There are two big Civil War anniversaries that hit this past week or so. One is the start of the war itself 150 years ago and the other is the anniversary of the surrender of Lee at Appomattox Courthouse. It is amazing to realize how difficult it is for many people to talk about a this war, that no one living currently experienced personally, without stirring up a host of emotions. The Civil War was a tragedy of tremendous proportions and on many levels, not only because of the loss of life. The biggest tragedy is that the war that ended slavery in the United States also brought about the beginning of the end of the Republic it was ostensibly fought to save.
I know that is a provocative statement, but I am also confident that I am not the first to make that assertion. I won’t spend a lot of time arguing my point, although I will be happy to discuss it with anyone who wishes to do so in the comments. In the last week, I read two very different posts about the surrender of General Lee at the end of the Civil War. One of them discussed the gentlemanly demeanor and peaceful end of the very brutal war that had cost so many, so much. The author goes on to suggest that if the Reconciliation was left up to Lee and Grant it would have gone much better:
If the reconciliation of North and South had been left to Grant and Lee, the nation would have been blessed indeed. Instead, following President Lincoln’s assassination, his vindictive successor Andrew Johnson determined to pursue a vengeful course. When he tried to prosecute Lee for treason, Grant rushed to the White House and demanded the order be rescinded. Backed up fully by Gen. Sherman, the Union’s other great hero, Grant threatened to resign if the malicious Johnson went ahead. He dropped it.
But no matter if Reconciliation had been peaceful or full of animosity, the damage to the Republic had long since been done.
Please understand, I grew up with some admiration for Lincoln. I had read a couple of books about him that portrayed him very positively and that impression stuck with me for years. When we moved from Arkansas to South Dakota and lived not far from Mount Rushmore, there was a man there who dressed up like Lincoln and frequently interacted with visitors. I enjoyed the opportunity to get a picture with “Lincoln” at the time, but a little more reading over the last few years has changed my opinion of the man and of his presidency.
It is said that Lincoln preserved the Union, and that is certainly true. He made sure that the United States stayed united, but he had to violate the spirit of the original union in order to do so. A voluntary association of states into a union by necessity means that said states would be permitted to leave that same union. To argue otherwise places the United States in a similar place with the old USSR, which maintained a strict union of its republics by force if needed until it could no longer do so. This is exactly what Lincoln did.
Many of Lincoln’s actions were illegal and unconstitutional and while others have covered the full scope of those actions; another article, written by Thomas J. DiLorenzo, that I ran across today after seeing it referenced at Vox Day’s site tags the highlights quickly:
But during the war the North was anything but “democratic”: Lincoln illegally suspended the writ of Habeas Corpus and imprisoned tens of thousands of Northern political critics without any due process; shut down hundreds of opposition newspapers; deported Congressman Clement Vallandigham of Ohio for criticizing him; threatened to imprison Chief Justice Roger B. Taney for issuing the (correct) opinion that Lincoln’s suspension of Habeas Corpus was unconstitutional; censored all telegraphs; rigged elections; imprisoned duly elected members of the Maryland legislature along with Congressman Henry May of Baltimore and the mayor of Baltimore; illegally orchestrated the secession of West Virginia to give the Republican Party two more U.S. senators; confiscated firearms in the border states in violation of the Second Amendment; and committed a grand act of treason by invading the sovereign states of the South (Article 3, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution defines treason as “only” levying war against the states, or giving aid and comfort to their enemies).
You may not have realized that Lincoln behaved in such a manner. If you didn’t, it is primarily because our history education in this country ignores it if it even touches on the Civil War anymore at all. If you think that kind of stuff can’t happen again, you are fooling yourself. The old phrase “those who forget history are doomed to repeat it,” is a truism. What does this mean for us today? What lesson should we learn? Since the long-term result of the Civil War has been a devolution of our Republic into a “democracy” that is still being pushed, I would argue that his conclusion is very appropriate:
Democracy is essentially one big organized act of bullying whereby a larger group bullies a smaller group in order to plunder it with taxes. The “Civil War” proved that whenever a smaller group has finally had enough, and attempts to leave the game, the larger group will resort to anything – even the mass murder of hundreds of thousands and the bombing and burning of entire cities – to get its way. After all, in his first inaugural address Lincoln literally threatened “force,” “invasion” and “bloodshed” (his exact words) in any state that refused to pay the federal tariff, which had just been more than doubled two days earlier. He followed through with his threat.
Will this be played out as our current government becomes more and more onerous? If the truism holds, I would lean toward yes.