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This is something I wrote this summer and decided it wasn’t right.  Now I feel better about it since the Lincoln issue has arisen due to the OTHER Lincoln movie:

This wonderfully satirical movie portraying the Sixteenth President as a vampire hunter made me laugh.  It’s about time Lincoln got some ridicule.  He certainly needs to be taken down a peg or two.  Why?  Three reasons.

Was secession legal?  Certainly Southern secession was foolish.  Human bondage is a supremely poor basis to found a nation.  But foolish is not the same as illegal.  If the Southern States acted legally and constitutionally, than to prepare for war or prosecute a war against his own people is unconstitutional, illegal and/or immoral.  Lincoln refused to consider or even meet with a Peace Commission sent by Jefferson Davis, the Confederate President.  Lincoln also rejected the unofficial Peace Conference and stated these words:

Abraham Lincoln actually visited the Peace Conference while in session though he would not discuss any peace initiatives. New York merchant William E. Dodge said blunt to him: “Then you will yield to the just demands of the South…You will not go to war on account of slavery?” Lincoln responded vaguely:  “I do not know that I understand your meaning, Mr. Dodge. Nor do I know what acts or opinions may be in the future—I will defend the Constitution as it is.

In his First Inaugural, Lincoln made his intentions clear:

A disruption of the Federal Union heretofore only menaced, is now formidably attempted. I hold, that in contemplation of universal law, and of the Constitution, the Union of these States is perpetual.   Perpetuity is implied, if not expressed, in the fundamental law of all national governments. It is safe to assert that no government proper, ever had a provision in its organic law for its own termination. Continue to execute all the express provisions of our national Constitution, and the Union will endure forever — it being impossible to destroy it, except by some action not provided for in the instrument itself. Again, if the United States be not a government proper, but an association of States in the nature of contract merely, can it, as a contract, be peaceably unmade, by less than all the parties who made it? One party to a contract may violate it — break it, so to speak; but does it not require all to lawfully rescind it?

Descending from these general principles, we find the proposition that, in legal contemplation, the Union is perpetual, confirmed by the history of the Union itself. The Union is much older than the Constitution. It was formed in fact, by the Articles of Association in 1774. It was matured and continued by the Declaration of Independence in 1776. It was further matured and the faith of the then thirteen States expressly plighted and engaged that it should be perpetual, by the Articles of Confederation in 1778. And finally, in 1787, one of the declared objects for ordaining and establishing the Constitution, was “to form a more perfect union.” But if destruction of the Union, by one, or by a part only, of the States, be lawfully possible, the Union is less perfect than before the Constitution, having lost the vital element of perpetuity. It follows from these views that no State, upon its own mere motion, can lawfully get out of the Union, — that resolves and ordinances to that effect are legally void; and that acts of violence, within any State or States, against the authority of the United States, are insurrectionary or revolutionary, according to circumstances. I therefore consider that, in view of the Constitution and the laws, the Union is unbroken; and, to the extent of my ability, I shall take care, as the Constitution itself expressly enjoins upon me, that the laws of the Union be faithfully executed in all the States. Doing this I deem to be only a simple duty on my part; and I shall perform it, so far as practicable, unless my rightful masters, the American people, shall withhold the requisite means, or, in some authoritative manner, direct the contrary. I trust this will not be regarded as a menace, but only as the declared purpose of the Union that it will constitutionally defend, and maintain itself.

South Carolina for example acted in its ordinance of secession that it was in fact rescinding its ratification of the Constitution:

        AN ORDINANCE to dissolve the union between the State of South Carolina and other States united with her under the compact entitled “The Constitution of the United States of America.”

We, the people of the State of South Carolina, in convention assembled, do declare and ordain, and it is hereby declared and ordained, That the ordinance adopted by us in convention on the twenty-third day of May, in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and eighty-eight, whereby the Constitution of the United States of America was ratified, and also all acts and parts of acts of the General Assembly of this State ratifying amendments of the said Constitution, are hereby repealed; and that the union now subsisting between South Carolina and other States, under the name of the “United States of America,” is hereby dissolved.
Done at Charleston the twentieth day of December, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty.

So which one is it?  Who is right?  They cannot both be right.  If Lincoln is wrong, there is nothing heroic about his effort.  Did the states know they were joining a perpetual union they could not get out of?  That was not the understanding of three of the states that entered it – New York, Virginia and Rhode Island.  It was not the understanding of many abolitionists through the slogan:  “NO UNION WITH SLAVEHOLDERS!”  It also was not the understanding of the Hartford Convention in 1815:

Resolved, That if the application of these states to the government of the United States, recommended in a foregoing resolution, should be unsuccessful and peace should not be concluded, and the defence of these states should be neglected, as it has been since the commencement of the war, it will, in the opinion of this convention, be expedient for the legislatures of the several states to appoint delegates to another convention, to meet at Boston…with such powers and instructions as the exigency of a crisis so momentous may require.

So, which one is it?  Is Lincoln right or is South Carolina? Lincoln’s immediate predecessor of the White House did not think war against his own brethren was right, even though he regarded secession as extra-constitutional:

Has the Constitution delegated to Congress the power to coerce a State into submission which is attempting to withdraw . . . from the Confederacy [of states]? If answered in the affirmative, it must be on the principle that the power has been conferred upon Congress to declare and to make war against a State. After much serious reflection, I have arrived at the conclusion that no such power has been delegated to Congress or to any other department of the federal government (Senate Journal, 36th Congress, 2nd Session, 4 December 1860, 15—16).

All the Southern States acted in a lawful manner consistent with the republican form of government:  Through legislative action or a convention.  In several Southern states, there were referenda on secession.  It was not a plot in a storm cellar.  But there was little if any debate nor any discussion of maybe letting the Supreme Court decide the issue.  Instead, we had a war where between 618,000 and as high as 750,000 combatants died.  Shouldn’t history require some sort of burden of proof for war on those who defend it?

Someone might argue:  Hey, Sandy, what about Fort Sumter?  Another foolish act by the South.  But Lincoln did not act completely peaceable either.  He resupplied the fort, knowing the Southerners would regard it as a provocation.  Perhaps Lincoln foresaw the attack and the reaction:  Volunteers to fight for the flag.  Of course, the volunteers were not enough as many were drafted (by both North and South) and there was opposition to the draft, including riots in New York.  That was the first military draft in our nation’s history.

Let’s look at the pre-Sumter response to secession among the Northern media.  Many newspapers opposed any sort of war but after Fort Sumter they were largely intimidated into silence.  Here‘s an excellent book by Prof. Thomas J. DiLorenzo on Lincoln and the war.  Here’s another one, try Chapter 6 on the press. (I give humble thanks for one willing to tell the truth about the Civil War and Lincoln:  Professor DiLorenzo.  A great Christmas gift in the season of Lincoln.)  Try this quote from this DiLorenzo column:

It wasn’t just the religious rhetoric of the Yankee preachers that intimidated all critics of the Republican Party regime, which would enjoy monopoly rule for the next several generations. The Republican Party supplied the requisite violence and intimidation. “The Democratic papers quickly realized that if they didn’t repent their opposition to Lincoln, they risked ruin by mobs like the ones that had gutted their offices in the first summer of the war.” Tagg refers here to how the Lincoln administration organized Republican Party goon squads to roam the country and literally destroy the printing presses of opposition newspapers while soldiers often imprisoned (without due process) the editors and owners of many of the newspapers. This is all described in the above-mentioned books, Freedom Under Lincoln and Constitutional Problems Under Lincoln.

President Lincoln also tried to have the Chief Justice of the United States arrested.

Frederick S. Calhoun, the Chief Historian for the United States Marshal’s Service, at the Department of Justice, recently wrote a 200 year history of Federal Marshals, entitled, The Lawmen: United States Marshals and their Deputies, 1789–1989 (Smithsonian Institute, Washington, D.C. 1989). This historical study gives a detailed account of an arrest warrant, signed by President Abraham Lincoln, in the early days of his administration. The warrant was to arrest the Chief Justice of the United States, Roger B. Taney, following his opinion in the case of Ex parte Merryman (May, 1861). The account is found in the chapter entitled, “Arrest of Traitors and Suspension of Habeas Corpus.” It was taken from the private papers of the Federal Marshall, Ward Hill Laman, at the Huntington Library in Pasadena:

He also unilaterally sought to suspend habeas corpus and then asked Congress to ratify it.  (If you don’t like or trust anything on Lew Rockwell, try this cite from Slate!)

 Several times during the war, Lincoln or his Cabinet officers issued orders suspending the writ. The first came early in his presidency. Lincoln had been in office for barely a month when Confederate troops attacked the federal garrison at Fort Sumter in April 1861, starting the Civil War. One of his immediate concerns was how to keep an unobstructed route between Washington, D.C., and the North. He worried that if Maryland joined Virginia and seceded from the Union, the nation’s capital would be stranded amid hostile states. On April 19, 20,000 Confederate sympathizers in Baltimore tried to stop Union troops from traveling from one train station to another en route to Washington, causing a riot. So on April 27 Lincoln suspended the habeas corpus privilege on points along the Philadelphia-Washington route. That meant Union generals could arrest and detain without trial anyone in the area who threatened “public safety.”


Thus when in March 1863 Congress passed the Habeas Corpus Act, effectively endorsing Lincoln’s actions, civil libertarians were stripped of their main argument.

Try this for extreme abuse of civil liberties:

The neocon cabal is beginning to make the case for imprisoning — or possibly executing — members of Congress who oppose the war in Iraq. An example of this development is a December 23 Insight magazine article by senior editor J. Michael Waller entitled “When Does Politics Become Treason?” (Insight is an appendage of the Washington Times, the voice of the Washington, D.C. neocon establishment. Just before our May 2002 Independent Institute debate on Lincoln, Straussian neocon high priest Harry Jaffa made it a point to tell me that he is the chairman of the academic advisory committee of the Washington Times, where his colleague MacKubin Thomas Owens had just published an intemperate and apoplectic hatchet job on my book, The Real Lincoln, only a few weeks after all but comparing Jaffa’s latest book on Lincoln to the Bible in the same book review section.)

Naturally, the totalitarian/neocon case for imprisoning or executing the Bush administration’s political opponents is based on precedents established by Abraham Lincoln. “Lincoln’s policy was to have treasonous federal lawmakers arrested and tried before military tribunals, and exiled or hanged if convicted,” Waller announces. He quotes Lincoln as saying that “Congressmen who willfully take actions during wartime that damage morale and undermine the military are saboteurs who should be arrested, exiled or hanged.” Lincoln “spoke forcefully of the need to arrest, convict and, if necessary, execute congressmen who by word or deed undermined the war effort.”

Of course, Lincoln defined a “saboteur” as virtually anyone who disagreed with his politics and policies and subsequently ordered the military to arrest literally tens of thousands of Northern political opponents, including dozens of opposition newspaper editors.  (emphasis added)

Ponder the NDAA indefinite detention issue as you read these words.  It actually happened here before.  It could happen again.

Finally the conduct of the war was reprehensible.  The indiscriminate targeting of civilians would have placed a 21st Century Lincoln in the dock at the Hague!  Sherman’s arson throughout Georgia and South Carolina is well-known.  (Although some historians minimize Sherman’s targeting of civilians.)  Here’s one Naziesque example (Here‘s a non Lew Rockwell/Thomas DiLorenzo source):

In October of 1864 Sherman ordered the murder of randomly-chosen citizens in retaliation for Confederate Army attacks on his army. He wrote to General Louis Watkins: “Cannot you send over about Fairmount and Adairsville, burn ten or twelve houses . . . , kill a few at random, and let them know that it will be repeated every time a [military] train is fired upon . . . ” (See John B. Walters, Merchant of Terror: General Sherman and Total War, p. 137).

Probably Sheridan’s rape of the Shenandoah Valley is known to most of my fellow Virginia readers (This in fairness is a moderate version and not all historians agree as to the extent of the Burning):

The Burning was carried out by Union general Sheridan, who replaced Hunter in August with orders to “follow [Early] to the death.” Sheridan defeated Early at the Third Battle of Winchester and at Fisher’s Hill in September and then embarked on a war against the land. Taking heed of Ulysses S. Grant‘s mandate to make the Shenandoah Valley so desolate that crows flying over it would have to carry their own provender, Sheridan claimed to have slaughtered thousands of sheep, hogs, and cattle and laid in ashes “2,000 barns filled with wheat, hay, and farming implements [and] over seventy mills filled with flour and wheat.”

The devastation followed a line of forty miles between Harrisonburg in Rockingham County to Woodstock in Shenandoah County and accomplished first in Virginia what William T. Sherman would later accomplish in Georgia: by waging a so-called hard war on the land, a war in which it was undeniably apparent that the Confederacy could not stop him, Sheridan scorched the material and emotional heart of the Confederacy. Early’s attempt to prove otherwise failed spectacularly at the Battle of Cedar Creek on October 19, 1864, an emphatic, demoralizing Confederate defeat and the last major military operation in the valley until the close of the war.

Did President Lincoln attempt to stop it?  He surely knew about it.  He easily stopped the freedom of slaves in Missouri by General John C. Fremont:

        Attempting to gain a political advantage in the absence of a military one, Fremont, in an unprecedented and unauthorized move, issued a startling proclamation at the end of the month declaring martial law in Missouri and ordering that secessionists’ property be confiscated and their slaves emancipated. The action was cheered by antislavery Republicans, but Lincoln, concerned that linking abolition to the war effort would destroy Union support throughout the slave-holding border states, asked Fremont at the very least to modify the order.
The Pathfinder refused, sending his wife, the politically influential daughter of former Senate leader Thomas Hart Benton, to Washington to talk to the president. Displeased with Fremont’s effrontery, Lincoln revoked the proclamation altogether and removed him from command. Pressure from his fellow Republicans forced Lincoln to give the popular Fremont another appointment, and in March 1862 he was named head of the army’s new Mountain Department, serving in Western Virginia.

General Grant actually (in fairness again, Grant regretted this move more than any other) tried to expel the Jews from three Southern States!  Lincoln again stopped this order:

The fallout from his action was swift. Among 30 Jewish families expelled from Paducah, Kentucky, was Cesar Kaskel, who rallied support in Congress against the order. Shortly after the uproar, President Abraham Lincoln ordered Grant to rescind the order. Grant later admitted to his wife that the criticism of his hasty action was well deserved. As Julia Grant put it, the general had “no right to make an order against any special sect.”

Lincoln could have stopped the civilian deaths and destruction but he did not do so.  Hardly consistent with “…with malice toward none with charity for all…”, is it?

I will thoroughly enjoy the laughter at the idea of Lincoln a vampire-hunter.  Enough blood was indeed shed.  Maybe it’ll cause people to question the Lincoln cult and ask tough questions:  Was secession legal?  Was war necessary?  How was the war conducted?  Perhaps Lincoln the vampire hunter might be superior to the real Lincoln.   For the real Lincoln, despite my longtime GOP activism, is no hero of mine and never will be.

About Elwood Sanders

Elwood "Sandy" Sanders is a Hanover attorney who is an Appellate Procedure Consultant for Lantagne Legal Printing and has written ten scholarly legal articles. Sandy was also Virginia's first Appellate Defender and also helped bring curling in VA! (None of these titles imply any endorsement of Sanders’ views)


  1. hi
    ,IT’s a good post.thank you for sharing.


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Tom White Says:

Nothing is more conservative than a republican wanting to get their majority back. And nothing is more liberal than a republican WITH a majority.

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