Today's Politicos vs The Words and Deeds of The Founders
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Where Poor Taste and Poor History Meet

Last week, Fox Business’s “Freedom Watch” host Judge Andrew Napolitano had some scholars on to discuss the, well, more negative aspects of Abraham Lincoln (h/t to CW Crossroads for pointing this out).  One guest was economics professor Thomas DiLorenzo, a rather controversial figure in the field of Lincoln studies, who has written books bashing the “mythology” of our 16th President.  To put their commentaries in context, remember that Judge Napolitano himself is an extreme Libertarian who usually sticks to current events; to him, any use of power beyond the strictest of strict interpretations of the Constitution is unacceptable.

The discussion takes its fateful turn at about the 3:25 mark when the Judge claims that the Civil War was the “first time in modern history a government waged war on civilians. Lincoln’s Federal Agents and Lincoln’s soldiers actually targeted civilians in the South.  These were not legitimate military targets, they were utterly defenseless, they were totally innocent human beings, and yet we don’t hear about this in the school books and it’s been whitewashed.”  Really, Judge? Really??

For now, we’ll put aside the discussion of whether Lincoln actually did or did not target innocent Southern civilians, and whether or not he was all of those bad things that the panel claims he was.  This is not easy to do, granted, since passions regarding Lincoln run so high, but again, for now let’s focus on the claim that this was the “first time in modern history” that warring against civilians on such a scale occurred.  One need to go no further than the Declaration of Independence itself to realize  the absurdity of the Judge’s comment.  The Colonists were not only upset about taxes and other restrictive laws, but they alledged whole-heartedly that civilians, “fellow Citizens” even, were indeed the targets of King George and his army.  ”To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world…

He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation, and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & Perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

It would seem that Thomas Jefferson beat Judge Napolitano to the unparalleled-in-history punch.  Perhaps the Judge’s concept of “modern history” doesn’t include the throwback year of 1776 and he instead bases his opinions on the like-it-was-yesterday year of 1787.  Please don’t misunderstand, I am neither bashing nor supporting the Judge’s current politics or Fox Business, but when a person bases his philosophy and TV show on America’s Founding Documents, one would think that the Declaration of Independence would be primary in his mind.  The whole discussion in the video is riddled with the irony of the host and panelists ignoring the Declaration while claiming that Lincoln usurped the Constitution, but the truth is that Lincoln’s whole view of the Constitution is seen through the lens of the Declaration.  Yikes!

A website regarding Abraham Lincoln and the Founders can be found here.

Craig S. Glass is also known as Commodore Perry on his blog Don’t Give Up The Ship


1 Chris Wysocki { 03.01.11 at 7:19 am }

I have found the hard-core libertarians to be a humorless lot, able to quote chapter and verse from their favorite founding documents, yet blissfully ignorant of either the historical context surrounding the quotes or any other reasonable interpretations of the Founders’ intent. The Founders were far from a monolithic group and their debates make for some fine reading.

As an aside, I had the opportunity last year to hear Judge Napolitano speak in person. He’s a quite engaging and entertaining fellow. Emphasis on entertaining. Which is, if you think about it, what he’s doing on Fox too.


2 James D. Best { 03.01.11 at 7:30 am }

This is actually pretty old stuff. Lincoln was a politician, and as a politician, he said many things to appeal to his constituency or position himself or the Union. I believe his true beliefs on race are best reflected in his House Divided speech and the Cooper Union Address


3 Michael Newton { 03.01.11 at 8:03 am }

Maybe, Judge Napolitano meant that it was the first time a government waged war on “its own civilian population,” which excludes British attacks on its colonies because they saw colonists as different from them, which many were based on their Scottish, Irish, and German ancestry.

Also in America, look at how the government attacked often defenseless Indians. Obviously, many of these battles were between armed Indians and armed Americans, but too often the American government raided and killed defenseless Indian women and children. But again, if Napolitano means “its own civilian population” instead of just “civilians,” this would be excluded.

Even so, how wrong can you be? Doesn’t he remember the French Revolution? Robespierre in his Reign of Terror didn’t just go around killing military opponents. Thousands of civilians with opposing political or religious opinions were guillotined.

Now, don’t get me started on DiLorenzo. I found his Hamilton’s Curse to be despicable, even though I agreed with parts of it (and I love his How Capitalism Saved America). But in Hamilton’s Curse, DiLorenzo actually writes, “Like Jefferson-and many other New York aristocrats-he was a slave owner who nevertheless at times spoke eloquently in opposition to the institution of slavery.” He then excuses Jefferson’s owning of dozens of slaves because “Jefferson, on the other hand, endorsed a plan to end the slave trade early in the Revolution…” Yet Hamilton, who “once purchased six slaves at a slave auction, but they were ‘probably’ for his brother-in-law” is not forgiven for attacking the British over slavery in 1776, just as Jefferson did in the Declaration of Independence, nor for helping the New York Manumission Society try to end slavery. So Thomas Jefferson was against slavery despite owning 200 slaves while Hamilton was for it because he once purchased slaves for somebody else even though he was an outspoken critic of slavery.

I think I’ve ranted enough for now…


John C. Randolph Reply:

DiLorenzo doesn’t excuse Jefferson’s ownership of slaves. He’s never denied it, and he’s certainly never said that it was acceptable for Jefferson or anyone else to be a slaveowner.


4 Hondo69 { 03.01.11 at 8:33 am }

My opinion would fall on the side of the grand scheme of things. Lincoln may have believed in individual freedoms but used excessive force to protect those freedoms (or at least hold the country together). The Founding Fathers may have hated slavery but owned slaves themselves.

It seems to me no different than a rabid environmentalist like Al Gore jetting all over the world to speak of global warming. Human beings are imperfect, have always been and always will be. I tend to ignore minor transgressions and try to view the big picture as a whole set of work.

If Judge Napolitano oversteps occasionally I’ll make up my own mind if he’s “wrong” more times than “right”. If so, he gets the boot from me and goes off my radar screen. If Al Gore comes off as a phony and only in it for the money he gets the boot as well.

It just seems we live in a world where we expect perfection that will never come. Kind of a “forest from the trees” thing. I’m just sad so few people can see the forest.


Craig S. Glass Reply:

Thanks for the comment. I certainly wouldn’t dismiss Judge Napolitano because of this or any single mistake, and in fact I don’t dismiss him. CW Crrossroads pointed out that it’s tough to debate issues thoroughly in a compact TV format. However, this is not a misstated fact or accidental slip. The Judge has been on record saying the same thing before, and I believe that the writers of the Declaration would not take kindly to a trivializing of their plight as Colonists.


Hondo69 Reply:

I agree 100%. On more than one occasion I’ve noticed the Judge has taken liberties with the facts to support a particular point.

As goofy as it seems I sometimes wonder what Madison or Jefferson would think if they were here watching the programs I see on TV. My best guess is that they’d feel much like I do and want to throw the remote at the screen the majority of the time. But a show like the Judge’s might just give them reason to smile as the heated debates break issues down to the nuts and bolts of the matter, revisionist history notwithstanding.


5 Chris { 03.01.11 at 7:48 pm }

When Louis Riel declared himself leader of the provisional government of Manitoba, and decided that he should try and execute Thomas Scott, he was thereby targeting a civilian who opposed his takeover of government, and making an example of him before the other citizens. This was less than a decade after the US civil war ended. Too bad some Americans don’t learn much Canadian history.


Hondo69 Reply:

Don’t feel slighted Chris, Americans don’t learn much American history either.


6 theCL { 03.03.11 at 7:44 pm }

I think you’re really nit-picking the Judge here. I give the left more leeway, and I can’t stand them.

As for your argument, the Revolution and “Civil War” are not remotely similar events. The Revolution was a justifiable war by the People against their government, not the other way around. The latter was a war started to collect the Northern Tariff, slavery didn’t enter the picture until 2 years into the war. The South should have been let go peacefully. For how can we claim to be for liberty if we’ll take up guns and force people to stay?

Lincoln was a tyrant. It was the first “total war” in our nation’s history, something most people and nation’s at the time abhorred. He violated the Constitution abusively, and violated the South’s right to secede. And no one, I repeat, no one who is directly responsible for the deaths of over 620,000 Americans, is a hero.

I was first introduced to DiLorenzo in a college economics class about 20 years ago. He is a brilliant economist and historian. All the more so because he isn’t afraid to question the “approved narrative.” Every American would do well to read his paper “Economic Fascism.” Google it, it’s all over the net.

Woods is also brilliant. If every American read his book “Meltdown,” they’d have a thorough understanding of our financial crisis, debt, and politics in America would change (for the better) forever.

Oh, and Hamilton … Wanted a very powerful central government, a central bank that pumped out fiat, and a government-managed mercantilist economy. Pretty much what we have now … which we all hate.


James D. Best Reply:

There is a lot of half-truth in this post, but I want to focus on the comment; “slavery didn’t enter the picture until 2 years into the war.”

This is a misrepresentation started in the mid-nineteenth century and promulgated by some to this day. At the time, and for different reasons, both the South and the Union pretended that the War Between the States was not about slavery. Yet the Republican Party was formed to stop slavery. It was the issue that split the Democratic Party, giving the Republicans a victory. And Lincoln ran on a campaign to stop slavery in the territories, which would have eventually killed slavery.

In his Cooper Union address, Lincoln said, “We hear that you will not abide the election of a Republican president! In that event, you say you will destroy the Union; and then, you say, the great crime of having destroyed it will be upon us! That is cool. A highwayman holds a pistol to my ear, and mutters through his teeth, ‘Stand and deliver, or I shall kill you and then you will be a murderer!”

The South lived up to its threat, with seven states seceding even before Lincoln’s inauguration. The South claimed the issue was States Rights, but the only state right being challenged was the right of one man to own another. The war from the beginning was always about slavery.

Did the Confederacy have a right to secede? By the Constitution, Lincoln believed not. By the Declaration of Independence, the Confederacy believed they did. I tend to agree with both.


7 Erich { 03.04.11 at 7:09 am }

This is a miserable condensation of the facts into inflammatory sound bytes, or in this case “phrase bytes”. Lincoln was faced with a rapidly disintegrating nation and threats to his own life. He had to come to Washington in the dead of night for his own safety, and took office weeks before Fort Sumter. He was portrayed as an ape and baboon before he was inaugurated and throughout his presidency. There was nothing tyrannical about Lincoln. He put together a cabinet of disparate individuals (rivals from Doris Kearn’s title) and set about the task of one thing: Keeping the Union together. That was what he saw as his constitutional obligation. Everything he did flowed from that singular objective. As he said, “a nation divided against itself cannot stand”. The United States was destined to become one thing or another, but it could not be both. That was what Lincoln knew and understood.

To state that he was directly responsible for the deaths of 620000 Americans is ignorant generalization. Shelby Foote, a Southerner, is universally recognized as one of the foremost Civil War historians, and he declared that Abraham Lincoln was one of the greatest men to have emerged during that period of history. He saw Lincoln as no tyrant. The Classic Liberal’s remarks are more consistent with the rantings of John Wilkes Booth, and do not serve a purpose or add anything to the dialogue as anyone that knows anything about Civil War history will attest.


8 theCL { 03.06.11 at 7:48 pm }

One of Lincoln’s campaign slogan’s was “Protection for Home Industry” (aka the Northern (Morrill) Tariff). in his inaugural address he declared it his duty “to collect the duties and imposts,” and threatened “force,” “invasion” and “bloodshed” in any state that refused to pay the tariff. He also said he would “not back down” to tax protesters in the South as Andrew Jackson did.

According to Article 3, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution, Lincoln’s threat of “force” and “bloodshed” were an act of treason.

In April 1861 (while Congress out of session) Lincoln ordered a blockade of Southern ports (which is an act of war) and suspended habeas corpus in the South too. In September 1862, he suspended habeas corpus in the North due to resistance to the draft. Lincoln went on to imprison more than 14,000 people without due process, shutdown 300 newspapers, and commit many more acts of aggression against the American people.

The tariff was not the only reason for the war, but was the main reason the Southern states wanted to secede peacefully. Secession are war are 2 completely different things. Secession is a peaceful process where people are left to go their own way.

The “Civil” War is way too complicated a topic to discuss in a blog comments section. So I’ll end with this question: Why would anyone want to use violent force to keep people in a “union” that which they didn’t want to belong? The most obvious answer is … to collect taxes.


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