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I. Lincoln

I think, for starters, it's worth laying out the position on the Civil War, and then breaking it down into parts (economic issues, international comparison, morality, politics etc.) But before I proceed, I want to first thank everyone who contributed to this effort. As I said, it's always frustrating to spend hours on hours debunking, but I think that frustration was ameliorated by the information we were able to gather in one place. I know that the Paul's line on the Civil War is wrong for a few reasons. But I didn't know how many reasons, or the actual color of all of those reasons until yesterday. Whenever you learn a little more, it's a good day.

And so we begin.

Here is Ron Paul giving his standard view of the war to Tim Russert:

MR. RUSSERT: I was intrigued by your comments about Abe Lincoln. "According to Paul, Abe Lincoln should never have gone to war; there were better ways of getting rid of slavery." 

REP. PAUL: Absolutely. Six hundred thousand Americans died in a senseless civil war. No, he shouldn't have gone, gone to war. He did this just to enhance and get rid of the original intent of the republic. 

MR. RUSSERT: We'd still have slavery.

REP. PAUL: Oh come on, Tim. Slavery was phased out in every other country of the world. And the way I'm advising that it should have been done is do like the British empire did. You, you buy the slaves and release them. How much would that cost compared to killing 600,000 Americans and where it lingered for 100 years? I mean, the hatred and all that existed. So every other major country in the world got rid of slavery without a civil war. I mean, that doesn't sound too radical to me. That sounds like a pretty reasonable approach.

I don't wish to speak ill of the dead, but it's really grating to watch reporters with a national platform offer these kind of broad, moist  platitudes ("We'd still have slavery.") instead of the hard dead facts of history. This particularly rankles in reference to Lincoln the first president ever killed, remixed by Paul as an inaugurator of  war. Allowing that sort of distortion to pass isn't just unfair to viewers, it's deeply unfair to Lincoln who, throughout his career, was at pains to both declare his enmity to slavery, and sympathy for the people who practiced it.

Lincoln's basic feeling is captured in a speech he gave six years before he became president:

I hate it because of the monstrous injustice of slavery itself. I hate it because it deprives our republican example of its just influence in the world -- enables the enemies of free institutions, with plausibility, to taunt us as hypocrites -- causes the real friends of freedom to doubt our sincerity, and especially because it forces so many really good men amongst ourselves into an open war with the very fundamental principles of civil liberty -- criticising [sic] the Declaration of Independence, and insisting that there is no right principle of action but self-interest. 
Before proceeding, let me say I think I have no prejudice against the Southern people. They are just what we would be in their situation. If slavery did not now exist amongst them, they would not introduce it. If it did now exist amongst us, we should not instantly give it up. This I believe of the masses north and south. Doubtless there are individuals, on both sides, who would not hold slaves under any circumstances; and others who would gladly introduce slavery anew, if it were out of existence. We know that some southern men do free their slaves, go north, and become tip-top abolitionists; while some northern ones go south, and become most cruel slave-masters. 

When southern people tell us they are no more responsible for the origin of slavery, than we; I acknowledge the fact. When it is said that the institution exists; and that it is very difficult to get rid of it, in any satisfactory way, I can understand and appreciate the saying. I surely will not blame them for not doing what I should not know how to do myself. If all earthly power were given me, I should not know what to do, as to the existing institution.

As an African-American, these are really hard words to read. For us, the notion of a solution qualified by its palatability to slave-holders is rather distasteful. But as someone attempting to understand history, the facts of the thing must be admitted. Slavery was a social institution in the South uniting whites in aristocracy. Very few of them could countenance a reversal which found them a minority in many of the states where they had long ruled. 

But whatever Lincoln's pragmatism, he was, in fact, different from almost every president of the antebellum era. James McPherson gives us some insight here:

During forty-nine of the seventy-two years from 1789 to 1861, the presidents of the United States were Southerners--all of them slaveholders. The only presidents to be reelected were slaveholders. Two-thirds of the Speakers of the House, chairmen of the House Ways and Means Committee, and presidents pro tem of the Senate were Southerners. At all times before 1861, a majority of Supreme Court justices were Southerners....

Lincoln was not an abolitionist. He believed that mass emancipation by the federal government was neither legal nor wise. But he hated slavery, and the democratic assent of such a man to the proved too much for the white South to take

Three days after Lincoln's election, the first secession conventions began. Within three months of South Carolina, Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, Texas, Georgia and Florida had all seceded. This effort was aided by men who, in the last days of the Union, effectively worked as double-agents--serving in the upper reaches of the American government by day, and urging revolution against that government by night. 


Such a man was Jacob Thompson, the Secretary of the Interior. The December 18, 1860 edition of The New York Times notes that Thompson, a Mississippi native, had passed through Baltimore en route to North Carolina the previous day. "The object of his visit is unascertained."*

But within days it was clear, Thompson was off convincing North Carolina to secede. His reasons are a matter of history:

The question which is now submitted both to Mississippi and North-Carolina, is this, shall we sit quietly down without a murmur, and allow all our constitutional rights of property to be taken away by a construction of the Constitution which originates in hostility and hatred, or shall we, as men who know their rights, bestir ourselves, and by a firm, united and cordial "co-operation," fortify and strengthen them, that they may be transmitted unimpaired to our children, and our children's children, throughout all generations. Wisdom dictates that all the questions arising out of the institution of slavery, should be settled now and settled forever.

Lincoln still believed peace was possible. In March he gave his first inaugural address, and said the following:

We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.

A month later, South Carolina fired on Fort Sumter. 

When Ron Paul claims that Lincoln "shouldn't have gone to war," he is deploying a convenient and erroneous frame which necessarily holds that the inciting aggression was not in raising an Army, seizing federal property and arms, urging revolution among ones neighbors, and then firing on a federal fort, but in democratically electing a president with whom slave-holders disagreed.

Throughout the War, Lincoln attempted to bring about a peaceful and magnanimous end. He pitched compensated emancipation, and was rebuffed, not by the Confederates, but by slave states still loyal to the Union. When Union armies brought states back under federal control he urged easy paths to regaining citizenship. And in his final inauguration speech, even in seeing some justice in the War's carnage, still he spoke of concilliation:

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

A month later, he was dead. Again, the reasons are a matter of history:

I have ever held the South were right. The very nomination of ABRAHAM LINCOLN, four years ago, spoke plainly, war -- war upon Southern rights and institutions. His election proved it. "Await an overt act." Yes, till you are bound and plundered. What folly! The South was wise. Who thinks of argument or patience when the finger of his enemy presses on the trigger? In a foreign war I, too, could say, "country, right or wrong." 

But in a struggle such as ours, (where the brother tries to pierce the brother's heart,) for God's sake, choose the right. When a country like this spurns justice from her side she forfeits the allegiance of every honest freeman, and should leave him, untrameled by any fealty soever, to act as his conscience may approve. People of the North, to hate tyranny, to love liberty and justice, to strike at wrong and oppression, was the teaching of our fathers. The study of our early history will not let me forget it, and may it never. 

 This country was formed for the white, not for the black man. And looking upon African Slavery from the same stand-point held by the noble framers of our constitution. I for one, have ever considered if one of the greatest blessings (both for themselves and us,) that God has ever bestowed upon a favored nation. Witness heretofore our wealth and power; witness their elevation and enlightenment above their race elsewhere. I have lived among it most of my life, and have seen less harsh treatment from master to man than I have beheld in the North from father to son. Yet, Heaven knows, no one would be willing to do more for the negro race than I, could I but see a way to still better their condition.

An avowed white supremacist, Booth signed his last letter, "A Confederate doing duty upon his own responsibility." 

History is identity. When we erase the painful portions, we lose texture, color and we are reduced. Patriotism, in my eyes, has always been about the strength of seeing those rough spots, of  considering your home at its worse, and remaining enthralled, nonetheless. That is how we love our daughters, our husbands, our mothers. That is how we make family. 

I have come to a fairly recent regard for Lincoln. He rose from utter frontier poverty, through self-education and hard work, to the presidency and the upper reaches of American letters. His path was harsh. His wife was mentally ill. His son died in office. He was derided in newspapers as ugly, stupid, a gorilla and white trash. For his patience, endurance, temperance and industry in the face of so many troubles, Lincoln was awarded a shot to the head. 

Now in some sectors of the country for which Lincoln died, patriotism means waving the flag of his murderer. The party he founded supports this odious flag-waving and now gives us a candidate who would stand before that same flag and peddle comfortable fictions. What hope is there when those who talk of patriotism brandish the talisman of bloody treason?

The matter falls to you. Don't conned. Don't be a mark. Live uncomfortable.

*Apostles Of Disunion by historian Charles B. Dew is my source here. It is an slim indispensable volume on the causes of the Civil War.
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle. More

Born in 1975, the product of two beautiful parents. Raised in West Baltimore -- not quite The Wire, but sometimes ill all the same. Studied at the Mecca for some years in the mid-'90s. Emerged with a purpose, if not a degree. Slowly migrated up the East Coast with a baby and my beloved, until I reached the shores of Harlem. Wrote some stuff along the way.

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