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Rarely has a public figure been surrounded by as much historical myth and *misinformation as is the case with Abraham Lincoln. Known to the popular mind as the Great *Emancipator, Lincoln’s entire political career prior to becoming President was premised on a belief in the *inferiority of the Negro race. His driving passion was a policy of *Mercantilism accompanied by a centralization of power and increase in *tariffs to fund internal improvements such as canals and railroads. In addition, he sought to *nationalize the banking system to make it easier for the government to manipulate the currency. Only one thing stood in Lincoln’s way: a South committed to *limited government under the Constitution. Thus, Lincoln embarked on a war of aggression to subjugate the South. Redefining peaceful secession as *insurrection, he waged a war of unprecedented aggression against a *civilian as well as a military population. In the process he assumed dictatorial powers, laying aside Constitutional rights such as freedom of the press, right to vote, and right to a speedy trial. In the place of a limited, Constitutional republic, Lincoln left a legacy of centralization and *empire on which 20th century Presidents have been only too happy to build.

Who was Abraham Lincoln? (1809-1865) Abraham Lincoln was the 16th President of the United States. He provoked and prosecuted the most destructive war ever fought on American soil, against both civilian and military populations.

Historical context. The sectional conflict between North and South was religious at its root. Betraying its Puritan origins, much of New England had succumbed to Unitarianism and Transcendentalism early in the 19th century. Harvard fell to the Unitarians in 1805 and gradually began to supply Northern pulpits with unorthodox preachers. These men drank deeply at the well of radical European philosophers like Hegel, Kierkegaard, Goethe and others. American poets and authors — Whitman, Emerson, Hawthorne, and Longfellow — in turn, sowed seeds of radical skepticism and pantheism. In the evangelical world, Arminian revivalists like Charles Finney emphasized the free will of man to the detriment of respect for the sovereignty of God and the authority of biblical law.

From this unstable mixture emerged the specter of radical abolitionism with its persistent agitation for violent social reform. In the decades just prior to the war, pamphleteers like William Lloyd Garrison and novelists like Harriet Beecher Stowe demonized the South. Meantime, old-school Presbyterianism flourished in the South, reinforced by the chivalric moral and social code of Victorian England. The works of Dickens, and Sir Walter Scott in particular, were very popular in the South. Thus, we have the unlikely spectacle of Northern evangelicals and Unitarians uniting in the cause of humanistic abolitionism to destroy the predominantly Christian culture of the South.

Ideas have consequences, and as always religion expressed itself politically and economically. Because Unitarianism denies the Lordship of Christ, it quite naturally seeks to empower civil government in His place. This was manifested in persistent Northern pressure for corporate subsidies for internal transportation improvements and heavy increases in tariffs to fund a more active central government. Lincoln entered politics as a champion of these Mercantilist causes, which the South had long resisted

Summary of Lincoln’s teaching. Lincoln was a liberal, or progressive, who believed that “the legitimate object of government is to do for a community of people whatever they need to have done, but cannot do at all, or cannot so well do for themselves, in their separate capacities. In all that the people can individually do as well for themselves, government ought not to interfere.” (Springfield speech, July 1, 1854) This, of course, is opposed to the biblical view that the purpose of government is to enforce justice.

In his acceptance speech for the U.S. Senate Lincoln made his famous declaration, “I believe this government cannot endure permanently, half slave and half free. A house divided against itself cannot stand.” The biblical reference was, of course, completely out of context. The New Testament, on the contrary, gives every indication that masters and slaves or indentured servants can coexist in perfect social harmony (cf. Philemon, Eph. 6:5: Col. 4:1; I Tim. 6:1,2). Actually, when it came to slavery Lincoln was a political opportunist. In most of his early speeches he opposed expansion of slavery, but promised not to interfere in states where it currently existed. However, he did not hesitate to issue the Emancipation Proclamation for propaganda purposes at the opportune time. In his debates with Douglas Lincoln expressed his belief in the inferiority of the Black race and right up to his assassination advocated their return to Liberia.

The election of Lincoln triggered the secession of seven Southern states. The flash point for war was a month-long standoff between a union garrison occupying Fort Sumter in Confederate territory and Southern forces under General Beauregard.  The latter had been supplying the isolated troops with food and water, but demanded their surrender when Lincoln attempted to supply them with armaments by sea. Thus Lincoln provoked the War, but made it appear as though the South was the aggressor. Fort Sumter existed to enforce the collection of tariffs at Charleston, one of the South’s largest ports of entry.  You want slavery – no problem – but Interfering with that flow of income was the one thing Lincoln would not tolerate. 

“In doing this there needs to be no bloodshed or violence; and there shall be none, unless it be forced upon the national authority. The power confided to me will be used to hold, occupy, and possess the property and places belonging to the government, and to collect the duties and imposts; but beyond what may be necessary for these objects, there will be no invasion — no using of force against or among the people anywhere.” (1)

In that same Inaugural Address just a few weeks before Fort Sumter, Lincoln had expressed approval of the Corwin Amendment – passed by a 2/3 majority in the all-Northern Congress —  to grant all states the right to own slaves in perpetuity.  The dirty little secret was that the North had been raking in immense profits from the slave trade, ostensibly illegal since 1807.  Lincoln feigned ignorance of this in his first Inaugural Address.  But any pretense of claiming to go to War to end slavery was gross hypocrisy – and nobody did so:

“I understand a proposed amendment to the Constitution, which amendment, however, I have not seen, has passed Congress, to the effect that the federal government shall never interfere with the domestic institutions of the States, including that of persons held to service. To avoid misconstruction of what I have said, I depart from my purpose not to speak of particular amendments, so far as to say that holding such a provision to now be implied constitutional law, I have no objection to its being made express and irrevocable” (2)

Implications for subsequent history. The legacy left by Abraham Lincoln has been devastating. A quarter of white southern males between 20 and 40 were killed, together with an equivalent number of northern soldiers in a war that could easily have been avoided. Lincoln was the first in modern history to wage total war against a civilian population, punctuated by Sherman’s famous swath of destruction from Atlanta to the sea. By contrast, the Army of Northern Virginia was loath to invade northern territory, but on the few occasions when they did were scrupulous to avoid injuring non-combatant property and personnel. Lee himself was reported to have followed his advancing army, replacing fence rails that had been removed. Soldiers were strictly forbidden to molest civilians on pain of death. Lincoln’s policy of “total war” established the precedent for the great World Wars of the 20th century. Thus, he utterly ignored the biblical proscription (Dt. 20:19,20) by which God forbids armies to wage war against the land itself.

Equally destructive has been Lincoln’s political legacy. The so-called “great emancipator”, forged the chains of political oppression for subsequent generations of Americans, black and white (3). This began with his assumption of dictatorial powers during the war. In the first place, Lincoln redefined peaceful secession as insurrection in order to justify his invasion. He rejected the checks and balances of the Supreme Court in suspending the Constitutional right of Habeas Corpus. This basic political right — meaning “bring forth the body” — forbids the government imprisoning citizens for indefinite periods without a specific charge and trial. Thousands in the North were thus imprisoned for raising a voice against the war. Southern sympathizers were also barred from the polls by force. Ignoring the Constitutional requirement that only Congress can declare war, Lincoln proceeded to expand and equip his army without approval. In his first inaugural address he acknowledged that he had “no lawful right” to “interfere with the institution of slavery in the states where it exists”. Nonetheless, he issued the unconstitutional Emancipation Proclamation without the authorization of a Constitutional Amendment. All of these assaults on the Constitution were undertaken for the alleged purpose of preserving the Constitution. For Lincoln the end justified the means.

Lincoln entered politics on a platform of raising tariffs and corporate welfare subsidies to internal improvements such as railroads, both policies unbiblical if not unconstitutional. His inaugural address of 1861 declared his determination to wage war over the right to collect the tariff. Lincoln raised import tariffs from 15% to an average 47% by the end of his administration. He worked to restore government monopoly over the nation’s banks, which had been decentralized since Andrew Jackson dissolved the Second Bank of the United States in 1836. Thus he laid the foundation for big government on which 20th century Presidents were only too happy to build.

Biblical analysis. The right of a people to withdraw from a political union which attempts to impose a tyrannical taxing authority is seen in the division of the twelve tribes of Israel. When Rehoboam took the advice of his young and foolish advisors to ratchet taxes to a high level, the ten tribes seceded. Then, as Rehoboam prepared for war to force them back into the “union”, God intervened with the command to let them go (I Kings 12:7).

The manner in which Lincoln twisted the meaning of the Declaration of Independence in his Gettysburg Address can be attributed only to great ignorance or great hypocrisy. In the Gettysburg Address Lincoln harkened back to the Declaration of “fourscore and seven years ago” to portray his cause as a struggle for liberty. But, it was the South not the North that was faithful to the essential point of the Declaration by exercising its right to separate from a tyranny. We cannot improve on the words of H.L. Mencken:

The Gettysburg speech was at once the shortest and the most famous oration in American history…the highest emotion reduced to a few poetical phrases. Lincoln himself never even remotely approached it. It is genuinely stupendous. But let us not forget that it is poetry, not logic; beauty, not sense. Think of the argument in it. Put it into cold words of everyday. Its doctrine is simply this: that the Union soldiers who died at Gettysburg sacrificed their lives in the cause of self-determination – that government of the people, by the people, for the people should not perish from the earth. It is difficult to imagine anything more untrue. The Union soldiers in the battle actually fought against self-determination: it was the Confederates who fought for the right of their people to govern themselves.

Corrective or Prescriptive Actions: Beware the power of myth; superstition can exercise a powerful hold on the human mind. Thus, today we have the Republican Party — the supposed champion of decentralized government — claiming Lincoln as their “patron saint”, totally oblivious to the historical fact that it was Lincoln and the Radical Republicans who thrust America into the path of centralization. Challenge your beliefs to ensure that they line up with biblical and historical reality.