Lincoln: Hero or Villain?

As a disclaimer I would like to note that I am not a defender of the Confederacy, or any regime that would support slavery. My goal is to simply demonstrate how one of the most well regarded presidents made some very questionable decisions. The following questions were taken from a blog by Clyde Wilson, a professor of history at the University of South Carolina. Spoiler alert: the answer to every question is President Lincoln.

What American President launched a massive invasion of another country that posed no threat, and without a declaration of war?

What President said that he had to violate the Constitution in order to save it?

What President said he was indifferent to slavery but would use any force necessary to collect taxes?

What President sent the Army to arrest in the middle of the night thousands of private citizens for expressing their opinions? And held them incommunicado in military prisons with total denial of due process of law? And had his soldiers destroy newspaper plants?

What President was the first ruler in the civilized world to make medicine contraband of war?

What President said that all black people should be expelled from the United States because they could never be full-fledged citizens?

Who is considered almost universally as the greatest American President, indeed as the greatest American of all times and as a world hero of democracy?

One of the few things universally agreed upon by the majority of Americans is the greatness that was President Lincoln. After all, Lincoln was the president under the eradication of slavery in the South. However, Lincoln’s motivation for waging the deadliest war in U.S. history was never to liberate slaves and it is generally accepted that the war was fought to “preserve the Union.” Not only was the deadliest war in U.S. history started by President Lincoln, but Lincoln also violated the constitution in his war efforts leading to dangerous precedents. Additionally, the Civil War did very little to improve living conditions of African Americans because it was not effective in changing the racist mentality that persisted in the South throughout reconstruction and the civil rights movement.

A prevailing myth that is still often taught today is that the civil war was fought in order to end slavery. Yes, one of the results of the Union winning the civil war was the ending of slavery in the southern states, but that was never the reason why the war was started. Don’t take my word for it, take Lincoln’s when he said in a letter, “My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it.” From Lincoln’s own words it can be established that his only concern was preserving the Union, regardless of what that meant for those who were enslaved.

I have heard the argument that the civil war was necessary to preserve the Union, but why is that a justifiable reason for war? The Union is simply an agreement between states to be part of the federal government. A state leaving the agreement would not inherently pose a threat to the United States; the said state would just be disassociated with the federal government. As noted by Murray Rothbard, “Once one concedes that a single world government is not necessary, then where does one logically stop at the permissibility of separate states? If Canada and the United States can be separate nations without being denounced as in a state of impermissible ‘anarchy’, why may not the South secede from the United States?” The great irony in the argument against secession is the U.S. was originally founded from a secessionist movement to disassociate with the British. The British sent troops to preserve America as part of their union but failed. Lincoln did the same thing as King George, but Lincoln was victorious and is now regarded as a hero.

Not only did Lincoln start an unjust war, he also violated the constitution he took an oath to defend. On April 27, 1861, President Lincoln suspended the writ of habeas corpus and declared martial law in Maryland. On May 26, 1861, Chief Justice Roger Taney ruled that Lincoln had acted unconstitutionally stating that only Congress could suspend the Great Writ. Lincoln ignored the order and continued to seize and hold citizens without a hearing.

In addition to imprisoning people without trial, Lincoln also went on to restrict free speech and control the press. According to Tedford and Herbeck in Freedom Of Speech In The United States, “Lincoln ordered the two newspapers closed and their owners arrested and imprisoned. The Independent Telegraph System, which had transmitted the story, was seized by the military and its transmissions stopped.” Imagine the reaction today if the president were to shut down a newspaper and imprison people for criticizing his policies. No doubt such an act would be seen as tyrannical, but that is exactly what Lincoln did. Additionally, Lincoln conscripted men in the Union army, mostly poor Irish immigrants, to fight a war they did not support. In doing this, Lincoln set a precedent in drafting people to fight in wars regardless of their objections to it.

The era of slavery was a dark time in the U.S. and Lincoln is credited with ending it. Being seen as the great liberator, Lincoln is regarded as one of the best presidents ever and dodges criticism. However, when one takes a closer look at his presidency, it can be concluded that Lincoln violated the rights of many Americans in his pursuit of an unjust war. It is also important to note war is not an effective mechanism for changing beliefs that people hold. Ending slavery through war did little to help African Americans living in the south which lead to a struggle of more than 100 years to gain equality.


3 thoughts on “Lincoln: Hero or Villain?

  1. The Civil War is still called the War of Northern Aggression by many in the South. Sad that history can be so easily re-written by the State when it holds monopolistic power over education.

    • It is indeed sad that history is often not taught accurately in public schools. The causes and cures of the Great Depression is another example of this.

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