DiLorenzo goes into these charges at great length in the two most important chapters of his book. In his chapter "The Great Centralizer," DiLorenzo traces Lincoln's Whig affiliations. The author argues that for decades, Whigs have argued for British-style mercantilist policies. These included, among others, "protectionist tariffs, a nationalized banking system and internal improvement subsidies" (235). Whig-initiated congressional proposals for such policies, however, were vetoed by presidents, including Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe and Andrew Jackson.

The Real Lincoln contends that Lincoln "seethed" in frustration over two decades, following veto after veto.

Aside from the filibusters, mercantilist policies also faced obstacles embedded on the state level. Many state constitutions, for example, forbade the use of taxpayer subsidies for internal improvement systems. This measure was supposed to guard against the possibility of corruption. This prohibition was also in line with the maintenance of strong constitutional liberty. It was, however, "in sharp conflict" with Lincoln's career goals.

Before going into great detail about Lincoln's ulterior political motives, DiLorenzo expounds with great length on the economic consequences of the mercantilist policies. The president's case for protectionist policies, argues DiLorenzo, was short-sighted. After all, Adam Smith had made a very convincing case for free trade in his Wealth of Nations. Prominent 19th century economists like David Ricardo and John Baptiste Say further built on Smith's work. Furthermore, the United States Constitution itself made it illegal to impose tariffs on goods imported from neighboring states. This commerce clause, says DiLorenzo, illustrates the founding father's acceptance of the idea of free and unfettered trade.

By imposing tariffs, the book argues that Lincoln goes against figures such as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, whom DiLorenzo characterizes as "staunch advocates of free international commerce as well as interstate commerce" (70).

Lincoln also willfully ignores how the British themselves were moving away from protectionist policies, as seen in England's elimination of all tariff on grain in the 1850s. France, another major European power, had eliminated much of its own protectionist policies by 1860. Thus, Lincoln is painted as clinging onto outmoded Whig-backed protectionist policies at the very time when Europe was moving towards free trade.

How did Lincoln get away with such misguided policies, especially in light of the Republican-dominated Congress? DiLorenzo's answer is simple - that Lincoln's congress is filled with former Whigs and Whig sympathizers.

Like their leader, the Whig sympathizers benefited strongly from the centralization of power and the protectionist policies.

Lincoln was always a Whig and was almost single-mindedly devoted to the Whig agenda" (54). Towards this, Lincoln appealed to the special interests of the elite. This of course meant that the public was "intentionally miseducated" in order for mercantilism to survive.

These mercantilist policies proved to be disastrous for the country, and by extension, for the poor. One of the key components of Lincoln's mercantilist policies was allowing the government to print paper money to subsidize special interest groups. DiLorenzo characterizes this practice as "welfare for the well-to-do" (57). Printing paper money helped to hide the subsidies from the taxpaying public, who later paid the cost in the resultant inflation. Conveniently, the public servants can deflect the blame by scoring the "greedy corporations" rather than themselves.

DiLorenzo's most damaging charges, however, go beyond Lincoln's misguided economic policies. The president known for freeing the slaves was, DiLorenzo contends, nothing more than a hypocrite and a master politician. "Like most successful politicians," he writes, "(Lincoln) was not above saying one thing to one audience and the opposite to another" (10). Thus, while Lincoln cultivated a public persona that called for racial inequality, his actions and other writings showed support for slavery as well. He was, DiLorenzo argues, "the consummate politician."

To prove this point, DiLorenzo quotes liberally from Lincoln's 1858 speech against Senator Stephen Douglas. In this speech, Lincoln states unequivocally that he has "no purpose to introduce political and social equality between the white and black races. There is a physical difference between the two which, in my judgment, will probably forever forbid...the footing of perfect equality" (11).

This blanket statement is further evidenced by Lincoln's actions and words. On several different occasions, he referred to Negroes as among "the inferior races." This group also included Mexicans and other "mongrells." Lincoln pledged his full support of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 and called on citizens, including Northerners, to turn in escaped slaves. As a lawyer, Lincoln never defended a runaway slave. However, he did unsuccessfully represent a prominent Illinois slaveowner in the latter's bid to have smuggled slaves returned.

As further proof of Lincoln's opposition to racial equality, DiLorenzo discusses the president's refusal to work towards the integration of slaves into society. Instead of pushing for rights for freed slaves, Lincoln held meetings with free black leaders to encourage former slaves to move back to Africa. Other possible repatriation locations included Haiti and Central America. The elimination of people of African descent from American soil would be, proclaimed Lincoln, "a glorious consummation" (18).

Lincoln's pronouncements were denounced by the very people who were supposed to be his closest allies -- the abolitionists. William Lloyd Garrison, for example, stated that Lincoln "had not a drop of anti-slavery blood in his veins" (19). Abolitionists… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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