Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln in Dwight, Illinois at 7:00 PM, September 21, 2013

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Would I might rouse the Lincoln in you all,
That which is gendered in the wilderness
From lonely prairies and God’s tenderness.
Imperial soul, star of a weedy stream,
Born where the ghosts of buffaloes still dream,
Whose spirit hoof-beats storm above his grave,
Above that breast of earth and prairie-fire—
Fire that freed the slave.
 
Vachel Lindsay

 

Well, today is the day.  Every year my little town has a festival, Dwight Harvest Days.  We draw tens of thousands of visitors from all around for parades, a flea market, a craft show, rides, a 5k run, and many, many other events.

This year, I have arranged, well I should say the Dwight Rotary Club, of which I have been a member for 28 years, has arranged, for Michael Krebs and Debra Ann Miller to bring their presentations of Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln to the Dwight High School Auditorium, 801 South Franklin Street in Dwight on September 21, 2013, tonight, at 7:00 PM.  The presentation is free and I think we will have a huge turnout, especially among students.

I have long followed the career of Mr. Krebs and I believe he is the king of Lincoln presenters.  Some samples of his work:

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I am looking forward to this immensely.  It speaks well of the Great Emancipator in our national memory that he is by far the President most portrayed by historical re-enactors.  Lincoln calls to something very deep in the American soul.  Men portraying Lincoln go back to the first decade of the last century, while men and women who knew Lincoln were still alive, but were rapidly departing this vale of tears.  They kept alive a memory of Lincoln as a man and not just a mere statue or a historical personage trapped in books.  Those early Lincoln presenters gave the models by which Lincoln was portrayed in the new technology of film.  Through the efforts of the Lincoln presenters the memory of Lincoln is kept ever green.

Like most counties in Central Illinois, we have our Lincoln sites, places Lincoln visited while he was riding the circuit as a lawyer. In those more civilized days, courts in most areas only operated part time. On a court day, the judges and attorneys would arrive at a county seat, and the trials on the court’s docket would be called and tried. So it was on May 18, 1840 when Lincoln and his fellow attorneys rode into Pontiac, the then tiny county seat of Livingston County, for the first ever session of the Circuit Court in Livingston County. Continue reading

August 19, 1863: Lincoln Fires a Spencer Rifle

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How times have changed!  On August 18, 1863 Christopher Spencer, inventor of the revolutionary Spencer repeating rifle, was able to walk into the White House and show one of his rifles to President Lincoln.

The concept of a repeating rifle was not new, and examples of such weapons had been produced since at least 1779.  However, teething problems with the new technology made them impracticable as mass weapons until shortly before the Civil War.  Benjamin Tyler Henry developed the famed Henry repeating rifle in 1860.  Although never officially adopted by the Union army, this rifle was highly thought of enough by Union cavalry troopers that thousands of them purchased them privately, and they were equally prized when captured by Confederate troopers.  The rifle could fire off 28 rounds per minute, compared to a rifled musket that could barely manage three rounds per minute under ideal conditions.

The Spencer repeating rifle was developed by Christopher Spencer in 1860.  A seven shot weapon, it could manage 20 shots a minute and proved durable under battlefield conditions.  By the end of the War, most Union cavalry and mounted infantry units had Spencers and their firepower was often devastatingly effective on the battlefield.
War department conservatism is often blamed for the fact that the Spencers were not more widely used during the War, especially by the infantry, but the truth is that the ability to supply Spencers to replace all of the Union rifles and rifled muskets simply did not exist during the War, and supplying the ones that could be manufactured to units cavalry and mounted infantry was a wise choice since they greatly magnified the combat power of the most mobile forces that the Union had. Continue reading

Liberal Christianity as a “Religion”

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Christopher Johnson, a non-Catholic who has taken up the cudgels in defense of Catholicism so frequently that I have named him Defender of the Faith, explains why liberal Protestantism deserves a place on the endangered species list:

Why is mainline Protestantism withering on the vine?  Because as Gertrude Stein once said about Oakland, California, there is no “there” there:

Liberal Protestantism is dying. Rod Dreher says so in a recent column in The American Conservative, and the statistics back him up: for decades, liberal and mainline Protestantism has been on the decline in the US, with some denominations (such as the United Church of Christ) losing adherents so quickly that their future is in peril. Meanwhile, more conservative and evangelical denominations have generally held their own, or even experienced growth (see graph below). But liberal Protestantism in many ways exemplifies the best of what religion could be: it’s tolerant of differences, non-judgmental, open to scientific knowledge. Good stuff, right? So why is it that the open-minded liberal churches are dying out? 

Golly gee willickers, it has to be painful to be this clueless.  “Liberal Protestantism in many ways exemplifies the best of what religion could be,” only to someone who has absolutely no idea what religion actually is.

I guess I’m going to have to try to dumb this down even further and for the sake of brevity, I’m going to stick with the monotheistic religions but these principles apply to all religions.  So here goes not much of anything.

There are people out there who believe that there is a God.  They believe that this God is responsible for existence itself as well as their presence in that existence.

Once they accept that, they’re kind of forced to accept three more concepts.  Even if they never figure out what it is, there’s a reason why they’re here; after all, if you’re talented enough to speak existence into existence, why would Christopher Johnsons ever just sort of randomly turn up?

So if you’re here for a reason, even if you never ever understand what that reason is until you die, if then, does that not imply that the God who deliberately made you exist feels that your existence is important?  And if your existence is important, does that not rather obligate you to try to live the way the God who made you exist wants you to live?

You can’t do that as well as you want to, of course.  God, in His mercy, understands that and has provided vehicles of escape, the most sensible and efficacious being, according to this Christian, that vehicle provided by the Christian religion.  That fellow on the Cross.

Then there are people who don’t believe any of that. Continue reading

Abraham Lincoln Comes to Dwight, Illinois

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Would I might rouse the Lincoln in you all,
That which is gendered in the wilderness
From lonely prairies and God’s tenderness.
Imperial soul, star of a weedy stream,
Born where the ghosts of buffaloes still dream,
Whose spirit hoof-beats storm above his grave,
Above that breast of earth and prairie-fire—
Fire that freed the slave.
Vachel Lindsay

 

Well, I guess this was inevitable, at least I am sure that faithful readers of this blog will think that it was inevitable!  Every year my little town has a festival, Dwight Harvest Days.  We draw tens of thousands of visitors from all around for parades, a flea market, a craft show, rides, a 5k run, and many, many other events.

This year, I have arranged, well I should say the Dwight Rotary Club, of which I have been a member for 28 years, has arranged, for Michael Krebs and Debra Ann Miller to bring their presentations of Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln to the Dwight High School Auditorium on September 21, 2013 at 7:00 PM.  The presentation is free and I think we will have a huge turnout, especially among students.

I have long followed the career of Mr. Krebs and I believe he is the king of Lincoln presenters.  Some samples of his work: Continue reading

Edward Baker Lincoln

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I had always said that the worst thing that could happen to any parent was to have a child die. Until it happened to me recently I really did not comprehend how true that statement was.  Abraham Lincoln would live to see two of his four sons die.  His wife would see three of their four sons die, as well as having her husband murdered before her eyes.  So much unbearable grief for one family.  At the Lincoln Museum that my family and I visited in our annual pilgrimage last week to the Lincoln sites in Springfield, there is an exhibit where Mary Todd Lincoln sits in a room by herself as rain beats on  a window.  This is a representation of her intense grief after the death of Willie, her second son to die.  I have always had a great deal of sympathy for Mrs. Lincoln, thinking that she has been treated unfairly in many historical accounts, but after experiencing myself the grief that she experienced three times, my sympathy for her is now boundless.

The first son of the Lincolns to die was Edward Baker Lincoln at three years on February 1, 1850 of tuberculosis.  Both the Lincolns were devastated by his death.   A poem which was published in the Illinois State Journal the next week reflected their grief.  Wrongly attributed to the Lincolns by some historians, the poem was actually written Ethel Grey in 1849 and was not meant to apply to Eddie Lincoln.  A friend of the Lincolns probably had it published in an attempt to comfort them. Continue reading

July 15, 1863: A Proclamation

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President Lincoln throughout the Civil War issued several proclamations calling for prayers, fasting and thanksgiving.  The famous proclamation in October 1863 creating Thanksgiving was just one of a them.  Here is a proclamation he issued on July 15 in the wake of the Union victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg.  Note how he calls for repentance and submission to the Divine will.  He recognizes the hand of God in both the national triumphs and sorrows.  Such language would sound strange to most Americans today if uttered by a President of the United States.  More is the pity.  Here is the text of the proclamation: Continue reading

Lincoln and the Jesuits!

 

Lincoln Shocked!

I am not a Know-Nothing. That is certain. How could I be? How can any one who abhors the oppression of negroes, be in favor of degrading classes of white people? Our progress in degeneracy appears to me to be pretty rapid. As a nation, we begin by declaring that “all men are created equal.” We now practically read it “all men are created equal, except negroes.” When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read “all men are created equal, except negroes, and foreigners, and catholics.” When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretence of loving liberty-to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocracy .

Abraham Lincoln, letter to Joshua Speed, August 24, 1855

 

 

Presidential assassinations attract nut cases like bribes attract politicians.  The original presidential assassination conspiracy theorist was Charles P.T. Chiniquy, a Catholic priest from Quebec, who came to Kankakee County in Illinois circa 1850 to serve a colony of French Canadians who had settled there.  In 1860 he left the Church with some of his parishioners, having run afoul of his Bishop.  Eventually he became a Presbyterian Minister and made a living from publishing anti-Catholic books and tracts and giving anti-Catholic lectures

Chiniquy had used Lincoln’s services as a lawyer in a slander case in 1856.  From this slight association, after Lincoln’s assassination he created a fable of the Jesuits having been behind Lincoln’s death and putting anti-Catholic sentiments in the mouth of a man who knew no religious bigotry.  Chiniquy’s lies have been exposed for well over a century by historians.  One of the best eviscerations of Chiniquy was undertaken by Professor Joseph George, Jr. in an article which appeared in the Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society in 1976:

In 1891 John G. Nicolay, Lincoln’s former secretary, received a note  from Benedict Guldner, a Jesuit priest in New York, asking for information about a “libellous pamphlet” printed in Germany.   The pamphlet, according to Guldner, was a translation of a work “originally written in this country … in which the author maintains that the assassination of President Lincoln was the work of Jesuits.” Nicolay and John Hay, another former secretary to the President, had not mentioned the allegation in their biography of        Lincoln, and Guldner wished to know if they had heard the charge and if they considered it false. [1]         Nicolay consulted Hay, and then replied:        

          To [y]our first question whether in our studies on the life of Lincoln we came upon the charge that “the assasination of President Lincoln was the work of Jesuits”, we answer that we have read such a charge in a lengthy newspaper publication.  To your second question, viz: “If you did come across it, did the          accusation seem to you to be entirely groundless?”, we answer Yes. It seemed to us so entirely groundless as not to merit any attention on our part.  [2]        

        

        Perhaps the decision of Nicolay and Hay to ignore the charge of a Jesuit conspiracy against Lincoln was unwise. A prompt and firm denial might have prevented further publication of the story.  [3]        

        The originator of the conspiracy theory was Charles P.T. Chiniquy, a former Catholic priest who claimed to be a close friend and confidant of Abraham Lincoln’s.   According to Chiniquy, “emissaries of the        Pope” were plotting to murder Lincoln for his defense of Chiniquy in an 1856 trial.   Chiniquy’s autobiography, Fifty Years in the Church of Rome, published in 1885,  attributes remarks to the President on a variety of subjects, particularly religion. [4]  Most of Chinquy’s stories are so foreign to what is known about the Sixteenth President that scholars  have ignored them. Nevertheless, many of the less sensational portions of Chiniquy’s reminiscences have been used by serious students of Lincoln’s life, and the most sensational passages have been widely quoted and disseminated by writers engaged in anti-Catholic polemics. Continue reading

Saving Lincoln: A Review

 

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In the past year three films on President Lincoln have been released:  the truly odious Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter, the superb Lincoln and now the low budget, funded by Kickstarter, Saving Lincoln.  I am pleased to report that I think Saving Lincoln is much closer in quality to Lincoln than Vampire Hunter.  The film has an intriguing take on Mr. Lincoln and I was both amused and moved by it.  My full review is below.  The usual caveat regarding spoilers ahead is given. Continue reading

Fortnight for Freedom: July 4, 1863

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The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops have proclaimed a second Fortnight for Freedom from June 21-July 4th, and, as last year, The American Catholic will participate with special blog posts each day.

I confess that I am not likely to see the Hand of God very much in most human events.  Where some can clearly see Divine handiwork, I do not, perhaps because, in the words of Saint Paul, I “see as in a glass, darkly.”  However, even I find it hard not to look at the events on the Fourth of July one hundred and fifty years ago, with the retreat of Lee from Gettysburg and the surrender of Vicksburg and not suspect that God was saying something through his human instrumentalities.  At any rate it was left to Mr. Lincoln on November 19, 1863 to attempt to make sense of the terrible crisis that the nation was living through.

Presidents during their presidencies make hundreds of speeches.  Most are utterly forgotten soon after they are delivered.  Even most of the speeches by a president who is also a skilled orator, as Lincoln was, are recalled only by historians and trivia buffs.  Yet the Gettysburg address, given 146 years ago today, has achieved immortality.

Lincoln was invited to say a few words at the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery in Gettysburg on November 19, 1863.  The featured speaker was Edward Everett, one of the most accomplished men in American public life, who gave a two hour oration.  It is a fine example of nineteenth century oratory, full of learning, argument and passion.  It may seem very odd to contemplate in our sound bite age, but audiences in America in Lincoln’s time expected these type of lengthy excursions into eloquence and felt cheated when a speaker skimped on either length or ornateness in his efforts.

Lincoln then got up and spoke for two minutes.

We are not really sure precisely what Lincoln said.  There are two drafts of the speech in Lincoln’s hand, and they differ from each other.  It is quite likely that neither reflects  the exact words that Lincoln used in the Gettysburg Address.  For the sake of simplicity, and because it is the version people usually think of when reference is made to the Gettysburg address, the text used here is the version carved on the walls of the Lincoln Memorial.

Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle- field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting-place for those who here gave their lives that this nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate…we cannot consecrate…we cannot hallow…this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us, the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us…that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion; that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation, under God, 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. Continue reading

Fortnight For Freedom: Lincoln on Liberty of Conscience

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The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops have proclaimed a second Fortnight for Freedom from June 21-July 4th, and, as last year, The American Catholic will participate with special blog posts each day.

In our current struggle for liberty we have the finest of American history on our side.  Americans, at their best, have been dedicated to liberty and opposed to attempts by government to take away the freedom that all Americans should enjoy.  One of the champions of freedom who would clearly be against the policies of the current administration in its squalid war against the Catholic Church is Abraham Lincoln.

 

 

In the 1840s America was beset by a wave of anti-Catholic riots.  An especially violent one occurred in Philadelphia on May 6-8 in 1844. These riots laid the seeds for a powerful anti-Catholic movement which became embodied in the years to come in the aptly named Know-Nothing movement.  To many American politicians Catholic-bashing seemed the path to electoral success.

Lincoln made clear where he stood on this issue when he organized a public meeting in Springfield, Illinois on June 12, 1844.  At the meeting he proposed and had the following resolution adopted by the meeting:

“Resolved, That the guarantee of the rights of conscience, as found in our Constitution, is most sacred and inviolable, and one that belongs no less to the Catholic, than to the Protestant; and that all attempts to abridge or interfere with these rights, either of Catholic or Protestant, directly or indirectly, have our decided disapprobation, and shall ever have our most effective opposition. Resolved, That we reprobate and condemn each and every thing in the Philadelphia riots, and the causes which led to them, from whatever quarter they may have come, which are in conflict with the principles above expressed.”

Lincoln remained true to this belief.  At the height of the political success of the Know-Nothing movement 11 years later, Mr. Lincoln in a letter to his friend Joshua Speed wrote:

“I am not a Know-Nothing. That is certain. How could I be? How can any one who abhors the oppression of negroes, be in favor of degrading classes of white people? Our progress in degeneracy appears to me to be pretty rapid. As a nation, we begin by declaring that “all men are created equal.” We now practically read it “all men are created equal, except negroes.” When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read “all men are created equal, except negroes, and foreigners, and catholics.” When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretence of loving liberty-to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocracy [sic].” Continue reading

Footnote 7

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Justice Alito, in one footnote, underlines why the Federal judiciary has become an enemy to our most important civil right:  the right to govern ourselves:

The degree to which this question [the traditional view of marriage vs. the consent-based view] is intractable to typical judicial processes of decisionmaking was highlighted by the trial in Hollingsworth v. Perry. In that case, the trial judge, after receiving testimony from some expert witnesses, purported to make “findings of fact” on such questions as why marriage came to be, Perry v. Schwarzenegger, 704 F. Supp. 2d 921, 958 (ND Cal. 2010) (finding of fact no. 27) (“Marriage between a man and a woman was traditionally organized based on presumptions of division of labor along gender lines. Men were seen as suited for certain types of work and women for others. Women were seen as suited to raise children and men were seen as suited to provide for the family”), what marriage is, id., at 961 (finding of fact no. 34) (“Marriage is the state recognition and approval of a couple’s choice to live with each other, to remain committed to one another and to form a household based on their own feelings about one another and to join in an economic partnership and support one another and any dependents”), and the effect legalizing same-sex marriage would have on opposite-sex marriage, id., at 972 (finding of fact no. 55)(“Permitting same-sex couples to marry will not affect the number of opposite-sex couples who marry, divorce, cohabit, have children outside of marriage or otherwise affect the stability of opposite-sex marriages”).

At times, the trial reached the heights of parody, as when the trial judge questioned his ability to take into account the views of great thinkers of the past because they were unavailable to testify in person in his courtroom. See 13 Tr. in No. C 09–2292 VRW (ND Cal.), pp. 3038–3039.

And, if this spectacle were not enough, some professors of constitutional law have argued that we are bound to accept the trial judge’s findings—including those on major philosophical questions and predictions about the future—unless they are “clearly erroneous.” [citations omitted] Only an arrogant legal culture that has lost all appreciation of its own limitations could take such a suggestion seriously.  (Emphasis added)

Power hungry lawyers in black robes, accountable to no one, are the exact opposite of how the Founding Fathers believed their new country would be governed.  Abraham Lincoln, recalling the Dred Scott decision, addressed this issue head on in his first inaugural address on March 4, 1861: Continue reading

Saving Lincoln

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Well this is interesting.  A film about Lincoln told from the perspective of Ward Lamon, Lincoln’s friend and self-appointed bodyguard for Lincoln who appointed him as United States Marshal for the District of Columbia.  The film uses computer graphics to place the film within period pictures.  An independent film, it received funding via Kickstarter.  Go here to view the film’s website.  I find the concept interesting, albeit gimmicky.  I will have a full review after I view the film.  It just arrived from Amazon so look for the review in a few days. Continue reading

Fortnight for Freedom 2013: Our Reliance

Lincoln and Liberty

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops have proclaimed a second Fortnight for Freedom from June 21-July 4th, and, as last year, The American Catholic will participate with special blog posts each day.

This quote suitable for framing from Abraham Lincoln reminds us that the love of liberty placed in each human soul by the hand of God is the chief defense of our freedom:

 

Now, when by all these means you have succeeded in dehumanizing the negro; when you have put him down, and made it forever impossible for him to be but as the beasts of the field; when you have extinguished his soul, and placed him where the ray of hope is blown out in darkness like that which broods over the spirits of the damned; are you quite sure the demon which you have roused will not turn and rend you? What constitutes the bulwark of our own liberty and independence? It is not our frowning battlements, our bristling sea coasts, the guns of our war steamers, or the strength of our gallant and disciplined army. These are not our reliance against a resumption of tyranny in our fair land. All of them may be turned against our liberties, without making us stronger or weaker for the struggle. Our reliance is in the love of liberty which God has planted in our bosoms. Our defense is in the preservation of the spirit which prizes liberty as the heritage of all men, in all lands, every where. Destroy this spirit, and you have planted the seeds of despotism around your own doors. Familiarize yourselves with the chains of bondage, and you are preparing your own limbs to wear them. Accustomed to trample on the rights of those around you, you have lost the genius of your own independence, and become the fit subjects of the first cunning tyrant who rises.

Abraham Lincoln, September 11, 1858, Edwardsville, Illinois Continue reading

Lowry on Lincoln

Rich Lowry has written a brilliant article (and also evidently a book) defending Abraham Lincoln from his critics on the right. He meticulously goes through the charges that certain people on the fringe right level at Lincoln and rebuts them one by one. For example, on the charge that Lincoln was a great centralizer out to destroy the states, Lowry notes that Lincoln’s view of the nation was little different than James Madison. Madison, like Lincoln, fought against the ideas of the likes of John Calhoun, who had defended the doctrine of nullification and asserted the supremacy of the states. As for secession, Lowry makes a point that I have often made regarding the right of the confederate states to rebel:

In his anti-Lincoln tract The Real Lincoln, Thomas DiLorenzo argues that secession is as American as apple pie. “The United States were founded by secessionists,” he insists, “and began with a document, the Declaration, that justified the secession of the American states.” No. The country was founded by revolutionaries and the Declaration justified an act of revolution. No one denies the right of revolution. Madison said that revolution was an “extra & ultra constitutional right.” Even Lincoln, in his First Inaugural Address, concedes the point: “If, by the mere force of numbers, a majority should deprive a minority of any clearly written constitutional right, it might, in a moral point of view, justify revolution — certainly would, if such right were a vital one.”

 

The friends of secession aren’t eager to invoke the right to revolution, though. For one thing, when a revolution fails, you hang. For another, the Declaration says a revolution shouldn’t be undertaken “for light and transient causes,” but only when a people have suffered “a long train of abuses and usurpations.” What was the train in 1860 and 1861? Seven southern states left the Union before Lincoln was inaugurated. The South had dominated the federal government for decades. Abuses and usurpations? It’s more like lose an election and go home.

He also takes on the likes of Ron Paul, who has asserted that Lincoln could have used the power of the purse to free the slaves rather than fighting a bloody civil war. Lowry writes:

They come up with fanciful alternatives to military conflict. Ron Paul wonders why Lincoln didn’t forestall the war by simply buying up and freeing the slaves. With his usual sense of realism, Paul ignores the fact that Lincoln repeatedly advanced schemes for just such a compensated emancipation. Lincoln argued for these proposals as “the cheapest and most humane way to end the war.” But except in the District of Columbia, they went precisely . . . nowhere. The border states weren’t selling, let alone the South. Even little Delaware, which was selected as a test case because in 1860 it had only 587 slaveholders out of a white population of 90,500, couldn’t be persuaded to cash out of slavery. One plan proposed by Lincoln would have paid $400 or so per slave and achieved full abolition by 1893. A version of the scheme failed in the state’s legislature.

Lowry addresses Lincoln’s war measures, and notes that Lincoln simply used the legitimate powers that were prescribed in the Constitution.

When it comes to the idea that Lincoln’s administration birthed the welfare state, Lowry destroys that argument.

Yet another favorite count against Lincoln on the Right is that he was the midwife for the birth of the modern welfare state — a false claim also made by progressives bent on appropriating him for their own purposes. The war necessarily entailed the growth and centralization of the state, but this hardly makes Lincoln a forerunner to FDR or LBJ. The income tax required to fund the war, instituted in 1861 and soon made into a progressive tax with higher rates for the wealthy, was a temporary measure eliminated in 1872. Wars are expensive. In 1860, the federal budget was well under $100 million. By the end of the war, it was more than $1 billion. But the budget dropped back down to $300 million, excluding payments on the debt, within five years of the end of the war.

 

To see in any of this the makings of the modern welfare state requires a leap of imagination. In the midst of the war, the State Department had all of 33 employees. The famous instances of government activism not directly related to the war — the subsidies to railroads, the Homestead Act — were a far cry from the massive transfer programs instituted in the 20th century. The railroads got land and loan guarantees but were a genuinely transformational technology often, though not always, providing an economic benefit. The Homestead Act, as Lincoln historian Allen Guelzo argues, can be viewed as a gigantic privatization of public lands, which were sold off at a cut rate to people willing to improve their plots.

 

In the North during the war, historian Richard Franklin Bensel points out, the industrial and agricultural sectors ran free of government controls. The labor force, although tapped for manpower for the war, was relatively unmolested. The government became entangled with the financial system, but that system was also becoming more modern, sophisticated, and free of European influence. Given its vitality and wealth, the North could wage the war without subjecting itself to heavy-handed command-and-control policies. Compared with the overmatched Confederacy, it was a laissez-faire haven.

Indeed federal government spending as a percentage of GDP increased to approximately 15 percent at the height of the Civil War, but came crashing down to about a 5 percent level immediately after its conclusion, where it remained until the Wilson administration. (Correction - see comments, spending was even lower, and remained low but for WWI until the Great Depression.)

If anything Lincoln was a Hamiltonian conservative. He believed in a strong national government to be sure, but one essentially limited in scope. It’s rather fitting considering that it was Hamilton’s political enemy – Thomas Jefferson – who Lincoln held up as a hero. It is also rather ironic that often those on the right who deride Lincoln are the same who glorify Jefferson. Perhaps that is a subject also worthy of deeper study.

 

 

The Death of Willie Lincoln and God’s Purpose

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[1] Then the Lord answered Job out of a whirlwind, and said:

[2] Who is this that wrappeth up sentences in unskillful words?

[3] Gird up thy loins like a man: I will ask thee, and answer thou me.

[4] Where wast thou when I laid up the foundations of the earth? tell me if thou hast understanding.

[5] Who hath laid the measures thereof, if thou knowest? or who hath stretched the line upon it?

Job:  38:1-5

For any parent, I think the death of one of their children is the worst thing imaginable.  Abraham Lincoln would see two of his four sons die, Eddie and Willie, Willie dying on February 20, 1862 from typhoid fever, that great killer of the 19th century.  Mary Todd Lincoln would see three of her four sons die, and witness her husband  assassinated before her eyes.  Small wonder that Mrs. Lincoln had a fragile grasp on reality after so much sorrow.  Prostrate with grief, Mary Lincoln retired to her room for a month after Willie’s death, inconsolable in the immense anguish she felt, unable to bring herself to even attend Willie’s funeral.  Mr. Lincoln said when Willie died, “My poor boy, he was too good for this earth. God has called him home. I know that he is much better off in heaven, but then we loved him so. It is hard, hard to have him die!” Lincoln continued his work, not having the luxury of private grief in a time of such public peril.

Dr. Phineas D. Gurley, pastor of the New York Avenue Presbyterian church in Washington that the Lincolns sometimes attended, preached the funeral sermon.  I suspect this passage caught Lincoln’s attention:

His kingdom ruleth over all. All those events which in anywise affect our condition and happiness are in his hands, and at his disposal. Disease and death are his messengers; they go forth at his bidding, and their fearful work is limited or extended, according to the good pleasure of His will.

Not a sparrow falls to the ground without His direction; much less any one of the human family, for we are of more value than many sparrows.

We may be sure, — therefore, bereaved parents, and all the children of sorrow may be sure, — that their affliction has not come forth of the dust, nor has their trouble sprung out of the ground.

It is the well-ordered procedure of their Father and their God. Continue reading

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