Gettysburg Address: Still Balderdash After 150 Years

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I am mystified by all the whooping on the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address.  Most of the commentators seem to believe that Lincoln was an honest man touting the highest ideals.

Massachusetts abolitionist Lysander Spooner offered the most concise refutation to President Lincoln’s claim that the Civil War was fought to preserve a “government by consent.” Spooner observed, “The only idea . . . ever manifested as to what is a government of consent, is this—that it is one to which everybody must consent, or be shot.”

The main lesson from the Gettysburg address is – the more vehemently a president equates democracy with freedom, the greater the danger he likely poses to Americans’ rights. Lincoln was by far the most avid champion of democracy among nineteenth century presidents—and the president with the greatest visible contempt for the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Lincoln swayed people to view national unity as the ultimate test of the essence of freedom or self-rule. That Lincoln suspended habeas corpus, jailed 20,000 people without charges, forcibly shut down hundreds of newspapers that criticized him, and sent in federal troops to shut down state legislatures was irrelevant because he proclaimed “that this nation shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.”

The fact that warmongers like George W. Bush and Obama purport to idolize Lincoln should be a warning sign to attentive folks.

Lincoln’s rhetoric cannot be judged apart from the actions he authorized to enforce his “ideals”:

In a September 17, 1863, letter to the War Department, Gen. William Sherman wrote: “The United States has the right, and … the … power, to penetrate to every part of the national domain. We will remove and destroy every obstacle — if need be, take every life, every acre of land, every particle of property, everything that to us seems proper.” President Lincoln liked Sherman’s letter so much that he declared that it should be published.

On June 21, 1864, before his bloody March to the Sea, Sherman wrote to the secretary of war: “There is a class of people [in the South] — men, women, and children, who must be killed or banished before you can hope for peace and order.”

On October 9, 1864, Sherman wrote to Gen. Ulysses S. Grant: “Until we can repopulate Georgia, it is useless to occupy it, but the utter destruction of its roads, houses, and people will cripple their military resources.” Sherman lived up to his boast — and left a swath of devastation and misery that helped plunge the South into decades of poverty.

General Grant used similar tactics in Virginia, ordering his troops “make all the valleys south of the Baltimore and Ohio railroad a desert as high up as possible.” The Scorched Earth tactics the North used made life far more difficult for both white and black survivors of the Civil War.

Lincoln was blinded by his belief in the righteousness of federal supremacy.  His abuses set legions of precedents that subverted the vision of government the Founding Fathers bequeathed to America.

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8 Responses to Gettysburg Address: Still Balderdash After 150 Years

  1. Ryan November 19, 2013 at 6:17 pm #

    Jim,

    I’m not surprised in the slightest over the hooplah with Father Abraham or his address. I credit this to living in a country where most of the population is ignorant of its history through constant repetition of lie packaged as slogans. The two most favored I can think of are “he saved the union” and “he freed the slaves.”

    During the day I tried to avoid this nonsense but still was exposed to it from two neocon talk radio show hosts. Both are ignorant of what you wrote though one did take a call from an informed Southerner who tried to point out facts about Lincoln. To the host’s credit he said he wouldn’t argue with him as he didn’t consider his knowledge of history to be on par with the caller. Instead, he told him that Lincoln freed the slaves and saved the union and he preferred to believe that over everything else. Never mind that our problems today stem from Lincoln laying the foundation for the monstrosity we have today.

    My thought at the time was “that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.”

    People prefer to believe myths even when they are lies as long as the people telling the lies are on “their team.”

    Still, I can say it wasn’t a bad speech if you don’t know anything about Lincoln and don’t bother yourself with pondering the real meaning. And this, it was a short speech saving folks’ time for more useful pursuits.

    My own favorite slogan is Lincoln changed America from “these united states” to “this United State.”

  2. atmonger November 19, 2013 at 10:13 pm #

    Certainly, it was good of President Lincoln to acknowledge the death and destruction he caused by ordering the U.S. Army to attack the Southern States. But really, Lincoln’s words and actions were not all that great or noteworthy. Lincoln’s Civil War was not about “Freedom.” It was about totalitarian power, and was a harbinger of the all-powerful, destructive governments to come, where dissent would be met with armed attacks and annihilation; where the will of a centralized few would be imposed on all; where centralized power would be more important than freedom, democracy, tolerance and diversity. Indeed, Lincoln was a dangerous totalitarian who suspended the Right of Habeas Corpus, had journalists arrested, and ordered the mass destruction of civilian property. There is little to be celebrated in the Gettysburg Address. Rather, Lincoln owed History an apology for the irreparable harm he caused. We are still suffering the effects of Lincoln’s violent megalomania.

  3. Terry Hulsey November 20, 2013 at 10:20 am #

    There is a biography to be written about this William Tecumseh Sherman, one that lays bare the soul of someone who could write the letter of September 17, 1863, who could wage “modern” total war against innocents, who could spend 15 years of his postwar life in the attempt to exterminate the American Indian.

  4. Ryan November 20, 2013 at 11:49 am #

    Great minds think alike. Paul Mulshine found this great quote by Mencken on Lincoln:

    http://blog.nj.com/njv_paul_mulshine/2013/11/hl_mencken_on_the_gettysburg_a.html

    Great column, Jim.

    • Jim November 20, 2013 at 11:55 am #

      Thanks, Ryan. Mencken had a great riff on the Lincoln’s address. Not surprising since Mencken had one of the best Bullshit Detectors in 20th century America.

      • Ryan November 20, 2013 at 12:57 pm #

        You’re welcome, Jim.

        Speaking of BS, last night I saw the noted novelist Bill O’Reilly of “Shooting Lincoln” fame helping you make your point about the scoundrels who worship St. Abraham. He showed a series of video clips of some of our worst presidents and others each reading a couple of lines from the address. I recall Bill expressed regret as to not being one of the readers. This is a glaring oversight as he would have fit in quite well with that crew.

  5. Paul Bonneau November 21, 2013 at 6:53 pm #

    “The main lesson from the Gettysburg address is – the more vehemently a president equates democracy with freedom, the greater the danger he likely poses to Americans’ rights. Lincoln was by far the most avid champion of democracy among nineteenth century presidents…”

    Although I agree with most of this article, the bit quoted above is also balderdash. One normally does not talk of dictators being champions of democracy. If he were, the North would not have got into war in the first place, because the general opinion before Lincoln’s Ft. Sumter maneuver was that the Confederacy should be left alone.

    I never understand the fad of contrasting democracy with representative republics. Both concepts are completely bogus. There is no true legitimacy in either of them; both are just excuses for the ruling class to rule. Both are based on violence.

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