Why does Republican Party persist in deifying Lincoln?
The time is near for the annual Lincoln-Reagan dinner (March 11) to be held by the Rowan County Republican Party. And once again I find myself wondering why the Republicans insist on holding Abraham Lincoln in such a high state of reverence and esteem.
Lincoln himself denied being a Republican, saying: “They say I am a Republican, but I am a Whig.” That was appropriate since Whigs believed in a loose interpretation of the Constitution, which Lincoln would demonstrate many times during his presidency. Whigs also believed in so-called “internal improvements,” corporate welfare programs that Lincoln highly favored.
The esteem in which Lincoln is held probably would not be the case had he not been assassinated. But that one bullet fired by John Wilkes Booth placed the Great Abe in a state of grace that surpasses all martyrdom. Over the years, thanks to “popular” history texts and numerous misguided historians, who prefer their own version of history to that which was passed down from Lincoln’s time, the Great Abe continues to live in the minds of some in a state of deification.
But realistically, if you had the opportunity to have gone through old documents and books that contain attributes of articles from 19th century magazines and newspapers, you would have quickly seen that the emperor has no clothes. I refer to articles written by people who actually rubbed elbows with Lincoln and heard him speak privately as both a citizen and as President of the United States.
Lincoln’s character comes across like a beacon to those of us who have dug deeply into his life, in that Lincoln was a foul-mouthed boor who enjoyed telling dirty jokes laced with adult curse words. His language was so bad at times, especially in closed meetings with members of congress and his cabinet, some men got up and left the room from embarrassment. Of course much of Lincoln’s public utterances and writing can beguile the reader into thinking that the man was surely pure of heart and mind.
A stereotypical politician, many of Lincoln’s decisions mirrored those of politicians today. Virtually everything he did contained a flip-flop factor. He was firmly in the pockets of the Northern railroad and industrial magnates, and his strong belief in corporate welfare eventually led to the War Between the States. The Southern agrarian society wearied of paying excessive tariffs — up to 75 percent of the total taken in by the Washington government — to fund Lincoln’s support of Northern business interests. Secession seemed to be the only answer to Southerners’ plight, and peaceful secession was desired.
But Lincoln would have none of that; even after his closest top advisors suggested that he leave Ft. Sumter alone. No one around Lincoln could see the sense in provisioning Ft. Sumter and possibly starting a war. But Lincoln had his own agenda, and that was to provoke a confrontation, which he did.
During the war, Lincoln’s generals — such as Grant, Sherman and Sheridan — with Lincoln’s blessings, rode roughshod over the South and the Southern civilian population. Not confining their wrath to the battlefields and Confederate soldiers, the Union Army killed 50,000 Southern civilians, black and white.
Neither was the North spared Lincoln’s wrath. Anyone, especially newspapers and reporters, daring to speak out and make unfavorable comments about the administration or conduct of the war, was arrested and jailed by Union soldiers. The writ of habeas corpus was suspended with the executive branch acting alone. Thousands of newspaper reporters, editors and publishers were jailed by the Union Army. They were advised not to try and seek legal counsel or to contact their families as they were transported to an undisclosed Federal prison.
There is also the myth of the Emancipation Proclamation that has caused Lincoln to be referred to as the “Great Emancipator” in popular history books. Lincoln actually doubted the legality or constitutionality of the Proclamation, and his closest advisors were opposed to it. He maintained that the proclamation was merely a war measure, not an attempt at genuine emancipation.
A simple reading of the document shows that it freed few if any slaves. Slaves were “freed” only in those areas occupied by the Union Army. The Proclamation did not affect slaves on a broad sweep throughout the South and it did not even mention slaves held in the northern states or D.C.
By now, it should be clear to the Republican Party that it should free itself from political bondage. More important issues are on the table than aggrandizing Abraham Lincoln.
Bill Ward lives in Salisbury.