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The Real Lincoln: A New Look at Abraham Lincoln, His Agenda, and an Unnecessary War

The Real Lincoln: A New Look at Abraham Lincoln, His Agenda, and an Unnecessary War

3.8 47
by Thomas DiLorenzo

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A New Look at Abraham Lincoln, His Agenda, and an Unnecessary War
Most Americans consider Abraham Lincoln to be the greatest president in history. His legend as the Great Emancipator has grown to mythic proportions as hundreds of books, a national holiday, and a monument in Washington, D.C., extol his heroism and martyrdom. But what if most everything you


A New Look at Abraham Lincoln, His Agenda, and an Unnecessary War
Most Americans consider Abraham Lincoln to be the greatest president in history. His legend as the Great Emancipator has grown to mythic proportions as hundreds of books, a national holiday, and a monument in Washington, D.C., extol his heroism and martyrdom. But what if most everything you knew about Lincoln were false? What if, instead of an American hero who sought to free the slaves, Lincoln were in fact a calculating politician who waged the bloodiest war in american history in order to build an empire that rivaled Great Britain's? In The Real Lincoln, author Thomas J. DiLorenzo uncovers a side of Lincoln not told in many history books and overshadowed by the immense Lincoln legend.
Through extensive research and meticulous documentation, DiLorenzo portrays the sixteenth president as a man who devoted his political career to revolutionizing the American form of government from one that was very limited in scope and highly decentralized—as the Founding Fathers intended—to a highly centralized, activist state. Standing in his way, however, was the South, with its independent states, its resistance to the national government, and its reliance on unfettered free trade. To accomplish his goals, Lincoln subverted the Constitution, trampled states' rights, and launched a devastating Civil War, whose wounds haunt us still. According to this provacative book, 600,000 American soldiers did not die for the honorable cause of ending slavery but for the dubious agenda of sacrificing the independence of the states to the supremacy of the federal government, which has been tightening its visegrip on our republic to this very day.
You will discover a side of Lincoln that you were probably never taugh in school—a side tha calls into question the very myths that surround him and helps explain the true origins of a bloody, and perhaps, unnecessary war.

Editorial Reviews

Dismissing Lincoln's concern for the inequities of institution of slavery as a political chimera, DiLorenzo (economics, Loyola College in Maryland) argues that Lincoln's real agenda in prosecuting the Civil War was to further the Hamiltonian project of centralizing government function in an economically interventionist state. The idea that slavery was central to the Civil War is discounted by reference to the possibilities of compensated emancipation, glossing over the fact that the Southern states seceded over the issue of the expansion of slavery to the territories. Lincoln's real motivation was an adherence to Henry Clay's economic agenda, which pitted the Republicans against the "states' rights Jeffersonians." Other chapters look at the theoretical basis of the right to secede and criticize (from a libertarian viewpoint) the economic legacy left by Lincoln. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
From the Publisher
"A devastating critique of America's most famous president."
—Joseph Sobran, commentator and nationally syndicated columnist

"Today's federal government is considerably at odds with that envisioned by the framers of the Constitution. Thomas J. DiLorenzo gives an account of how this came about in The Real Lincoln."
—Walter E. Williams, from the foreword

"A peacefully negotiated secession was the best way to handle all the problems facing America in 1860. A war of coercion was Lincoln's creation. It sometimes takes a century of more to bring an important historical event into perspective. This study does just that and leaves the reader asking, 'Why didn't we know this before?' "
—Donald Livingston, professor of philosophy, Emory University

"Professor DiLorenzo has penetrated to the very heart and core of American history with a laser beam of fact and analysis."
—Clyde Wilson, professor of history, University of South Carolina, and editor, The John C. Calhoun Papers

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Crown Publishing Group
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Read an Excerpt


Anyone who embarks on a study of Abraham Lincoln . . . must first come to terms with the Lincoln myth. The effort to penetrate the crust of legend that surrounds Lincoln . . . is both a formidable and intimidating task. Lincoln, it seems, requires special considerations that are denied to other figures. . . .
—Robert W. Johannsen, Lincoln, the South, and Slavery

More words have probably been written about Abraham Lincoln than about any other American political figure. According to one source, more than 16,000 books have been written on virtually every aspect of Lincoln's private and public life. But much of what has been written about Lincoln is myth, as Pulitzer Prize-winning Lincoln biographer David Donald noted in his 1961 book, Lincoln Reconsidered. Donald attempted to set at least part of the record straight; but, if anything, the literature on Lincoln has become even more dubious in the succeeding decades. Anyone who delves into this literature with an open mind and an interest in the truth cannot help but be struck by the fantastic lengths to which an entire industry of "Lincoln scholars" has gone to perpetuate countless myths and questionable interpretations of events. Many of these myths will be examined in this book.

In the eyes of many Americans, Lincoln remains the most important American political figure in history because the War between the States so fundamentally transformed the nature of American government. Before the war, government in America was the highly decentralized, limited government established by the founding fathers. The war created the highly centralized state that Americans labor under today. The purpose of American government was transformed from the defense of individual liberty to the quest for empire. As historian Richard Bensel has observed, any study of the origins of the American state should begin no earlier than 1865.

This aspect of the War between the States has always been downplayed or even ignored because of the emphasis that has been given to the important issue of slavery. Lincoln will forever be known as the Great Emancipator. But to understand the real Lincoln one must realize that during his twenty-eight years in politics before becoming president, he was almost single-mindedly devoted to an economic agenda that Henry Clay labeled "the American System." From the very first day in 1832 when he announced that he was running for the state legislature in Illinois, Lincoln expressed his devotion to the cause of protectionist tariffs, taxpayer subsidies for railroads and other corporations ("internal improvements"), and the nationalization of the money supply to help pay for the subsidies.

Lincoln labored mightily in the political trenches of the Whig and Republican parties for nearly three decades on behalf of this economic agenda, but with only minor success. The Constitution stood in the way of the Whig economic agenda as one American president after another vetoed internal improvement and national bank bills. Beginning with Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe, Southern statesmen were always in the forefront of the opposition to this economic agenda. According to Lincoln scholar Mark Neely, Jr., Lincoln seethed in frustration for many years over how the Constitution stood in the way of his political ambitions.

Lincoln thought of himself as the heir to the Hamiltonian political tradition, which sought a much more centralized governmental system, one that would plan economic development with corporate subsidies financed by protectionist tariffs and the printing of money by the central government. This agenda achieved little political success during the first seventy years of the nation's existence, but was fully implemented during the first two years of the Lincoln administration. It was Lincoln's real agenda.

Roy Basler, the editor of Lincoln's Collected Works, has written that Lincoln barely ever mentioned the issue of slavery before 1854, and, even then, he did not seem sincere.Chapter 2 explores the doubts that many others have also expressed about Lincoln's supposed commitment to racial equality. The average American--who has not spent much time reading Lincoln's speeches but who has learned about him through the filter of the "Lincoln scholars"--will be surprised or even shocked by some of his words and actions. He stated over and over again that he was opposed to political or social equality of the races; he was not an abolitionist but denigrated them and distanced himself from them; and his primary means of dealing with racial problems was to attempt to colonize all American blacks in Africa, Haiti, Central America--anywhere but in the United States.

Chapter 2 also shows the extent to which Lincoln's views on race were consistent with those of the overwhelming majority of white Northerners, who discriminated against free blacks so severely that several states, including Lincoln's home state of Illinois, amended their constitutions to prohibit the emigration of black people into those states. Such facts raise serious questions about the extent to which racial injustice in the South motivated Lincoln and the Republican Party to wage a long, bloody war.

Chapter 3 poses a key question that almost no one has addressed in much detail: Why didn't Lincoln do what much of the rest of the world did in the nineteenth century and end slavery peacefully through compensated emancipation? Between 1800 and 1860, dozens of countries, including the entire British Empire, ended slavery peacefully; only in the United States was a war involved. It is very likely that most Americans, if they had been given the opportunity, would have gladly supported compensated emancipation as a means of ending slavery, as opposed to the almost unimaginable costs of the war: 620,000 deaths, thousands more maimed for life, and the near total destruction of approximately 40 percent of the nation's economy. Standardizing for today's population of some 280 million (compared to 30 million in 1865), this would be roughly the equivalent of 5 million deaths—about a hundred times the number of Americans who died in Vietnam.

Chapter 4 outlines Lincoln's real agenda: Henry Clay's "American System." For his entire political life Lincoln was devoted to Clay and Clay's economic agenda. The debate over this economic agenda was arguably the most important political debate during the first seventy years of the nation's existence. It involved the nation's most prominent statesmen and pitted the states' rights Jeffersonians against the centralizing Hamiltonians (who became Whigs and, later, Republicans). The violence of war finally ended the debate in 1861.

Chapter 5 discusses the long history of the right of secession in America, beginning with the Declaration of Independence, which is properly viewed as a "Declaration of Secession" from England. The New England Federalists attempted for more than a decade to secede from the Union after Thomas Jefferson was elected president in 1800. Until 1861 most commentators, North and South, took it for granted that states had a right to secede. This doctrine was even taught to the cadets at West Point, including almost all of the top military commanders on both sides of the conflict during the War between the States.

Lincoln's insistence that no such right existed has no basis whatsoever in history or fact. He essentially invented a new theory--that the federal government created the states, which were therefore not sovereign--and waged the bloodiest war in world history up to that point to "prove" himself right.

Chapter 6 deals with the odd nature of the claim by so many Lincoln scholars that Lincoln "saved" the Constitution by suspending constitutional liberty in the North for the entire duration of his administration. He supposedly had to destroy constitutional liberty in order to save it. Quite a few Lincoln scholars have labeled Lincoln a "dictator" for launching a military invasion without the consent of Congress; suspending habeas corpus; imprisoning thousands of Northern citizens without trial for merely opposing his policies; censoring all telegraph communication and imprisoning dozens of opposition newspaper publishers; nationalizing the railroads; using Federal troops to interfere with elections; confiscating firearms; and deporting an opposition member of Congress, Clement L. Vallandigham, after he opposed Lincoln's income tax proposal during a Democratic Party rally in Ohio.

Even though many have labeled these acts as "dictatorial," they usually add that Lincoln was a "good" or "benevolent" dictator. In reality, these precedents did irreparable harm to constitutional liberty in America. Some writers, such as historian Garry Wills and Columbia University law professor George P. Fletcher, have voiced their approval of Lincoln's assault on constitutional liberty because they believe that the Constitution stands in the way of their cherished goal of "egalitarianism." They openly celebrate the fact that Lincoln led the way in subverting constitutional government in America.

In addition to abandoning the Constitution, the Lincoln administration established another ominous precedent by deciding to abandon international law and the accepted moral code of civilized societies and wage war on civilians. General William Tecumseh Sherman announced that to secessionists--all of them, women and children included-- "death is mercy." Chapter 7 details how Lincoln abandoned the generally accepted rules of war, which had just been codified by the Geneva Convention of 1863. Lincoln famously micromanaged the war effort, and the burning of entire Southern towns was an essential feature of his war strategy.

Lincoln's political legacy is explored in chapter 8 in the context of how, during Reconstruction (1865-1877), the Republican Party essentially plundered the South for twelve more years by instituting puppet governments that constantly raised taxes but provided very few public benefits. Much of the money was simply stolen by Republican Party activists and their business supporters. The adult male ex-slaves were immediately given the right to vote in the South (even though blacks could not vote in several Northern states), while most white male Southerners were disenfranchised. Former Union General and newspaper editor Donn Piatt, a close Lincoln confidant, expressed the opinion that using the ex-slaves as political pawns in such a corrupt way poisoned race relations in the South beyond repair at a time when racial reconciliation should have been the primary objective.

Lincoln's policy of crushing dissenters with overwhelming military might was continued after the war with the federal government's eradication of the Plains Indians by many of the same generals who had guided the North's war effort (particularly Grant, Sherman, and Sheridan). The stated purpose of this campaign against the Plains Indians was to make way for the government-subsidized transcontinental railroads. The quest for empire had become the primary goal of government in America.

Chapter 9 describes Lincoln's economic legacy: the realization of Henry Clay's American System. Many (primarily) Southern statesmen had opposed this system for decades because they viewed it as nothing more than the corrupt "mercantilist" system that prevailed in England during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, and they wanted no part of it. Indeed, many of the original colonists fled to America to escape from that very system. So powerful was Southern opposition to the American System that the Confederate Constitution outlawed both protectionist tariffs and internal improvement subsidies altogether. Lincoln's war created the "military-industrial complex" some ninety years before President Eisenhower coined the phrase.

The notorious corruption of the Grant administrations was an inevitable consequence of Lincoln's success in imposing the "American System" on the nation during the war. The "Era of Good Stealings," as one historian described it, proved that the concerns of Southern statesmen, from Thomas Jefferson to Jefferson Davis, were well founded.

Chapter 10 explains how the death of federalism--the decentralized system of government that was established by the founding fathers--was perhaps the biggest cost of Lincoln's war. Although Lincoln is generally credited with having "saved the Union," in reality he destroyed the idea of the Union as a voluntary association of states by forcing the Southern states to remain in the Union at gunpoint. Lincoln can be said to have saved the Union only in a geographical sense.

It was not to end slavery that Lincoln initiated an invasion of the South. He stated over and over again that his main purpose was to "save the Union," which is another way of saying that he wanted to abolish states' rights once and for all. He could have ended slavery just as dozens of other countries in the world did during the first sixty years of the nineteenth century, through compensated emancipation, but he never seriously attempted to do so. A war was not necessary to free the slaves, but it was necessary to destroy the most significant check on the powers of the central government: the right of secession.

Meet the Author

Thomas J. DiLorenzo is a professor of economics in the Sellinger School of Business and Management at Loyola college in Maryland. Specializing in economic history and political economy, he is the author of 11 books and over 70 articles in academic journals, and he is also widely published in such popular outlets as the Wall Street Journal, Reader's Digest, USA Today, National Review, Barron's, and numerous other national publications. He lives in Clarksville, Maryland.

From the Hardcover edition.

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The Real Lincoln: A New Look at Abraham Lincoln, His Agenda, and an Unnecessary War 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 47 reviews.
Brian Yanoviak More than 1 year ago
Matches my 30 years of research from first edition sources at the time prior, during, and immediately after the war of northern aggression!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Dr. Dilorenzo's work is the perfect example of suspect historical scholarship. His agenda is clear, which leads to his cherry-picking, and distorting, the record to support this agenda. The first thing one learns in a historiography class is not to do what Dr. Dilorenzo has done. It is a disappointing work.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book does not deserve even one star. Although it purports to be history, it is a grotesque distortion of the historical record. For example, DiLorenzo quotes primary source material which impugns Lincoln's motives. If you are not a historian and are unfamiliar with the sources, you would likely accept the conclusions that the author draws from the quotes he cites. However, if you take the time to check the sources, you find that DiLorenzo has lifted phrases out of context, and even attributed words to one person that were clearly uttered by another. It is clear that this book was written with one aim in mind: to 'prove' that Lincoln was a tyrant who started the Civil War in order to impose Whiggish economic policies on the South. Lacking proof, DiLorenzo is not above deliberate distortion and misinformation. In short, beware of 'history' written by those who have a political or economic axe to grind.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book shows Lincolns real agenda. Which was a massive Federal Government, and the destruction of the opposing political power. Lincolns party-The New Republican party, which was formed in 1856- was a totally sectional party. The Republicans hated Southerners, and everything Southern. Lincoln was backed by the wealthiest Northern people. Lincoln spent his entire political career, advocating more power for the wealthy Northern people. As an Account, (PhD) the author breaks it down, in very clear terms to dollars and cents. Myths are not popular when they are exposed as 'myths'. This book is a good start to understanding 'The REAL Lincoln' I also recommend: 'Lincoln, the Man'--Edgar Lee Masters' 'Tariffs, Blockades, and Inflation'-Mark Thornton and Robert B. Exelund Jr.;'Lincoln Takes Command'-John Shipley Tilley;-'The Real Lincoln'-Charles L.C. Minor; 'Forced Into Glory, Abraham Lincolns White Dream-Lerone Bennett Jr.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Along with, 'When in the Course of Human Events: Arguing the Case for Southern Secession.' finally present Lincoln and the North's 'Watergate.' After the War the standard rule applied, which says 'The victor writes the history.' This viewpoint has preveiled for the last 138 years, but is starting to be challenged. If you as an adult, read how a standard High School textbook treats the War you would be shocked. There is no balanced treatment there, so only in books like these can we get the -- rest of the story.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I¿m always amused when professional historians suggest that lay readers should not waste their time reading this or that book. This is like basing your movie viewing preference on the local movie critic¿s opinion! I would suggest that you read as many Lincoln books as you please (by historians - if you wish) and then read DiLorenzo¿s book last. DiLorenzo is a libertarian and an economist, so it is only natural that the book is written from that perspective. You may not agree with his conclusions, but the book is well written, entertaining and thoroughly documented. A free and active mind should be open to all thoughts and perspectives on any given topic, how else can you make an informed decision about any subject? So what, if Lincoln was not the saint historians have made him out to be ¿ get over it!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Although the information Dr. Di Lorenzo presents is not new, the clarity of its presentation amidst constant and forceful reminders of the Founders' own views and ideas about the relationship between the Federal government, the States and the Citizenry leaves no doubt that Mr. Lincoln turned the American Foundation on its proverbial ear: the ineffectual and bloated self-importance of today's Washington establishment is, along with the rather tangential (for Lincoln) good of abolition, one of the other important Lincolnian legacies. It is a shock to the system to realize that the haze of idolatry in which the mythical Lincoln has been wrapped for so many years has served to conceal a concept of government that was so completely alien to the Founders' original intent, a concept that because of the legacy of Mr. Lincoln's dictatorial behavior has come to be viewed as an ideal. Having read The Real Lincoln, one understands as never before why so many totalitarian 'leaders' have held the 16th President in such high esteem. Messrs. Davis and Lee (was there any doubt about the Honor of General Lee?) are looking better and better!
DannyfromTupelo More than 1 year ago
Like many others, I've always wondered to myself why Lincoln got a "free pass" in history because he led the Union to victory in the War between the states. I really never knew whom to blame for the countless loss of life on both sides of the war. Lincoln's uncomprimising quest for centralized government cost this country deeply and Lincoln has really never been held accountable for his ridiculous actions during his tenure in political office. I realize even more after this book that Lincoln is not someone I would have voted for now or then. Mr. DiLorenzo pulls no punches in this great history book. If you want the real truth no matter how uncomfortable it may make you feel, I suggest this book. If you refuse to see Lincoln on any platform other than a hero, you probably won't get past the first couple of chapters. With everything going on in Washington D.C. today, I think the states rights message pouring from this book is very timely. Great book that I hope my children will read and embrace one day. Danny Littleton Tupelo, MS
Guest More than 1 year ago
Five stars says it all! Makes one ponder that we would probably be two nations today if JWB had killed Lincoln before the '64 election.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Honest Abe didn't pull any punches back then. His own words and actions show that indeed he had his agenda of abolishing states rights rather than slavery. Its silly to think that he trampled on the Constitution to preserve it, thats the most far fetched statement I have ever heard. Read it, it will open your eyes and help you see why things are happening in our day.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The horror of this book is that another Lincoln could arise in the future, and there might not be another Booth. How have the Lincoln apologists succeeded so well in blinding us to the real career of this madman? Everyone should read this book.
Traction_Bob More than 1 year ago
Good research, a fascinating topic, and a reframing of the Civil War that provides some much-needed perspective.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
You have to admit, no politician has anyone's best interest at heart. They are always out to prove themselves at the expense of the American public. This is an important read. For those of you who disagree with the information of this book, you must also believe in the fable of Washington chopping down his imaginary tree that was stuffed down our throats thru out our school years. I pity you.
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SFWriterJM More than 1 year ago
They say history is written by the victors and nowhere have I found a better illumination of the victor's lie than in The Real Lincoln. Contrary to popular belief, Abraham Lincoln did not go to war to free the slaves. Rather, he intentionally and irrevocably denied Americans the freedom that was established by the founding fathers, from the 1860s straight into modern times. Lincoln defenders have, for years, argued against these facts with nothing but their denial to back up their claims. Thomas J. DiLorenzo shatters the myth of "Honest Abe" with dignity and transparency, thoroughly documenting every quote, argument, and opinion at the source. Clear and easy to understand, this book sets our history books straight with the real facts about our Great "Emancipator."
guitaoist3 More than 1 year ago
factual and no nonsense
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Totally false and poorly written.
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Russell_Kirk More than 1 year ago
Worth the time and money to read; get the perspective from the other side of Lincoln. I enjoyed the thesis presented.
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