Posts Tagged ‘Abraham Lincoln’

Could Lincoln have avoided civil war?

May 2, 2017

Could the US civil war have been avoided? Perhaps Lincoln was not entirely without blame. Perhaps there was an alternative to war to get rid of slavery.
The US and Haiti were the only two countries which ended slavery by violent means.

This is an extract from Sanderson Beck’s essay written in 2008.

……. President Buchanan took the weak position that he had no authority to decide any of these questions, and he declined to make any preparations to fight over them. In fact by his negligence some weapons of the United States were moved to the South by their sympathizers in his Democratic administration.

Lincoln took the strong position, which some would call tyrannical, that states have no right to secede from the Union. He believed it was his obligation as President to enforce the laws that would keep the states in the Union even against their will as expressed by democratic conventions and state legislatures. His policy is ironic and even hypocritical because this position conflicts with Lincoln’s own doctrine of the right of revolution that he expressed in Congress on January 12, 1848 during the Mexican War when he said,

Any people anywhere, being inclined and having the power,
have the right to rise up and shake off the existing government
and form a new one that suits them better.
This is a most valuable—a most sacred right— a right, which we hope and believe, is to liberate the world.
Nor is this right confined to cases in which the whole people of an existing government may choose to exercise it. Any portion of such people that can, may revolutionize and make their own so much of the territory as they inhabit. More than this, a majority of any portion of such people may revolutionize, putting down a minority, intermingled with or near about them, who may oppose their movement. Such minority was precisely the case of the Tories of our own revolution.
It is a quality of revolutions not to go by old lines or old laws, but to break up both and make new ones.

In his inaugural address President Lincoln warned against a civil war while promising that he would not invade the South. ……..

…….. Two days after he announced the Emancipation Proclamation on September 22, 1862, Lincoln suspended the writ of habeas corpus throughout the nation. Careful research by scholars, such as Mark E. Neely, Jr., indicates that during the Civil War the Federal Government imprisoned more than 14,000 civilians for opposing the Government or its war in some way. Lincoln authorized military officers to shut down newspapers if they were disrupting recruiting or the war effort. The Provost Marshal General’s Bureau was organized in 1863, and by the end of the war two years later they had arrested and returned to the Union Army 76,526 deserters. During the draft 161,286 citizens failed to report to the Union Army, but how many of them were arrested is unknown.

Lincoln also had imperial ambitions for the United States, and he used Government subsidies to finance the transcontinental railroad to the west coast. In 1862 a crop failure caused starvation among the Santee Sioux because the Federal Government refused to pay them the $1,410,000 owed them from the sale of 24 million acres in 1851. When the Sioux revolted, General John Pope tried to exterminate them. Hundreds of Indians were held as prisoners of war and were given military trials that sentenced 303 to death. President Lincoln commuted most of these sentences, but thirty-nine were put to death in the largest mass execution in the history of the United States. After Lincoln’s death under mostly Republican administrations the experienced military would be used to attack any Indians who were in the way of the railroads and the western expansion of the United States. Lincoln was ambitious on behalf of the United States and did not want to see the empire divided. He developed the power of the imperial presidency as commander-in-chief by arrogating to himself extra-constitutional “war powers. ………
…… In the 19th century most nations in the world abolished slavery by peaceful means. The British freed all the slaves in their empire in six years, completing the process in 1840. Most Latin American nations emancipated all their slaves between 1813 and 1854, and the gradual liberation of slaves in Brazil was completed in 1888. The only other violent emancipation of slaves was the slave uprising in Haiti in 1794.”


The perversion of “government of the people, by the people, for the people”

November 17, 2013

One hundred and fifty years ago on 19th November at Gettysburg, Abraham Lincoln articulated a powerful piece of rhetoric. A description of government in a “free” society which in the context of his time was bold and visionary. Probably the two most quoted phrases in his address are “the proposition that all men are created equal” and his closing “that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth”

Yet it is precisely these two powerful phrases of rhetoric which 150 years later, in the world as it exists today, are leading to a perversion of behaviour which is antithetical to his intentions.

The first basic perversion comes from Lincoln’s blunder in stating that “all men are created equal” when what he really should have said was “all humans shall be treated equally”. In fact Pericles funeral oration, which Lincoln is thought to have used as a source gets it more correctly “If we look to the laws, they afford equal justice to all in their private differences”. Pericles confined himself to behaviour and did not bring creation into it.

Lincoln was addressing behaviour not genetics. “Equality” is – or should be – an  issue of man’s behaviour to man – not of our make-up or of our inherent qualities or failings at the time of our births. It is indisputable that at birth all humans are not “equal” and we have the privilege to be different and therefore individual. Our genes differ – thank goodness. Without such a variation in a species natural selection has no role and evolution is impossible. Physically and mentally and in the environment we are born into, we are not equal. No doubt our development as we grow up is widely different and fundamentally affected by the manner in which we are brought up, educated and the resources made available to us. But nurture does not  – and can not – replace nature. Legislation or wishing will not alter your genes. You can legislate for providing special education for the less intelligent or for special medical care for those born physically or mentally disadvantaged, but you cannot create clones of us all – after the event. It is here in trying to address differences of genetics as being inequalities of behaviour that perversion lies. “Afiirmative action” in the US or “reservations” in India are merely euphemisms for selective and intentional discrimination. Inequitable behaviour against some is used as a weapon to try and compensate for the genetic and environmental disadvantages of others. Not always of course, but very often. Legislation in Europe and in Scandinavia for “gender equality” tries to wish away gender differences by – sometimes – enshrining inequitable behaviour against men (usually) to try and compensate for the perceived genetic or environmental disadvantages of women. All around the world legislation intended to ensure the equality of behaviour sometimes tries, instead, to eliminate the genetic or environmental differences between people. Genetic and inherent differences in people cannot be addressed by considering them to be behaviour to be corrected. To be individuals we must first be different and that difference is to be celebrated not eliminated.

It is both a logical and a practical perverison. If in fact we were all created equal then we would all behave equally, we would have no individualism and there would be no issue. Since we are not, in fact, born equal, and it is equitability of behaviour experienced by all that we wish to ensure, then it is perverse to use a legislated, intentional  inequality of behaviour to correct for some other inequality of behaviour.

The second phrase “that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth” has become a slogan and an anthem for democracy. Lincoln possibly took this from the 1819  opinion of Chief Justice John Marshall  “The government of the Union then …..  is, emphatically and truly, a government of the people. In form, and in substance, it emanates from them. Its powers are granted by them, and are to be exercised directly on them, and for their benefit.”   There is nothing wrong, I think in either of these two formulations. The perversion of this proposition flows from the fact  that “of the people” is now taken – universally – to mean an equal vote for every individual and a vote for every individual. Even though these individuals making up the “people” are not – and can not – be equal. And it is here – in putting universal suffrage on a pedestal without recourse to merit – that the perversion lies.

The result is that it is mere existence as an individual that suffices to have an “equal vote”. And if everyone has the vote it is assumed that “democracy” has been attained – as if it were some sort of state of grace.  The only real criterion is that of age, even if some countries still have some other criteria in force. The merit of the individual is irrelevant. Votes can and are bought by promises or by free meals or by money or by a bus-ride. A “bought” or coerced vote weighs as heavy as one that is freely given. (There is nothing wrong in buying or selling votes – the flaw lies in that the seller has a vote equal to that of free elector). A fool has the same vote as a wise man. A large tax contributor is equated to a small tax contributor. Government servants paid for by taxes have the same weight of vote as the tax payers. Priests and politicians have the vote. The behaviour of an individual does not affect his vote. Experience, intelligence, wisdom, competence or criminality are all considered equally irrelevant. A majority vote is considered to be the “will of the people” where “constitutions” are supposed to prevent excesses against minorities. But constitutions are subject to the same majority vote. One hundred and one idiots take precedence over one hundred wiser men. And we inevitably get the politicians that universal suffrage deserves. This democracy and its universal suffrage needs also to be tempered by merit. But meritocracy smacks of elitism and no self-respecting socialist could tolerate that.

Universal Suffrage which ignores merit has led to the Lowest Common Factor becoming what counts and not the Highest Common Multiple that is being sought. And that was not, I think , what Lincoln intended.

But all that does not diminish the importance and brilliance of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. It is as powerful today as it was when I first read, learned and recited it over 50 years ago. But, in contradiction to his words, The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here”it is what he said there that is remembered much more than what was done there:

Four score 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 battlefield 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 that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not 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

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