Debunking the Myth of “National Unity”: Northern Opposition to Lincoln’s War

Posted: October 10, 2014 in history
Tags: , , , , , ,

By: Thomas J. DiLorenzo
Posted with Author’s Permission

When the Washington Post reviewed Martin Scorsese’s movie “The Gangs of New York,” which included a reasonably-accurate portrayal of the 1863 New York City draft riots (see Iver Bernstein, The New York City Draft Riots), the Post’s reviewer expressed astonishment upon learning that such an event had occurred. “We were all taught in school that there was national unity during the Civil War,” he opined.

Of course, there is never “national unity” about anything, especially war, democratic politics being what it is. When is the last time you heard of a unanimous vote expressing national unity in the U.S. Congress about anything? Even the vote to declare war on Japan after Pearl Harbor was not unanimous.

The myth of national unity during the “Civil War” was invented and cultivated by the history profession, the Republican Party, and the New England clergy in the post-war era to “justify” the killing of hundreds of thousands of fellow citizens in the Southern states; the plundering of the South during “Reconstruction;” the destruction of the voluntary union of the states and the system of federalism that was created by the founding fathers; and the adoption of Hamiltonian mercantilism as America’s new economic system.

Any serious student of the “Civil War” knows that this is all absurd nonsense. In addition to myriad draft riots, there were massive desertions from the Union Army from the very beginning of the war (see Ella Lonn, Desertion During the Civil War); Lincoln did shut down hundreds of opposition newspapers and imprison thousands of Northern political dissenters without due process. He did deport the most outspoken Democratic Party critic in Congress, Clement L. Vallandigham of Dayton, Ohio. He did rig elections by having soldiers intimidate Democratic Party voters. And he did send some 15,000 federal troops to murder the New York City draft rioters by the hundreds in July of 1863. All of this has been discussed for decades in “mainstream” history scholarship such as Constitutional Problems Under Lincoln by James Randall and Freedom Under Lincoln by Dean Sprague. The history profession has, however, done a meticulous job in seeing to it that such facts rarely, if ever, make it into the textbooks that are used in the public schools.

But times are changing in the era of the internet and of independent scholarship on the subject by scholars associated with such organizations as the Abbeville Institute. The Institute’s latest publication is entitled Northern Opposition to Mr. Lincoln’s War, edited by D. Jonathan White. It includes essays by White, Brion McClanahan, Marshall DeRosa, Arthur Trask, Joe Stromberg, Richard Valentine, Richard Gamble, John Chodes, and Allen Mendenhall. These nine scholarly essays destroy the nationalist myth of “national unity” in the North during the War to Prevent Southern Independence.

Marshall DeRosa’s opening essay on “President Franklin Pierce and the War for Southern Independence” goes a long way in explaining why the nationalists in American politics believed that it was imperative to invent the myth of national unity. President Franklin Pierce of New Hampshire was a Democrat who opposed the invasion of the Southern states. He was a Jeffersonian, states-rights president, which is why he was mercilessly smeared by Lincoln’s hatchet man, William Seward, who accused him of treason (re-defined by the Lincoln administration as any criticism of it and its policies). The real objects of Seward and Lincoln’s wrath towards Pierce, DeRosa explains, were the ideas that President Pierce stood for and was elected president on, as illustrated in the Democratic Party Platform of 1852.

The main ideas of this platform, upon which Pierce ran for president were: a federal government of limited powers, delegated to it by the states; opposition to the form of corporate welfare known as “internal improvements”; free trade and open immigration; gradual extinction of the national debt; opposition to a national bank; and realizing that the Constitution would have to be amended as a means of peacefully ending slavery. This latter position was the position of the famous nineteenth-century libertarian abolitionist, Lysander Spooner, author of The Unconstitutionality of Slavery.

It was because of these ideas that Pierce was libeled and smeared by the Republican Party of his day, with subsequent generations of historians merely repeating the smears disguised as “scholarship.” Lincoln’s claim to fame, on the other hand, writes DeRosa, “is not that he adhered to the rule of law [as Pierce did], but that he had the audacity to disregard it.” Thanks to the history profession, moreover, “Americans continue to pay homage to the villains that laid the tracks to our present sorry state of affairs.”

D. Jonathan White surveys the Northern opponents of Lincoln’s war that were slandered by the administration and its media mouthpieces as “copperheads” (snakes in the grass). Among the “copperheads” were many prominent citizens of the North who, like President Pierce, were passionate defenders of the rule of law and constitutionally-limited government. Their main complaints were against Lincoln’s suspension of the writ of Habeas Corpus and the mass arrest of Northern political opponents without due process; the draft law, which they considered to be a form of slavery; the income tax imposed by the Lincoln administration – the first in American history; and protectionist tariffs (the cornerstone of the Republican Party platform of 1860). Because of these beliefs, hundreds, if not thousands of “copperheads” were imprisoned without due process by the Lincoln administration.

Allen Mendenhall contributes a very interesting article about how the famous U.S. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, who was wounded three times in the war, became a sharp critic of Lincoln, his “mystical” union, and the war during the rest of his life. Brion McClanahan’s essay describes in scholarly detail the Jeffersonian Democrats in the state of Delaware who opposed the war (the state gave its three electoral votes and 46 percent of the popular vote to Southern Democrat John Breckenridge in the 1860 election). R.T. Valentine does essentially the same thing in his chapter on opposition to Lincoln’s policies in Westchester County, New York and he greater Hudson Valley. He describes in detail how the residents of these areas, many of whom had family history in the area going back to the time of the founding, deeply resented the pushy, imperialistic, arrogant “Yankees” who were the base of Lincoln’s support and who had been moving into New York state from New England in droves.

Arthur Trask demonstrates that there was also a great deal of opposition to Lincoln’s war in Philadelphia, where many residents had long-lasting business and personal relationships with Southerners, while John Chodes writes of the horrible wartime governor of Indiana, Oliver P. Morton, who apparently fancied himself as a mini-Lincoln with his imprisonment of dissenters and other dictatorial acts.

Joe Stromberg and Richard Gamble contribute chapters that explain the role of the Northern clergy in instigating the war. Stromberg writes of the impulse of many Northern clergymen to use the coercive powers of the state to try to create some version of heaven on earth. Worse yet, “[T]he war of 1861-1865, as preached by the clergy surveyed here, became a permanent template for subsequent American crusades, whatever their origins. From the Free Soil argument of the 1850s, through two World Wars, Cold War, and down to Iraq and beyond. American leaders insist that their latest enemy [ISIS?] is both inherently expansionist and committed to some form of slavery. It is therefore the duty of the new enemy to surrender ‘unconditionally’ and undergo reconstruction and reeducation for the good of all mankind . . .”

Richard Gamble traces the transformation of “Old School Presbyterianism” to where it embraced “political preaching.” For example, upon Lincoln’s election a national assembly meeting in Philadelphia issued a proclamation that was “a turning point in the history of American Presbyterianism”: “That in the judgment of this Assembly, it is the duty of the ministry and churches under its care to do all in their power to promote and perpetuate the integrity of the United States [government], and to strengthen, uphold, and encourage the Federal Government.” The Old School Presbyterians, writes Gamble, “enlisted their church on the Union side,” which is to say, the side that would soon be invading, murdering, raping, and plundering its way through the Southern states. This, Gamble argues, is how war and imperialism became the keystone of America’s “civil religion.” This bogus “religion” is illustrated a thousand times over in the Laurence Vance archives on LewRockwell.com.

The Abbeville Institute is to be congratulated for publishing this latest correction of the historical record regarding Lincoln’s war. Northern Opposition to Mr. Lincoln’s War should be a part of the library of every American who resents having been lied to by his teachers, professors, film makers, and authors, and who seeks the truth about his own country’s history.

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