ITEF Comment – Vol. XV Issue 4

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Second in a series of articles examining the Lincoln myth vs. reality

By Jerry Kohn


Lincoln has become an iconic figure in American politics. In government-run (“public”) schools, where criticizing or questioning Lincoln or his legacy is virtually unthinkable, Lincoln is lionized for saving the union and as a champion for racial justice and equality. Nevertheless, it is vital to the future of liberty that we reassess both the man and his legacy.

In seceding from the Union, the Confederacy was merely exercising a long recognized right under the Constitution–a right recognized by most Northern newspapers until 1861–a privilege that implemented a vital check on federal government power. Since secession was not expressly prohibited by the Constitution, it was a right “reserved to the states” by the Tenth Amendment. The secession of the Southern states was done lawfully and peacefully either via elected state conventions or votes in state legislatures. Following their secession, the new Confederate States of America asked only that the United States of America (i.e. Lincoln’s “union”) leave them alone in peace and remove U.S. troops and military installations (such as Fort Sumter) from C.S.A. territory. Lincoln would have none of this. In his inaugural address, Lincoln reassured the South that he had no intention of interfering with slavery, but he insisted the South submit to his rule and particularly to the collection of federal taxes.

The war that followed was not about slavery; it was about taxes. Federal taxes were collected on the South on imports, and this money was spent in the North by northern bureaucrats. Lincoln was determined to keep this southern cash cow from breaking away.

After launching a violent and illegal invasion of the Confederacy, Lincoln illegally shut down opposition newspapers in the North, imposed the first military draft in U.S. history, and ordered the arrest and imprisonment without trial of numerous political opponents. He also illegally banished from the country a northern former member of Congress, and even ordered the arrest of the Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court after he tried to restrain Lincoln’s abuse of power. Lincoln also imposed the first federal income tax.

Lincoln may have vacillated on breaking the bonds of slavery, but he was anything but vacillating when it came to breaking the restraints of the Constitution. Lincoln’s presidency, more than any other presidency, undermined the Constitutional framework of American government.

Jerry Kohn is a Policy Analyst for the Illinois Taxpayer Education Foundation.

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