Kevin wants me to pick apart Lew Rockwell.com's (an over-the-top, kick-the-cat make-Samizdata-look-statist libertarian, if I'm reading Jonah's columns right) Thomas J. DiLorenzo and his take on Lincoln. With Google at the ready, here I go.
(1) "Lincoln was not an abolitionist." William Lloyd Garrison-Lincoln "had not a drop of anti-slavery blood in his veins." He wasn't a fan of slavery and opposed it's expansion. The 1854 Kansas-Nebraska Act allowed the two territories to vote on slavery, with "Bloody Kansas" voting for slavery. Lincoln actively opposed the KNA and campaigned for fellow "Free-Soilers". In his 1858 debates with Steven Douglas, he uttered this zinger-
A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free. I do not expect the house to fall - but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all the one thing or the other
This seems to be a statement that, given his other statements, slavery in the south would have to go in the long term. Garrison was an abolitionist zealot, and zealots look at the lukewarm as part of the enemy. Lincoln would be to slavery what Bob Dole is to abortion, not a fan of it but not their A-issue, either. That might not make Lincoln an "abolitionist", but he was modestly on their side. Lincoln was modestly bigoted and favored separation of the races.
(2) Lincoln the big-government Whig-here's DiLorenzos take
When Lincoln first entered state politics in 1832 he announced that he was doing so for three reasons: To help enact the Whig Party agenda of protectionist tariffs, corporate welfare subsidies for railroad and canal-building corporations ("internal improvements"), and a government monopolization of the nation’s money supply. "My politics are short and sweet, like the old woman’s dance," he declared: "I am in favor of a national bank . . . the internal improvements system, and a high protective tariff." He was a devoted mercantilist, and remained so for his entire political life. He was single-mindedly devoted to Henry Clay and his political agenda (mentioned above), which Clay called "The American System."
The Whigs did support canal and road infrastructure ("Corporate Welfare Subsidies" in Lewspeak) to speed up Western development. The development of the American frontier would have slowed without the programs, thus creating more of a peasant class in the East and a more fertile ground for socialism had it not been done.
The government expenditures for this infrastructure was a net plus for American freedom; DiLorenzo would find the Democratic world less pleasant. Whig patron saint Henry Clay was a protectionist. Northern and western industries wanted protection from British imports, while the agricultural South wanted more free trade to sell their cotton overseas. This was another, less mentioned, friction that helped bring about the Civil War.
Drop back five yards and remember that the US was a developing country at the time; many of the "infant industry" arguments that developing countries use today to support protectionist policies are at play. The protectionism allowed a manufacturing base to develop, giving the US its military punch.
As much as backing a protectionist policy runs counter to me as a free-trader, this policy looks to have made sense with two centuries of hindsight. Commodity exporting countries live and die by the market for the commodity, whereas a manufacturing economy is more insulated from swings in world markets.
A weaker, commodity-driven US would have multiple detrimental effects to world history if we reran history with Rockwellian policies. A central money supply was superior to the chaotic system of bank notes that replaced it. That borders on a no-brainer.
(3) The Civil War was illegitimate.
Moreover, Lincoln destroyed the most important principle of the Declaration – the principle that governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed. Southerners no longer consented to being governed by Washington, D.C. in 1860, and Lincoln put an end to that idea by having his armies slaughter 300,000 of them, including one out of every four white males between 20 and 40.
The "consent of the governed?"-only free males got to vote at the time, thus a majority of the governed couldn't even vote. Would succession have passed if a plebiscite of all adults were done? The Civil War was bloody, but continued slavery and a precedent of succession would have been worse.
Another Lincoln myth was that he "saved the Constitution." But this claim is an outrage considering that Lincoln acted like a dictator for the duration of his administration and showed nothing but bitter contempt for the Constitution
The Dictator Lincoln invaded the South without the consent of Congress, as called for in the Constitution; declared martial law; blockaded Southern ports without a declaration of war, as required by the Constitution; illegally suspended the writ of habeas corpus; imprisoned without trial thousands of Northern anti-war protesters, including hundreds of newspaper editors and owners; censored all newspaper and telegraph communication; nationalized the railroads; created three new states without the consent of the citizens of those states in order to artificially inflate the Republican Party’s electoral vote; ordered Federal troops to interfere with Northern elections to assure Republican Party victories; deported Ohio Congressman Clement L. Vallandigham for opposing his domestic policies (especially protectionist tariffs and income taxation) on the floor of the House of Representatives; confiscated private property, including firearms, in violation of the Second Amendment; and effectively gutted the Tenth and Ninth Amendments as well.
Declaring war assumes the Confederacy was legitimate, otherwise the president is commander-in-chief and can put down an insurrection. Lincoln did suspend Habeas Corpus during the war; "Imprisoned without trial" is what happens when habeas corpus is removed. Vallandigham was arrested for opposing the war effort after being voted out of the House, and later shipped off to the Confederacy.
Kansas, Nevada and West Virginia were made states during the war, but the motives can be questioned. Newspapers and telegraph were under censorship rules. True, Lincoln wouldn't be a card-carrying ACLU member, but most of the items listed, when presented without spin, are honest efforts to win the war. The war effort was rough, and things such as Sherman's March would get one hauled to The Hague these days.
4) Lincoln's legacy of big goverment.
Henry Clay’s American System had been vetoed as unconstitutional by virtually every president beginning with James Madison. But as soon as Lincoln took office, with the Southern Democrats absent from Congress, it was finally put into place, literally at gunpoint. In 1857 the average tariff rate was 15 percent, according to Frank Taussig’s classic, A Tariff History of the United States. The Morrill Tariff more than tripled that rate to 47 percent and it remained at that level for decades. The National Currency Acts nationalized the banking system, finally, and lavish subsidies to railroad-building corporations generated the corruption and scandals of the Grant administrations, just as Southern statesmen had predicted for decades. Income taxation was introduced for the first time, along with an internal revenue bureaucracy that has never diminished in size. All of these policies put a great centralizing force into motion and were the genesis of the centralized, despotic state that Americans labor under today.
Granted, the post-civil war railroad financing was not well done. DiLorenzo makes the mistake of taking his pro-southern, libertarian and free-trade biases and inelegantly places them on the 1800s. The centralized banking system and tariffs that DiLorenzo rails about helped create today's economy. A Rockwellian world would have us looking more like Brazil than Britain.